Cross, Kinship & Redemption – Mark 8:31-38

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on February 25, 2018

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Mark 8:31-38  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.”

[sermon begins]

Late night comedians would have a field day with Peter – the classic straw man, so easily critiqued. He’s perfected the theological equivalent of the prat fall. But Peter’s comments are often reasonable with a consistent logic. Just a couple of verses before the Bible reading from Mark, Jesus asks the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”[1] We can imagine Peter’s answer, filled with awe, love, and bumbling pride. “You are the Messiah,” he says. Only thing is that Jesus never calls himself the Messiah in Mark’s gospel.

A couple of verses after Peter’s “Messiah” answer, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man in our reading today. The Son of Man title comes from the book of Daniel and refers to a person who disrupts human powers from their questionable goals.[2]  Jesus’ self-reference as the Son of Man is in conflict with Peter naming him as the Messiah. In this light, Peter’s rebuke of Jesus is actually quite reasonable. The internal logic of identifying a Messiah means that a shameful death of said Messiah wouldn’t compute. Peter’s rebuke seems meant as a reminder to Jesus about the righteous path – or what Peter reasons out at as righteous.

The rebukes come quickly. Peter takes Jesus to the side and rebukes him. Jesus opens the conversation to include all the disciples and rebukes Peter. Peter is trying to rebuke the idea of Jesus’ death on a cross. Jesus is reporting the logical end of his work. His work includes tossing out demons, healing blind people, forgiving sins, and confronting the status quo of the powers that be. Jesus can only confront the powers that be for so long before the inevitable power play. In the first century, for Jesus, this meant an epic public smack down, a death on a cross, in return for his efforts. It’s not rocket science. It’s retribution.

Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”[3] There are many a good sermon about personal crosses to bear. However, Jesus words here in Mark seem to connect to the public nature of crucifixion. People crucified in the first century had to literally carry their cross to the place of execution.[4] Jesus’ listeners would have seen in their mind’s eye this image of carrying the cross and heard the mocking taunts that accompany the procession.

Jesus is asking his disciples to pick up the cross. Choosing people over power, prestige, and even life itself. That’s a tall order. Pretty much the only one who’s able to fill the tall order is Jesus. In just a few short chapters, he’ll be carrying his cross with the help of Simon of Cyrene.[5] The disciples fall away the closer Jesus gets to the crucifixion. Mark’s gospel reminds everybody of the call of discipleship and what it means to follow the One who is actually faithful to the end.[6]  Jesus opens up the possibilities beyond what we can imagine. His faithfulness to his death and through his death fuels the fire of disciples. Their early stories are in the New Testament. But there are plenty of disciples alive today who continue to inspire. We see these people and see Jesus working through them.

Gregory Boyle is one such disciple. Thirty years ago he began working with young people in the heart of Los Angeles as they figured out life after gangs. He’s still doing it. His latest book is about radical kinship.  It’s called Barking to the Choir because one of the young people he worked with waved off Boyle’s comments with the comment, “Don’t sweat it bald-headed…Your barking to the choir.”[7]  Mixing his metaphors became an apt description for jostling the status quo of a world divided into us and them, into powers that be for themselves and not for everyone. Boyle encourages us with a gospel that Jesus took so seriously that he lost his life barking about it. And by barking, I mean the radical kinship embodied by Jesus – healing, forgiving, loving, and kicking those demons to the curb.  That kind of barking is hard to ignore because it’s about redemption.

Barking makes me think about my dog Sunny. When she’s determined about something, she barks. It’s her go to move and, when she’s about it, it’s difficult to pay attention to anything else. Boyle is specific about the kind of barking he’s talking about. He makes the point that the radical kinship embodied through the gospel of Christ is not one of anger. Anger continues to close the fists we end up shaking at each other.[8]  Radical kinship opens those fists and calls us together.

