Sunday, March 04, 2012


Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
March 4, 2012

Year B: The Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:22-30
(Romans 4:13-25)
Mark 8:31-38


Today we have a tough gospel lesson – Jesus’ prediction of his own fate, an unusually heated exchange between Jesus and Peter, and Jesus’ frank assessment of the costs – the consequences - of discipleship.

But, just before the passage I read Jesus asks his disciples the famous question, “Who do people say that I am?”

Considering all that Jesus had been doing up to that point, it’s no surprise that people were talking about him. Of course, the disciples (and probably Jesus himself) had heard this buzz, which could be summed up with the question, “Who is this guy?”

So the disciples were ready with answers to Jesus’ question: some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others say one of the other prophets. Those answers probably reflect actual speculation about Jesus’ identity.

Then Jesus asks his disciples a harder question: “But, who do you say that I am?”

Maybe surprisingly, it’s Peter who speaks up – and gets the answer right – saying, “You are the Messiah.”

Now, this would seem to be a moment to give Peter a little encouragement – a little congratulations on recognizing who Jesus is – maybe even a little critique of the others for being too slow or timid to recognize and proclaim Jesus’ identity.

Instead, Jesus simply warns them not to tell anyone about him.

The command to keep silence is the first sign that Jesus understands only too well the consequences of being the messiah.

After that little exchange about Jesus’ identity – the little question and answer session when Peter shined as the star student – we move right on to today’s gospel lesson.

For the first time in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus offers a prediction of the consequences of being the messiah. He predicts great suffering, rejection, death, and then, finally, resurrection.

That prediction must have been difficult for the disciples to hear. They had sacrificed much to follow Jesus, and they had probably hurt and disappointed the people closest to them – think for poor Zebedee sitting in his fishing boat watching his sons James and John – watching his future - walk off with this charismatic teacher and healer from Nazareth.

The disciples followed Jesus, tried to make sense of his teachings and had come to love him.

It must have been devastating and just about unbearable to hear him predict his suffering and death. Rising from the dead – if they could even hear that - must have sounded pie in the sky. Suffering, rejection and death must have sounded all too real.

Now, It probably would have been a good time for the disciples to stay quiet. But, Peter – oh, Peter, things had been going so well – instead takes Jesus aside and we’re told rebukes him. That “rebuke” is a strong word – in the gospels it’s usually reserved for addressing demons and evil forces.

Mark doesn’t tell us what Peter says. In the Gospel of Matthew we’re told that Peter says to Jesus, “God forbid it, Lord; this must never happen to you.”

Whatever Peter says, it seems that he is unable or unwilling to accept the consequences that lie ahead for Jesus.

Jesus then does some rebuking of his own and turns the whole exchange into a “teachable moment” by looking at all of the disciples when he tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”

It’s a strong reaction with harsh language and it only makes sense if in truth Jesus was tempted by what Peter was saying - if he was really tempted to avoid the consequences of his identity and his mission. Last Sunday we heard Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, but there’s no reason to believe that all of his temptations were put to rest after those forty days.

There were consequences for Jesus and there are consequences for us when we choose to follow Jesus. And it’s tempting to try to avoid those consequences.

Jesus then calls to the crowd who were with the disciples and very frankly says that if they – if we – want to follow Jesus then we need to take up our own cross and to give away our lives for Jesus and for his mission.

There were consequences for Jesus and there are consequences for us when we choose to follow Jesus.

Sometimes we get that. But, most of the time we’re like Peter. It’s scary to think about the consequences of really following Jesus.

Unfortunately, sometimes, with the best intentions, the Church tries to make it easy to follow Jesus. Sometimes we try make following Jesus convenient and easy - a choice without any real or costly consequences.

There were consequences for Jesus and there are consequences for us when we choose to follow Jesus.

Two examples from just this weekend at Grace Church:

Yesterday morning we had the first meeting of the group reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Speaking of Sin.

We spent some time talking about the general confession of sin that we say here in church. Most of the time, but not during Lent, the confession is tucked into the middle of the service – the last section before we get to the peace – what some of us might think of as sort of the intermission of the service.

Anyway, in our conversation yesterday we wondered, because the words are so familiar for most us, how much thought do we really give to what we’re saying. Do we really stop and think about the specific ways we’ve sinned against God and our neighbor? Are we truly sorry? Do we really humbly repent?

On the one hand, we talked about the comfort of saying the same words as everyone else – the recognition that on a fundamental level we’re all the same – that we’ve all sinned against God in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone.

But, then we wondered if our general confession sort of lets us off the hook too easily for the consequences of our sin. We wondered if the nice and easy general confession and absolution lets us off the hook from the hard consequence of facing up to our wrongdoing, the hard consequence of asking God personally for forgiveness, the hard consequence of asking forgiveness from the people we’ve wronged, and the hard consequence of true repentance, of truly changing our ways.

There were consequences for Jesus and there are consequences for us when we choose to follow Jesus.

A second example from this weekend: Diane Riley was our featured parishioner at our First Friday potluck supper. She spoke to us about her work as Director of Advocacy at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. She shared with us depressing statistics about the depth of hunger in the US and here in New Jersey – and about the massive amounts of food provided by the Community FoodBank and other providers like Trinity Lutheran Church in Dover, which is supported by Grace Church.

Listening to her, I felt indicted. Maybe some of you who were there felt the same way.

The cabinets and the refrigerator over at Surrey Lane are pretty full. I enjoy eating out. Sometimes I remember to pick up something at the supermarket for the Food for Friends barrel and sometimes I don’t. I try to work at the soup kitchen the few times a year that we’re there to provide lunch. And that’s about the grand total of what I, a supposed follower of Jesus, do to feed the hungry.

Maybe some of you do better. I hope so.

But, all of us need to ask ourselves are there any real and costly consequences of following Jesus if we are willing and able to tolerate hunger right here in our communities – let alone in faraway lands?

Those are just two examples of ways that maybe we try to avoid the consequences of following Jesus.

We try to avoid those consequences because most of the time we’re like Peter. It’s scary to think about what it will really cost us to follow Jesus.

But, in his shock and fear, maybe Peter wasn’t able to hear everything that Jesus predicted for himself. Peter definitely heard the suffering, rejection, and death.

But, at least this time, Peter seems to have missed or not understood the ultimate consequence for Jesus – the ultimate consequence for us - resurrection to new life.

So, yes, the consequences of really following Jesus can be scary and costly. The consequences will involve sacrifice and suffering. But the ultimate consequence is resurrection to new life – the ultimate consequence is the joy of Easter morning.

Jesus said, “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.”