Mark 8:27-38 – I, Skeptic
Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 13
Mark 8:27-38 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then 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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But 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.” 34 He 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. 35 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. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those 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.”
Weekly staff meetings here at the church are a mixed bag. There’s some very practical business. We go through the calendar. Identify all the community groups that will be in the building that week. Who’s using what rooms. Figure out what needs to get set up. Talk about mutual projects. There’s details for the upcoming Sunday with the staff involved in worship. Not so different than many of your staff meetings. Just exchange the content for that of your work place.
One possible difference between your staff meeting and ours might be the devotions at the beginning of ours. “Devotions” is a churchy word that usually means time spent in scripture, prayer, and talking about faith and life. The responsibility for devotions rotates among the staff. We all bring our different personalities to the mix. Lyn was up last week. She asked us all to take a minute to write down on a piece of paper what we think the gospel is and then she asked us to share it… … … Yup. Write it down and share it. Should be simple. But somehow it didn’t feel simple.
I preach the gospel on Sundays and at funerals. I talk about it with people who wonder about it – both people who call themselves Christians and those who don’t. But there was something about looking at a blank half sheet of paper and picking up a #2 pencil to write down the gospel that gave me pause. And I don’t get text anxiety! I’m not going to spend more time then I should navel gazing on this one. But I do think it’s interesting. And it was interesting to go around the room and listen to everyone else’s answers too. It was a 30 second, gospel-drenched sermon.
Jesus does something similar in the Bible story today. He tells the gospel of his own suffering, death, and resurrection in the smallest amount of time possible. It takes even less time for Peter the skeptic to show up. It’s funny how that works. For someone to say something earth shattering and for the skeptic to show up.
About a year ago, Augustana member Barb Watts asked me something almost casually about “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday. This is a church-wide emphasis for ELCA Lutherans. It includes doing good and practical things for our local and global neighbors while wearing these wild yellow t-shirts. I don’t remember exactly what Barb said but it was close to, “Would something like that ever be something we would do here?” My response was supportive of the idea while investigating her interest and passion for helping lead it. “I’m game…do you want to be a part of seeing what’s possible?”
Honestly, though? My inner skeptic had long been at work. In the ELCA’s first year of “God’s work. Our hands. Sunday”, 2013, I balked at the idea. Augustana had just called me as a pastor and we were getting to know each other slowly but surely. The e-mail from church-wide came in the summer. Discover Augustana ministry fair was already in place and going strong on the second Sunday in September. The second year, 2014, was the summer following Pastor Pederson’s retirement and, quite frankly, God’s work for my hands had filled them plenty full.
These excuses worked those first couple of years mostly because I was skeptical of the project. Here’s a confession for you. As a general rule, I’m fairly skeptical of Christian projects. How’s that for a paradox in a collar? Part of the skepticism is that Christian projects take on various forms. These forms can have the effect of trying to dress up the gospel, turning it into something else entirely. So that you no longer hear that Jesus died on a cross and lives again for the unconditional forgiveness of the world.
Like Peter taking Jesus aside and rebuking him for saying he would suffer, die, and rise again. It becomes so easy to take the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection and pile something else on top of it. Making the gospel contingent and conditional. Whether it’s moral conservatism or liberal moralism or some other –ism entirely. You’ve likely heard the language. Fill in this blank, “You’re really a Jesus follower if you _______________.”
Christian projects have a way of turning into these contingent, conditional sentences. And these sentences have a way of turning into self-righteous weapons that truly hurt other people and cut-off relationships. So as benign as these yellow t-shirts look, I could see their short-sleeved shadows.
Anybody notice what happens to the skeptic in the Bible story today? Yeah, doesn’t end up so well for Peter. Jesus rebukes him, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” These are important words for us as church. And important words for this person standing here in front of you, yellow-shirted today. As Jesus people, we say that we are baptized into Christ’s death and raised to new life in Christ.
By this baptism, we are the Body of Christ in the world. The waters of baptism drown the skeptic. Skepticism can be occasionally helpful and sometimes fun. But there are issues of justice that need attention. More immediately, people need to eat. So, the waters of baptism drown the skeptic and send us to participate in the practical. We tend to the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the healing of the sick, and offering hope to the hopeless.
Barb Watts asked her curious question and the possibility of it simmered for a while as we agreed to pick it back up in the spring. The congregation welcomed our new Interim Senior Pastor. A few more months went by. 2015 flipped on the calendar.
Julie MacDougall started working in the office as the Volunteer Coordinator, bringing her years of Augustana membership, relationships, and formidable skills from the business arena along with her. She was more than game for “God’s work. Our hands. Sunday.” We started the conversation with Barb Watts and Lyn Goodrum, Augustana’s communications specialist. Slowly but surely many, many people added their gifts to the mix from Global Mission and Social Ministry Committees, Children and Family Ministry, Health Ministry, Prayer Shawl Ministry, Music Ministry, Barbeque Ministry and many more.
This is the punch of “God’s work. Our hands. Sunday.” It’s like setting up a magnifier over the ministry of the baptized. On the other 364 days of the year, the ministry of the baptized hums along in our homes and our places of work in our daily vocations of relationships, work, and volunteerism. The ministry of the baptized hums along in our worship in white robes and street clothes. Sometimes we know the good we do but most of the time we really don’t. It’s often hidden from us and it’s mostly hidden from others. And that is likely a good thing because otherwise the ministry of the baptized so easily becomes our project and not God’s.
Today, Jesus puts the skeptical behind him and draws our participation into the practical. When Jesus talks about taking up crosses, it’s more than a picking and choosing ceremony. Christianity is more than opting for which cross to take up. Taking up crosses is what happens to us by way of the cross of the Christ. There is a kind of promise here that taking up your cross is what is going to happen TO you as a Jesus follower.
As we are conscripted by our baptisms, be assured by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians…
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Amen. And thanks be to God!