Sermon for February 25, 2018, Second Sunday in Lent
Texts: Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:27-37
Sermon: "Knowing Jesus and Knowing Ourselves"
At the time of a death in the church family, we are reminded how truly we belong to God and to each other.
Many of you have been thinking of Steve McNerney, who died on Thursday. You have responded with love and compassion toward his wife and my sister, Mary Jo. It has been clear that a member of the family has died and it has touched all of us in some way.
Knowing who we are is vital in times such as this. Knowing who we are is what we seek to learn more clearly during this time of Lent.
Lent, a preparation for Easter, is a time to examine our hearts and measure our success and our failure as disciples of Jesus Christ.
This was a discipline that Steve just naturally centered on during these last five or six weeks of his life. I was touched by his heart that continued to seek Jesus Christ all the way to the end.
Yes, it is vital to know who we are. And it is vital to know who Jesus Christ is, has been, and always will be.
In our reading from Mark today, we have this window into a time with Jesus and the disciples that reminds us of how to see him and to know him; and tells us some new ways to know and see ourselves.
In this eighth chapter of Mark, time for discipleship training is running short for followers of Jesus. They still have much to learn as they journey to Jerusalem with their Master. And Jesus wants very much to teach them who he is; and who they are as his followers.
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? We ask that question even now. How does that change the identity of a person? We want to know that, too. And just how does discipleship, following Jesus, change a person's place in the world? That would be good for us to know now.
Jesus asks his disciples:
"Who do people say that I am?" The disciples answer without hesitating, telling Jesus that some people think he is John the Baptist, some think he's Elijah, and some think he is some other prophet.
Then he asks the second part of the question:
"Who do you say that I am?"
Jesus wants the disciples to know him as the Son of God. Only then can they know what it means to follow him.
Peter blurts out the answer, "You are the Messiah." (Mark 8:29)
It is interesting that Mark has bracketed this section that we read today by separate stories of Jesus healing the blind -- first, an unnamed blind man; then, the blind Bartimaeus.
Both of the healing stories relate to what Jesus wants to teach the disciples on this day. In Bartimaeus, Jesus finds a living example of what it means to see, believe, and follow. Jesus now begins to teach the disciples, to open their eyes to see and know him as their Messiah and thus better know themselves as disciples.
Jesus knows that the disciples see a little bit, but not yet as clearly as they must see if they are to be Jesus' disciples and go into the world to make other disciples in his name.
The other story of a blind man tells us that the man could see a little bit after Jesus' first touch. But his sight was not clear right away. Jesus touched him again. And he began to see clearly.
When Peter answers the question quickly, "Who do you say that I am," with the words, "You are the Messiah," Peter does not yet have a full understanding of what he is saying. Peter and the other disciples do not understand what Jesus will face at Jerusalem.
Mark tells us, "Then Jesus began to teach them that he would undergo great suffering and would be killed and after three days would rise again" (Mark 8:31).
Peter was in disbelief. The Messiah would suffer and die? He took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, to tell him that he must be wrong; that the Messiah would not go through such pain and death.
But no sooner did he protest than Jesus cut him off, telling him that he was off base, out of line, that he did not know what he was saying.
"You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things," Jesus tells Peter. "You are showing the heart and the will of Satan, not of God."
Clearly, Peter -- and we can assume the other disciples with him -- did not expect to hear that the Messiah would suffer and die. They had expected a king, a powerful ruler who would be victorious over the powers that were oppressing ordinary people like them.
But Jesus quickly corrects Peter, telling Peter that he is putting human desires above God's desires, that God's way is the way of the Messiah who goes to the cross.
The human desire is for a powerful king and victorious ruler. It was as if Satan, clothed in the role of the disciple Peter, was testing Jesus again as in the wilderness, trying to get him to turn away from God's plan.
If the news about the Messiah's suffering and death caused the disciples to tremble, imagine what the next few moments were like for them, when Jesus began to teach them what they, too, would have to do.
"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." (Mark 8:34-35)
Jesus began to teach them about the life of a disciple. And just look at it this way, he said: What good is it that you gain the whole world but forfeit your life?
They are the hard lessons of discipleship. These instructions are the way of God through Jesus Christ. This is the life Jesus modeled: one of self-sacrifice, compassion, and service.
Deny yourselves. Take up your cross. Follow me.
Do you think their hearts sank a little bit? I think it makes our own hearts flutter.
Do you think they felt some terror? There is some reason to wonder.
Do you think they were confused by the words?
After all, isn't this the Christ who would save them from the Roman empire?
Is this the one who will become a king like David?
Surely they were confused as we, too, become confused and a little afraid of the hard teaching of Jesus. What does it mean to follow today? What sacrifices does it require?
Lord, we ask -- just how much are you going to ask of us?
Lord, we ask -- how do we do this? What do you mean about denying ourselves?
We ask the same questions the disciples of old must have asked.
Jesus, Lord Jesus, what do you mean about losing our lives if we try to save them and saving our lives if we lose them for your sake and the sake of the gospel?
What he means is to remove your "self" from all your decisions, restrain your ego, love God and one other in selfless ways. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy.
Let God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit guide you in all decisions you make. Let every deed you do be done in the same love, compassion, and mercy revealed to us by God through our Savior Jesus Christ.
Let Jesus heal your eyes if they have become clouded by worldly things. He will give you clear vision.
Who does the world say Jesus is today? Who do you say he is? Is there some work to do to close that gap between what the world knows and what you know as a disciple of God's Son?
Now who do you say that you are if you indeed are a disciple of Jesus?
Well, one of the best ways to find out what kind of disciple you are is to go out and look for ways to love, heal, and comfort people in need -- you know how to do that!
Go out and spread the good news that Jesus is Lord and King of the world and that he is looking for every single heart to be turned to him one day.
Our forefather Abraham had every reason to doubt that God could do what God promised to do -- that is, to make Abraham the head of a household that would eventually include more people than there were stars in the heavens or sands on the shores.
But Abraham believed. Paul in the Romans passage read this morning describes beautifully the faith of Abraham, saying this:
"No distrust made him waiver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised" (Romans 4:20-21).
Follow Jesus in grateful trust that what he has promised is real; it is true; it will uphold you and sustain you all the way to the end and then into the presence of Almighty God.
How beautiful are the brothers and sisters who live together in peace and love, nurtured by Jesus himself, taught these hard lessons, and sent to care for one another and for the surrounding community in love and compassion.
We are tested at times like these in the church -- for example, when we lose a beloved member of our church family. We are stretched. God reaches out to give us power to love each other in deeper ways, to offer comfort to those mourning. It is a beautiful thing to see the Body of Christ at work.
We are here for one another as Jesus is here for us, in our joy and in our sorrow; in our wellness and our pain; in our hope and in our despair. Jesus is always here. We are always here to minister to each other.
Jesus is our Savior. That's who he is.
We are his people. That's who we are.