Notice that Peter takes Jesus off to the side and, in response, Jesus turns back to include the other disciples and then not just the disciples but he called the crowds with them, too. Jesus says to all of them that following him includes taking up their crosses and losing their life to gain their life. Their cross. Their life. A cross that comes through Jesus’ radical kinship. A cross that means each of us engaging in the way we’re empowered through baptism by the gifts of the Spirit to engage. This engagement does and will disrupt the status quo and the powers that be in our own lives and in the wider world. That’s what happens when the status quo is redeemed – redeemed out of what Boyle calls the status quo of “incessant judging, comparisons, measuring, scapegoating, and competition.”[9]

The status quo goes to town in each of us, showing up in unconscious behavior and attitudes. Think about the ways you keep beating yourself up over past actions as if you’re beyond God’s redemption. Think about the ways you decide that other people are undeserving or outside of God’s love and acceptance. We tend to draw a line around where God’s redemption is possible. There are a variety of situations that beg the question, “Do we believe in redemption or don’t we?” Our answer to that question is often “no” and we continue to judge, compare, measure, scapegoat, and compete; like Peter we continue to separate Jesus from the very people Jesus includes in ever widening circles of redemption.

Fortunately, the God of redemption is alive and well. Just look at Peter’s work after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Peter became a preacher extraordinaire, tireless in his quest to share the good news. Or look at Gregory Boyle and the men and women who find redemption after gang life. Or look at you. In you, the God of redemption is alive and well, undiverted by your lack of will or understanding of what the cross means and who Jesus is.

Jesus reminds us that separation from each other isn’t true – even when we act like it is.

Jesus meets our separation with kinship, disrupting the status quo and enlivening us for the sake of the gospel.

By proclaiming the cross to his disciples, Jesus empowers us to take up the cross and follow him on the way of redemption for the sake of the world. Thanks be to God.


[1] Mark 8:27-30

[2] Pastor John Petty. Lent 2:::Mark 8:31-38 on February 19, 2018.

[3] Mark 8:34

[4] Petty.

[5] Mark 15:21

[6] David Lose. In the Meantime: Mark 8:34-38. July 4, 2012.

[7] Gregory Boyle. Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship.  (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017), 1.

[8] Boyle, 6.

[9] Boyle, 10.

When Beauty Sustains [Mark 9:2-9, Psalm 50:1-6, and Romans 12:1-2]

**sermon image celebrates nature’s beauty through the photography of Jim Doty

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on February 11, 2018 – Transfiguration Sunday

[sermon begins after three Bible readings]

Mark 9:2-9  Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Psalm 50:1-6 The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. 2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. 3 Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him. 4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: 5 “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” 6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. (Selah)

Romans 12:2  I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

[sermon begins]

The Transfiguration readings from Mark and Psalm 50 have me thinking about beauty. Specifically the beauty of God that breaks through whatever normal thing is happening. The moments just before the transfiguration are normal enough. In Colorado, we might call it a hike among friends.  Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. They barely bag the peak when the light show begins.  Dazzling them and even terrifying them.[1]  Psalm 50 brings up the perfection of beauty and God shining through. The word perfection in this Hebrew usage means all-in-all or complete which has parallels to telos in Biblical Greek.[2]  The Psalmist refers to Zion as the conduit of beauty through which “God shines forth.”[3]

Beauty is thorny.  We often suspect that beauty is contrived or exploited for gain. I’ve met many people who are suspicious of the aesthetics of beauty because they’re troubled about who sets the definitions and principles of what is beautiful. Here’s what I suggest for today. Let’s let the Transfiguration guide us. The Transfiguration is a dazzling, terrifying moment that surprises the disciples. Peter, James, and John are thrown off-balance to the point that Peter wings out an absurd building plan to sustain the moment. But it seems that it’s not about sustaining the dazzling moment of beauty. It seems that the dazzling moment of beauty is about sustaining them.

Pastor Ann asked us a question last week out of the Isaiah reading.[4]  How does faith sustain you in the weary places?  Today, the Transfiguration shifts that question ever so slightly to wonder how glimpses of God’s beauty sustain us through Lent.[5] Ash Wednesday arrives in three days.  For today, tomorrow, and the next, I’m inviting us into a transfiguration not of our own making – a beauty makeover, a transformation of a different sort.  Because I think this is what Paul is getting at in his letter to the Romans when he writes, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”  The word for transformed is a Greek word rarely used in the New Testament – only 4 times.[6] It’s translated “transfiguration” in Mark and Matthew; it’s translated transformed in Romans and in 2 Corinthians.  Let’s play with moments of God’s beauty that might transfigure us, renewing our minds so that we “may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Here’s one such moment. I was talking with a friend early last week about this idea of God’s beauty surprising us. He was one week into teaching a two-week technical class that includes electrical safety and the like out at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. He told me about a class moment during which a woman’s attention was drawn to a book underneath her desk rather than on the class discussion. Stopping the class, he asked the woman what she was reading. Turns out it was the Bible. She had been to a worship service the evening before and wanted to keep going. My friend’s exact words to describe that moment were, “Beauty tore into life to dominate the day.” Poor class behavior notwithstanding, this woman’s Jesus moment would not be thwarted. My friend saw a glimpse of God’s sustaining beauty in that moment.

