— Rev. Phil Hobson

March 1, 2015
Second Sunday in Lent

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Mark 8:31-38

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

Just before this morning’s reading, Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ. And then this morning, in the next paragraph, Peter gets rebuked by Jesus and even called Satan. There is a lot going on here.

First, what does Jesus say he must face? He will:

  • Suffer many things
  • (Be tried and) Be rejected
  • Be killed
  • Rise

And Peter rebukes Jesus. “God forbid!” Makes sense. How could the promised one, the anointed, the Christ, the messiah, go through such things? That he might rise at the end of these things made no sense, and that he would suffer, be rejected and die are unthinkable!

Jesus not only rebukes Peter for this, he goes on to offer what my friend and mentor, the late Boyd Carter, used to say was the great paradox of faith:

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.

Taking up our cross and following Jesus means laying down the rat race of trying to secure the future for ourselves, letting go of the illusion that we are not connected to and dependent upon God and one another, and finally stop trying to will the world to be the way we want it.

The human will is an amazing power, for good or for ill. But as powerful as it is, it is also very limited. Ed Friedman used to say,

You can will yourself to lie down, but you cannot will sleep;
you can will yourself to sit at the table, but you cannot will yourself to be hungry;
you can will yourself to sit together but you cannot will togetherness.

The important things in life do not bend themselves to our will. And this causes us no end of trouble. Because no one wins a battle of wills. Ask any parent of a four year old…

Taking up our cross and following is about being willing and able to put ourselves out there on behalf of our neighbor. Taking up our cross and following is about caring nothing about survival and everything about faithfulness. If you heard that sentence as being about us as individuals, that is fine. It applies. But let us hear it a second time and imagine it is not just aimed at us as individuals, but also as the church: Taking up our cross and following is about caring nothing about survival and everything about faithfulness.

I don’t know about you, but this passage, this verse, this idea, make me very nervous. As one professor used to say, where your pension is, there your heart will be also…

Brian McLaren wrote about this very problem.

“Please de-baptize me,” she said.
The priest’s face crumpled.
“My parents tell me you did it,” she said.
“But I was not consulted. So
Now, undo it.”
The priest’s eyes asked why.
“If it were just about belonging to
This religion and being forgiven,
Then I would stay. If it were just
About believing
This list of doctrines and upholding
This list of rituals,
I’d be OK. But
Your sermon Sunday made
It clear it’s
About more. More
Than I bargained for. So, please,
De-baptize me.”
The priest looked down, said
Nothing. She continued:
“You said baptism sends
Me into the
World to
Love enemies. I don’t. Nor
Do I plan to. You said it means
Being willing to stand
Against the flow. I like the flow.
You described it like rethinking
Everything, like joining a
Movement. But
I’m not rethinking or moving anywhere.
So un-baptize me. Please.”
The priest began to weep. Soon
Great sobs rose from his deepest heart.
He took off his glasses, blew his nose, took
Three tissues to dry his eyes.
“These are tears of joy,” he said.
“I think you
Are the first person who ever
Truly listened or understood.”
“So,” she said,
“Will you? Please?”

– Brian McLaren

How often is the way not only narrow, but seems impossibly steep? How often do the demands of faith seem too much?

There is a story in the Gospel of Mark that is left out of the cycle of readings that the church uses, and I think it is a mistake, because it contains what I think is one of the most important lines in Mark’s Gospel. A father whose child is sick brings him to Jesus, and through his tears the father says, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

And to those who say to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!” there is healing, and grace, and love.

Thanks be to God.