“Cross talk”

I told you Mark is a confrontational gospel! Here is more proof:

We are half-way through the gospel and people are still unsure about who Jesus is.

Jesus asks his disciples and they share survey results until Peter blurts out “Messiah!”

He’s right, but he has no idea what this really means.

So Jesus explains. He will suffer and be rejected and be killed.

And that leads to a blow up!

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection

Mark 8:31-39

February 28, 2021

Dr. Todd R. Wright


I told you Mark is a confrontational gospel! Here is more proof:


We are half-way through the gospel and people are still unsure about who Jesus is.


Jesus asks his disciples and they share survey results until Peter blurts out “Messiah!”


He’s right, but he has no idea what this really means.


So Jesus explains. He will suffer and be rejected and be killed.


And that leads to a blow up!


Peter does not even listen to the whole explanation. He tells Jesus he has it wrong.


Jesus snaps. It’s like he is back in the wilderness and Peter is playing the role of tempter.


Our Lord turns to the crowd and it is like he is holding open auditions for a whole new group of disciples. He says, “If anybody wants to follow me, you will need to deny yourself and take up a cross!” And then, just in case they thought he was carelessly employing metaphors, he lists some stark options: “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!”


His followers are stunned.


And if we are paying attention, we should be too!

 

Professor Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm explains the cross shaped life this way:

"To deny oneself is to place Jesus' priorities, purposes, and path ahead of our own;

to take up the cross is to be willing to suffer the consequences of faithful living;

to follow him is to travel to unknown destinations

that promise to be both dangerous and life-giving."[1]


I like her words. They are clear, concise, and even correct some potential misunderstandings. But I need more. I need the words to take on flesh.


Do you remember the last infant baptism we did together? It was at Worship in the Park. We gathered under the shelter and I held little Mia Velasco in my arms and splashed water on her head in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I proclaimed that she was a child of the covenant and marked as Christ’s own forever! And then I walked her up and down the line of picnic benches so she could meet her new family. As I did, I told her that you would teach her what it means to love and forgive and hope – because those are just words until you see someone act them out. I could have told her that you would teach her what it means to deny yourself and take up a cross and follow Jesus– because those are also just words, until …


So what I’m getting at it that if I’m going to understand Jesus’ words, I need to see them lived out. I don’t think I’m alone. Mark will spend the rest of his gospel telling stories of how Jesus put flesh on these words – for the twelve, and the rest; and for us. As he taught and healed and interacted with the powerful and the powerless he showed their meaning. He placed God’s mission ahead of his own safety; he willingly suffered the consequences of confronting worldly powers; he lead his followers to the cross, a pilgrimage that was both dangerous and life-giving.

 

In case that is not enough, I want to share two stories of cross-shaped lives:


The first starts as a depressingly familiar tale: a man is martyred for his faith by zealots hostile to followers of Christ. It could have happened anywhere at any point in the past 2000 years.


Hearing of it, we might nod and grieve and add it to the list of people who took up their cross and followed Jesus to a fate much like the Savior’s. But it is a tale dulled by its repetition, until it is made human by an artifact, a letter, written by a Trappist monk who was deciding whether to face danger or flee. It is that letter, not the book or movie it inspired, Of Gods and Men, that puts flesh on the words. It begins:


“If it should happen one day — and it could be today — that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.


I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less.


In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.


I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately.

I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain [Islamic minority] fosters.

It is too easy to soothe one's conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.

For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.

I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.

I so often find [the] true strand of the Gospel which I learned at my mother's knee, precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.


For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God, who seems to have willed it

entirely for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything.”


And then the letter ends with these words to his friend:

“May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.

- Dom Christian de Chergé, December 1, 1993”[2]


Could you write such a letter?


Could you take up your cross and follow Jesus with such humility and grace?


Perhaps some of you will object, “That’s all well and good for a holy man like that. He’s given his life to following Jesus. It’s different for regular people who live in the real world.”

 

Well that leads to the other story I promised you:


I read about a pastor whose grandfather knew a lot about carrying crosses. In the 1950s he was a Grand Wizard in the KKK. He burned crosses on public property and private lawns. But one day he was sitting in church when this scripture was read. He realized that every cross he had picked up, he had misused to spew hatred, bitterness, and ignorance. He knelt and prayed for God to show him what to do with his cross.


Years later his grandson, the pastor, was recruited to play in a golf tournament in his grandfather’s hometown. A green van from the course picked him up at the airport. As they drove through town he chatted about his family’s history there – not the KKK part – the other stuff, the sort of things you could repeat in polite company. He even pointed out the downtown block where his grandfather had owned a loan company and pawn shops for many years. But the driver interrupted, "I knew your grandfather.”


What would he say next? Was he going to bring up the man’s sordid past? Was he one of the people terrorized by a burning cross? Was he hoping to puncture the man’s reputation?


Nope. He continued with a smile: “After your grandfather's conversion, he was a changed man. If it weren't for him, many of my people would have gone hungry. He was always willing to give you money if you needed it … loaned it to you sometimes for no interest if you were really hard up. He was a good Christian man, and you should be proud."[3]


Has the cross changed you? Has it molded your life? Has it made you into a person people could point to as an example to what taking up your cross can mean? I ask because Mark is about confrontation, so I’m not trying to inspire you with these stories; I’m challenging you! Amen.


[1] from Preaching the Gospel of Mark
[2] see Brother Christian's Testament | America Magazine, 11/14/15
[3] from “Cross Purposes” by Robert Baggott, 3/1/15
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