“Take Up Your Cross!”

Second Sunday in Lent 1 March 2015
(Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 Psalm 22 Romans 4:13-25 Mark 8:31-38)
“Take Up Your Cross!”
There was a small plane with 5 passengers on it. Halfway to its destination, the engines started sputtering and failing. The pilot came out from behind the curtain wearing a parachute pack on his back.
He said, “Friends, I have some bad news, some good news and some bad news. The bad news is we have an engine malfunction and we’re going down. The good news is there are several parachutes here along the wall. The bad news is that there are 5 of you and only 4 of them. So you’ll have to work it out among yourselves.
With that he was out the door.
A woman leaped up. “I am one of the most prominent brain surgeons in the northeast. My patients depend on me.” She grabbed a parachute pack and leaped out.
A man stood up and said. “I am a partner in a large law practice and the office would fall to pieces without me.” He grabbed a parachute and leaped out.
Another man stood up and said, “I am known to be the smartest man in the world. My IQ is so high I won’t mention it so I don’t make you feel bad. Surely you understand that I must have a parachute.” He grabbed a pack and leaped out.
There were now only two people left on the plane, a Lutheran minister and a teenage boy.
“Son,” said the minister, “You take the last parachute. You’re young. You have your whole life ahead of you. I’ve had a good run. God bless you and safe landing.”
The teenage boy looked up at the older man. “Thanks, pastor. That means a lot to me, really, but there are still two parachutes left, because that smartest man in the world, he grabbed my knapsack before he jumped.”
In many ways, it feels as if we all are in midair clinging to some kind of security, some sense of identity and purpose in life. Deciding what we cling to and what we let go of is so much a part of our daily lives, and becomes such an important part of our Lenten journey.
On this Second Sunday of Lent we are taken to the very heart of Mark’s Gospel. In today’s text is where a major transition takes place in Mark, from the ministry of Jesus opposing all that oppresses God’s people (by healing, feeding, casting out demons, etc.) to Jesus’ journey to the Cross. Maybe, more than anything else, today’s text most succinctly summarizes discipleship in the Kingdom of God and why it is so hard for us to accept it.
I think most of us know the story pretty well that leads up to where we pick up the story this morning. Jesus and his disciples have been all over Galilee and are now on the outskirts of the Roman town of Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asks two important questions: “who do people say that I am?” And, more to the point, in light of all this, “who do you say that I am?” They both have answers, the first with comparisons to important biblical figures; the second with Peter’s flash of insight that this is no mere miracle worker of a prophet, but is indeed, God’s Anointed One, the Messiah.
And then comes the turning point: Jesus begins to explain what it means to be the Messiah, and no one—including Peter—can believe it! Why? Because the Jews were looking for a powerful leader, perhaps a military king like David, and so they deeply disappointed with Jesus’ pronouncement.
We are no different. We still, more often than not, want our God to come in strength; and therefore, we often miss God coming to us in our suffering and weakness. And so while we may not get the God we want, in Jesus we discover the God we need, the one who does not overwhelm us but meets us in our brokenness in order to restore and redeem us.
Today, Jesus sets aside any attempt to keep religion harmless. A suffering Messiah makes religion anything but safe and sound, which is why Jesus rejects Peter’s understanding of his mission. It is not a messianic rescue mission of recover, reclaim and recoup.
Being set on the path of the cross as one “beloved” of God is one and the same action. We remember Kayla Mueller, the 26-year-old girl, kidnapped as she was catching a bus to Turkey and later put to death; we remember the horrible photos of the 21 members of the Coptic Orthodox Church lying together on the ground immediately before they are shot; we remember the more than 1200 martyred rural workers in Brazil over the past 10 years, and in our remembering, we honor the faith of these and many other individuals, trusting that as they walked the way of the cross, they found the face of God and were given the opportunity to witness to the Gospel.
Quite honestly, I think we all struggle with what it really means to us in a personal way to “lose our life.” Every one of you knows as do I, that from a very early age all that we hear around us suggest that the only way to find security is through possessions or power. This logic attempts to persuade us that only by having more can we be happy, and that only by satisfying all our wants can we be content. It’s the logic behind almost all advertising campaigns, political rhetoric and commercial decisions.
And yet against all this, in walks Jesus urging us to give of ourselves, put others first and to take up burdens on behalf of others.
The invitation to lose our lives, to follow Jesus, and to take up our cross is the invitation to discover our identity as beloved children rather than trying to earn our identity through our accomplishments. We are invited to imagine that our life—and the lives of those around us—have infinite worth simply because God chooses to love us apart from anything we’ve done or not done.
>>>Which brings me to the two baptisms we celebrate this morning: Peyton Patrick Smith and Dominic Joseph Hoffman!
You’ve heard it been said: “What happens on vacation stays on vacation?” Let me adjust those words a little this morning: What happens at the font of baptism does not stay at the font of baptism, or at least it should not.
At the very beginning of the Baptism Rite, parents are given responsibilities; maybe the most challenging ones are the final three: “….to proclaim Christ through word and deed…..and…..to care for others and the world God made…..and…..to work for justice and peace.” And then, following the pouring of water, but before we leave the font, one final thing happens: the child is called by the most precious name that anyone of us can be called, “Child of God,” and using that name the child is “…sealed by the Holy Spirit of God’s love and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
As the child is moved out into the faith community, we smile – but always knowing that this is the beginning of journey of faith that will not be safe–all the more reason to embrace each child and her/his families in this new beginning.
Today I pray that at times when you feel least safe on your journey of life, at those times may you feel most loved; may you discover, that to carry the cross of Jesus is not only a command, but is also the assurance that God continues to love us so much more than we either deserve or can imagine. Amen.

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