Sunday, September 6, 2015

"Who Do You Say That I Am? ... Bearing the Cross as Jesus Did"

Mark 8:27-38

As of this writing, I'm not exactly sure where my preaching will take me next week-end. As a result, I am simply offering several starting places. Maybe one of these will work for you as well.

It's September and the Chicago Cubs are still in the race. OK, it's just the wild card race, but still... I've been rooting for this team for as long as I can remember, and these days I find myself starting to hope again.
Now if you share my loyalty to this perennially losing team, you will know that one utters these words with trepidation. Indeed, it is hard to shake my life long experience of disappointment after disappointment, yes, heartbreak after heartbreak.
Indeed, in spite of the fact that they've had a remarkably good year, a high school classmate posted this in late July after the Cubs were no-hit by Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies. He wrote,
"If it's a no-hitter against the Cubs, is it still a no hitter?"
As though since it's the Cubs, it really shouldn't count.
I laughed out loud.
And yet, when I went back and looked, it turns out that in spite of their record of fewer World Series appearances than any other team in baseball, they haven't been no-hit since 1965.  1965!
Isn't it funny how reputations get made and they stick, even though they may or may not have grounding in current reality. It is interesting how we find ourselves shaped in one way and then truth turns us around.
So must it have been for Peter in his encounter with Jesus today. Oh, he certainly knew and believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the chosen one, the anointed one. At least he says as much today. Only clearly he has no idea of what that really means beyond what he has always assumed. To his mind, to his experience, 'winning' does not look like suffering and dying and he certainly says as much. For that matter, he is not really behaving like it is so. I mean, if he really believes Jesus is the Messiah, he should show more respect than to take Jesus aside and rebuke him. In fact, it is almost as though Peter is usurping Jesus' role as the leader here. It is no wonder that Jesus responds as he does.
  • What examples of "winning and losing, saving and losing" come to your mind as you consider the paradox in today's Gospel? How do you reconcile Jesus' sacrifice with what the world considers victory?
Or this:
This past week we had to reschedule our weekly staff meeting, for we wound up with a funeral on Tuesday morning.
Now we have our share of older folks, so funerals are more commonplace than we like. This one was especially tough, though, for Keith has been a member of this congregation for nearly all of his life and he had been active right up until very recently. Among other things, he served on our property committee and up until a couple of months ago, if you got to work early enough in the morning you were as likely as not to find him in the building, having addressed some sort of puzzle old buildings like to pose.
The last few months, though, had been terribly hard on him and those who loved him as test after test came back negative. A few days before he died, his varied symptoms were finally explained for they found cancer cells in his spinal fluid.
As our staff sat together, we grieved, trying to make sense of it. And our custodian said, "It's true, isn't it, that often you can connect the dots when you look back --- it's a whole lot harder looking forward."
Only in today's Gospel lesson, Jesus is doing just that. He is connecting the dots for Peter and for the rest of his disciples and for all of us --- trying to help us make sense of what makes no sense at all. Trying to help us understand what is then before him and for all of us who seek to follow him.
For like Peter, you and I have grown up in a world which teaches us that winning looks a certain way and losing looks another way. And even though we know this narrative by heart, if you allow yourself to really think about it, it is hard to imagine that the way Jesus describes could possibly have God's hand in it bringing good out of evil, life out of death. It certainly helps that we are offered a template to help us understand today.
  • How is it helpful to you that Jesus offers meaning to our suffering --- particularly suffering in behalf of others --- even before we have experienced it?  

And this:

Our local hospital is changing names. Like so many other hospitals in smaller towns and cities, we will be merging with a large regional medical center. Oh, it's certainly not the first time hospitals have closed or merged in this area, but it's been long enough that many of us have only known this one. Will we still be able to call it "Kish" once it becomes part of the Northwestern System?  And certainly, more important than that, will the care offered this community change --- will it be better? Will it be worse? And through it all, will we lose the feel of knowing everyone as we make our ways down the hallway? Will it still feel like home?
My bank is changing names as well. Oh, the merger happened years ago, but I looked on the other day as men changed out the sign from Castle Bank to First National Bank (of Omaha). And I wonder. Will the Castle Challenge  -- sponsored by the bank  --- (the annual football face off between the adjoining towns of Sycamore and DeKalb) still be the Castle Challenge? More important than that, of course, will this bank which looks the same but has a whole new name still meet my needs? Will my banker be there to still call me by name when I make my way through the door?
I offer these musings because this week's Gospel has me thinking about identity --- both that of Jesus and you and me who follow him. And just as with our local hospital, just as with my hometown bank, in spite of my initial discomfort, the name really doesn't matter as much as what stands behind the name.  In today's Gospel Jesus completely redefines what it is to be Messiah by what he does. And in our world today, as we follow him, we have the chance, day after day to do the same.
And so I wonder:
  • When people look at me and think "Christian" do they think judgment or grace? Hope or despair? Indifference or kindness? Or do they even think "Christian" at all?
And just one more:
The news is flooded these days with stories of the refugee crisis in Europe. The suffering experienced by these desperate migrants is beyond the imagination and certainly the experience of most of us. It is said that with millions displaced this is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.

  • Could it be that with these as well as those in our own neighborhood, picking up our crosses and following after Jesus is to look such suffering in the face and to respond?

  • Indeed, might it be ours to just act in a world where answers are indeed, costly and not at all simple? I can't help but wonder who history --- and for that matter, the world today --- will say that we are as we seek to follow Jesus, bearing the very face of Christ.

God bless you in your hearing and responding to the call of Jesus to pick up your cross and go after him, whatever that may mean.

May the world be blessed through you.


  1. Each week as I prepare in my own pastoral leadership, I've come to check in with you as with a good, provocative neighbor. I'll see what you have to say, what you might be thinking, and I'll enter into engaging pseudo-conversation that springboards me into little epiphanies about lectionary scriptures. You--with many others I consult regularly--provide great resources. You grasp where the rubber hits the road. Responding to this entry with delight, I thought to myself: "Janet's really full of it today!" (in a good way). Know that I thank you--and thank God for you. Your brotherin iministry and Grace, Dan in TN

    1. Thank you, Dan, for your kind words. Yes, as you can see I was challenged to focus so I just offered it all.(Some weeks are just like this...) I'm so glad to hear you are out there having pseudo conversations! That's just fun! Peace to you.... Janet