Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Where Are You Following Jesus?

I've got lectionary whiplash. This Sunday is the Second Sunday in Lent, and we're reading Mark 8:31-38. That's the story of Jesus' first passion prediction, Peter's rejection of Jesus' words, and Jesus' famous rebuke: "Get behind me, Satan." As a reminder, last Sunday we were back in Mark 1 with Jesus' baptism and journey into the wilderness where Satan tempted him. On the Sunday before that we were in Mark 9 with the Transfiguration. And, the week before that, we were over in Mark 1 again, hearing about Jesus' healing of Simon's mother-in-law. Mark 1 to 9 to 1 to 8. It's dizzying.

The challenge of reading Mark this way comes to a head this week. We read Jesus' passion prediction and Peter's rejection of it, but we miss Peter's confession immediately before in Mark 8, and we miss how the Transfiguration follows immediately on its heels. This week's gospel lesson is the middle of an important three-part progression, but we've been jumping around so that's hard to see without preaching a 45-minute sermon. The good news, however, is that the connection between Satan's temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and Jesus rebuke of Peter makes it possible for the preacher to bridge the gap.

"Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly." Notice that he began to teach them. They had been following him for a while by that point. They had seen him work amazing miracles. They had heard him preach incredible sermons. And now, after Peter declares that Jesus is indeed the messiah, Jesus begins to teach them what will happen to the Son of Man. The first half of Mark makes the case for Jesus' identity as the anointed one of God, and the second half reveals the consequences. Like Peter and the other disciples, we've discovered who Jesus really is, but only now are we learning what that means for him and for us. And, right here, in Mark 8, we are given the choice of whether we will follow the Son of Man to the cross.

When I was introduced to Jesus, I was taught that God loved me and that, if I asked Jesus into my heart, God would forgive me of my sins and I would go to heaven. As a child, I desperately wanted to go to heaven. People whom I trusted (parents, preachers, Sunday school teachers) assured me that Jesus could be my savior if I asked him to forgive me and asked him to come into my heart. So I did. Over and over. Maybe it was me--the way I heard their invitation--but no one ever explained to me that, by asking Jesus to come into my heart, I was inviting God to change me into a disciple of Jesus who would follow him down a path that lead to suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.

Where are we following Jesus? Beginning here in Mark 8, Jesus makes it plain, clear, obvious that the path he walks does not lead to joy, success, power, and prosperity. He does not ride into Jerusalem to claim the throne of his ancestor David. Those who follow him will not be treated like friends of a king. The world will treat us like friends of an outlaw, a rebel, a heretic. If we're following Jesus to the cross, then we're on the right path. Our discipleship does not lead to our glory. It leads to God's glory, and God's glory is revealed in the cross. If we're trying to follow Jesus on a path that leads to earthly glory, well, Jesus has a word for us: Get behind me, Satan!

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