Take Up

February 28, 2021

Series: February 2021

Category: What Are You/We Up To

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Today's Scripture:   Mark 8:31-38

Today's Sermon


"Take Up"

Mark 8:31-38

31Then he began to teach them 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. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD. 

“Take Up”

            Have you ever done the right thing, sacrificed in the process, endured some real hardship, but it didn’t work out, so you’re left thinking, “Well, what was all that for?”  That’s a bit how I felt about some of the COVID sacrifices we made early last year.  While some were doing the right thing, at considerable sacrifice, others chose not to. Because we couldn’t get it together as a people, losses were greater than they had to be.  We hit the half a million mark this week, but of course numbers just wash over us.  Each was a life, a life as valuable and interesting as yours or mine. 

            What went wrong?  That’s a question with a more complex answer than can be provided here, but at least part of the problem is the aversion to sacrifice.  But I don’t like doing this, or I don’t accept that, or this is hard.  It is hard. Sacrifice is hard.  People often turn to spirituality to find relief from their suffering, and there is relief to be found.  Jesus says, come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest. Jesus also makes it clear that suffering will be found on the path that follows him.  It’s not just Christianity, either; all the great traditions understand this.  What is the first noble truth of Buddhism?  There is suffering.  Suffering happens.  Did you notice what causes Peter to rebuke Jesus, rebuke Jesus?  It’s when Jesus says “he must undergo great suffering” (Mk. 8:31-32).  Wait you’re not supposed to suffer.  You’re one of the good ones, the good one.  You’re not supposed to suffer sometimes shrouds the sentiment I shouldn’t have to suffer.  I did the right thing, or I mean well.  God makes clear in Jesus that no one is immune from the call of faith to suffer, not meaninglessly, not for shame or guilt, but because sometimes doing the right thing puts you in harm’s way. 

            When I was younger there used to be these shows on TV called “After School Specials.”  Now that I think about them, they must have been an attempt to implant morality in kids who were left alone after school.  As I recall, these shows followed a basic pattern: Good kids were met with a conflict that presented a moral challenge.  They knew doing the right thing would cost them, but they were willing to make the sacrifice.  Of course, magically the consequences of doing the right thing, the suffering, would evaporate.  They’d get to be the moral hero and avoid the suffering, having their proverbial cake and eating it too.  The intention was well enough, but it totally misses reality.  Doing what we’re called to do indeed involves suffering.  Hard choices remain hard.  You might get passed over for the promotion, earn less money in this world, have less powerful “friends.”

            When Peter rebukes Jesus for acknowledging the suffering he must face, Jesus calls him Satan.  That seems awfully harsh, but Satan is a fitting name for Peter.  Satan is the adversary, the tempter, and Jesus meets the tempter when he spends 40 days in the wilderness.  This one tempts Jesus with all kinds of worldly pleasures, all kinds of ways to avoid suffering, if he will just give up his allegiance to God’s and God’s way in the world.  Jesus says, “No.”  His integrity his faith in God and what is right is bigger than the consequences that await him.  We’re in the season of Lent, which mirrors Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.  This season is about getting clear about who we are and what we’re about, that we might be ready to make the choices we need to in this life.

            This Lent, as you know we are spending Lent following the promptings of liturgical scholar Marcia McFee.  Rather than focusing what we should give up, we are asking throughout the season, “What was Jesus up to?”  One of the things Jesus was up to is prioritizing time with God, dedicated prayer.  He goes to the wilderness to get clear about his path and his connection to spirit. He fasted not to lose weight, but to gain spiritual substance.  There he faces his demon, and we all have demons to face.  In the ancient world, they thought of demons, of spirits, living inside us, and it’s a fitting image of how our demons are often really projections from within us, demons we have to face if we are to grow and grow in faithfulness.  For you Star Warsfans, it’s that scene of Luke in the cave –a classic metaphor–where he does battle with his greatest fears.  Defeating your biggest fears is one image, befriending them is another, but either way we have to face them.

            The challenge is we have built a whole society, a whole economy, predicated upon giving us a way out, a way around all of that.  I’m not talking about modern medicine or clean water.  I’m all for things that help us be well; I’m talking about avoiding hard choices and hard consequences for the good. Sacrifice is at the heart of the Christian story, yet it seems lost on a society that so often claims to be Christian.  I see this a lot in a movement I care deeply about.  Have you ever noticed that in discussions about the environment, almost all of the talk it about preserving our way of life, we who are at the top? There’s little talk about actual sacrifice, and it seems to me the science is pretty clear, we are going to have to sacrifice a lot of if we are going to have a chance to avoid serious consequences.  In our Old Testament story today, God says to Abram, “Walk before me, and be blameless” (Ge. 17:1); God doesn’t say “and it will be painless.”  Where are we not willing to make the sacrifices that we need to create the shared life God reveals for us in Jesus?

            What is Jesus up to?  Jesus is up to showing us how to sacrifice for what is good.  There is a danger in telling others to sacrifice, especially others whose existence is filled with more suffering, so I recognize the trickiness of this, even for me speaking to you now, you whose stories I do not know in full.  This is all simply to acknowledge that while the path of Jesus leads indeed to the empty tomb, it goes by way of the cross.  And, wouldn’t you know, a littlelike the after school special, Jesus says those who lose their life, who give it up, who sacrifice, for Christ’s sake, they will gain it.  Unlike the after school special, however, what is gained will not look like the riches of this world (don’t go near any church that teaches that), but they will be truer riches, and in the end, and all along in fact, you will know it was worth it.