Second Sunday in Lent 25 February 2018
(Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 Psalm 22 Romans 4:13-25 Mark 8:31-38)
“Be the Hope you wish for the World!”
There is an awful lot going on in all four scripture texts this morning. So much so that I will say a word about each of them, because there seems to be a common theme making its way through these texts this morning. I hear the theme of “hope” spiraling its way through these texts this morning.
It has been a really difficult week for the young people of our country. Like many of you, I have been watching and listening very carefully to the students who have been speaking out and mobilizing after 17 of their friends, classmates, teachers and coaches were killed. As many of the very articulate young people said this week, they are turning their grief into action.
I had a really hard time writing this sermon for this weekend—but not because I’ve lost faith, or misplaced my hope, but because I want to know what it takes to put hope into action!
Let me share with you where I find “hope” in the readings for this weekend. In Genesis, we hear God say to Sarah, “I will bless you, and you shall give rise to the nations.” Together with Abraham, these are not spring chickens. Very soon they’re having a child! And Paul, writing to the Romans, about Abraham says, “Hoping against hope, Abraham believed.” “Hoping against Hope!”
Even in Psalm 22, we sang, “When the poor cry out, the Lord hears them” [vs.26].
Ironically, in the Gospel, the message of hope is slightly more difficult to see. This is what we heard: “Then (Jesus) 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…..” But Mark ends the sentence with these words, “…..and after three days rise again.” Peter, it seems, is understandably overwhelmed by the first part of Jesus’ teaching here and fails to grasp the import of this last part. “Suffering, rejection, death,” he hears. “Take up your cross!” And, though, with the benefit of post-Resurrection vision, too often we see his response to Jesus as selfish or misplaced, in reality, Peter is bold to take Jesus aside, seeking to persuade him toward what he believes will be a life-giving path.
We hear the harshness of Jesus’ rebuke and the difficulty of the message he hopes to proclaim to the disciples and the surrounding crowd. What we are hearing is that the hope Jesus brings to us will ask something of us. Hope will cost us something. Deny yourself and take up your cross!
Here we need to be careful. In the Greek, “to deny yourself” is not to deny to yourself, the foundation of giving up French fries or screen time for Lent. The sense of the Greek is much more in an egocentric way, to deny the part of your being, yourself that wants to have things your own way.
In this context, to “deny yourself” is to get over yourself in order to live your faith more boldly, and not be ashamed. That’s exactly what Jesus says a few lines later” basically, “if you are ashamed of me, I’ll be ashamed of you in the second judgment.
Hope is not passive. Hope is not an idle wish for things to get better. Hope calls for action.
I know it is so easy to be overwhelmed by the forces that live in fierce opposition to the wholeness that comes from freedom in Christ.
At the heart of Jesus’ rebuke to Peter and the tough, hard lesson that follows, there is a message about what it means to hope—to hope against hope—as Paul writes of Abraham; to hope when there seems no cause for hope, to hope in the face of forces that work against hope. Because we belong to this God, hope can live even when we feel we have lost it, and even when we feel we cannot summon it up in ourselves.
Hope does not depend on us, but it cannot survive without us. By which I mean, hope does not originate with us—it has its beginning in God, who goes on providing it for us with an extravagant stubbornness. It comes as a gift and a grace that we cannot manufacture, sometimes not even looking to be a gift. The hope of the Gospel, the hope that comes through being disciples of Jesus asks us to enter into the rhythms of dying and rising that come as we follow Christ, take up our crosses, and work with him for the healing of the world.
I’ve listened to the impassioned speech given by Emma Gonzalez, the student from Parkland High School more than once this week, and never without tears in my eyes. My advice to Emma and the other young activists (as well as the ending of my sermon) might sound something like this: Trust your hearts and your questions. Follow both and let them take you to new places with new responsibilities. Simply, be the hope you wish for the world.
Be the hope you wish for the world! Amen.