Here’s another one.  Last Sunday, our youngest choir called the Cherub Choir sang a song called, “God has made me wonderful.” What made it beautiful was not harmonious brilliance. The beauty was their exuberance in singing the message and the fact that they were singing the message at all. I would hasten to bet that the thought bubbles that pop up over your heads during the week about yourself and other people don’t exactly echo “God has made me wonderful.” Think about what does pop up in those thought bubbles in the grocery aisle, in the hallways, and in traffic. Now is probably not the best time for the turn-to-your-neighbor and have a conversation on that topic. When those kids were singing last week, it was a glimpse of the beauty of God. So much so that the beauty of it intruded my mind several times during the week.

Surprising glimpses of God’s beauty are pure gift that transfigure us, sustaining us in dark times. This is not to be confused with putting on rose-colored glasses to avoid bad news or the pain of trauma. This is about God’s beauty that sustains us through the pain. There is a centuries old Christian practice of iconography that trains the mind’s eye to see the beauty of God revealed in the world. Martin Luther, from whom Lutheran Christians are so named, was no iconoclast.[7] He did not support or encourage the destruction of religious images and icons the way other 16th century reformers did. Icons were simply one more way to catch glimpses of God’s beauty in the world. They are paintings that often feature Christ or the infant Jesus and his mother Mary or other ancestors of the faith. They’re painted with precious metals and have many meanings painted into them by way of color, clothes, hand positions, halos, and more. I have a couple small icons in my home. One is of Mary and the baby Jesus. This icon hangs next to a crucifix so that I can regularly reflect on the mess and the beauty of the incarnation of God from a mother’s body in tension with the suffering of God on a cross. Icons engage the senses and imagination preparing the faithful to see the image of God in the world.[8]  The in-breaking of God’s image, God’s beauty that surprises and transfigures us.

Pictures that flood social media very often include sunsets, sunrises, mountains, trees, flowers, animals, and birds. Christians believe that nature in all its glory reveals the glory of God.[9] Referring to nature as creation reveals it as another icon of sorts – revealing God’s provision of food and water as well as the beauty of God that surprises, inspires, terrifies, and ultimately sustains. I believe that the beauty of God sustains us, my friends. But I also believe that sharing our glimpses of the beauty of God sustains other people especially when we see it in them. At a time when despair nips at our own heels and overwhelms people we love, we offer by faith the glimpses of God’s beauty that we experience by grace. Whether through prison Bible reading, a song by young children, or the icon of creation, God breaks through with glimpses of beauty so compelling, so dazzling, that we cannot look away.  Not only can we not look away, but we are sustained through bad news and trauma.

God has made you wonderful. You are living icons through whom God’s beauty is revealed and sustains. Be at peace. The light of Christ shines in you.[10] Thanks be to God. And Amen.


[1] Mark 9:3 and 6

[2] Rolf Jacobson, Professor of Old Testament and Alvin N. Rogness Chair in Scripture, Theology, and Ministry at Luther Seminary. Transfiguration of Our Lord on February 11, 2018. Sermon Brainwave podcast.

[3] Psalm 50:2

[4] Isaiah 40:31

[5] Matthew Skinner, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary. Transfiguration of Our Lord on February 11, 2018. Sermon Brainwave podcast.

[6] Bible Hub. “3339. μεταμορφόω (metamorphoó).” Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18

[7] Anthony Ugolnik. The Illuminating Icon. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1989), 59.

[8] Ugolnik, 61

[9] Romans 1:20

[10] This phrase is part of the worship liturgy called the Dismissal during this Sundays after Epiphany.