Mark 8:31- 38 “The Rebuked and The Rock: We Don’t Get to Choose What Dies”
March 4, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell
Cross of Glory Lutheran Church
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.”
It wasn’t so long ago, maybe 10 years-ish, that I carried a special kind of dread for Lent. After growing up in a tradition that didn’t spend a lot of time on the idea of grace and also spoke loudly and often about God’s judgment as a constant threat, I much preferred Easter for all of its pomp and promise. My whole thought process had been, “Give me a good, ‘He is Risen’ any day over ‘He is Dead.’ Around that time of dreading Lent, my friend Chris arrived on the scene. And she loved Lent. She had grown up worshipping as a Roman Catholic, then dabbled in Lutheran-land for awhile, and has since returned to the rich liturgical tradition of her ancestors. She has gifted me in many ways. But, for this way in particular, I am most grateful. Why so grateful? Let’s turn to Peter and see what there is to see.
Just before our text today, in verse 28 (we begin in verse 30), Peter makes a huge declaration to Jesus that he thinks Jesus is the Messiah – the kristos, the One who has come to save. So what happens in our story today that invokes Jesus’ rebuke of Peter including some pretty significant name-calling? Jesus begins to teach them. Teach them what exactly? Jesus begins “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.” Jesus begins to speak about what, up to this point in Mark, has thus far been a secret and Jesus been telling people NOT to speak about. The jig is up, the secret is out, and what does Peter moves into rebuke mode. Peter, just having confessed Jesus as the Messiah; Peter, in full view of the crowd and the disciples; Peter, elsewhere named by Jesus as the Rock upon whom Jesus would build his church, begins to challenge Jesus’ teaching about death.
Thinking about Peter as the one whom Jesus rebuked AND the Rock on whom Jesus builds his church began my wondering about the connections between Peter and the church in our time. I’ve been doing some reading here and there about the 21st century church. There are many, many people who love Jesus writing about the church as the number of people in churches declines. This decline knows no denominational boundaries as people trickle away from all kinds of traditions.
In part, this comes up on pastor’s blogs and in conversations between pastors about the upcoming bishop election for this synod as well as other synods electing bishops this year. Pastor Keith Anderson is a new friend and pastoral colleague at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Woburn, Massachusetts, in one such synod. On his blog he has a post entitled, “The Five Things I Hope For in Our Next Bishop.” Number one on his list? “Comfort Us in Death.” He asks the incoming bishop to, “Be honest with us. Don’t sugar coat it. Help us face the future head on with eyes and hearts wide open.”
This is a powerful Lenten message. Death comes. Jesus announces his impending death to the crowd and to his disciples to what effect? Peter rebukes Jesus. What did Peter discover? He doesn’t get to choose what dies. And Jesus’ death on the cross is not how Peter would choose.
Jesus also talks about us taking up crosses and following him. Many Christians do this in a symbolic way during Lent, right? Chocolate, meat, Facebook, video games and the like all end up on do-not-do lists during Lent. This symbolism represents something larger and something much more out of our control; something that Peter himself discovers in Jesus’ teaching and ultimately in Jesus’ death – again, Peter doesn’t get to choose what dies. And neither do we as the church. The church does not get to choose what dies in whatever cultural shifts are creating these painful times as we move into the 21st century together – times that leave us weeping and wondering about the faith of our children and the children of generations to come.
So, as church, we stand with Peter, caught between our confession of Jesus the Messiah and our utter denial of death in action, wondering what it is that we’re supposed to do now.
The church does not get to choose but what else might we glean from our story today? In no uncertain terms, Jesus rebukes Peter saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Why might Jesus be so strong in his language? What about Peter’s rebuke results in his being set to the back? Sarah Miles, an Episcopalian and a writer, thinks maybe it has to do with the sense that Peter’s rebuke denies Jesus’ hot-off-the-presses teaching that “after three days [the Son of Man will] rise again.”
But rising again, by definition, comes after death. Jesus’ teaching in our story today teases us with the resurrection of Easter but also “reminds us that the way to Easter is through the cross.” As Jesus instructs the disciples to take up their cross, he’s saying in part that the way to new life is through the cross. I had a preaching professor who would boil down this Christian good news in her glorious southern accent by saying, “It’s all about Liiife-Death-Liiife.” And she would flash her hands opened and closed as she said it just like that, “Liiife-Death-Liiife.” The cross is the way through. Picking up our cross makes me hopeful that we can be honest about what is dying and curious about what new life will look like.
Remember Pastor Keith Anderson’s Blog list of qualities for their next bishop? Number One is “Comfort Us in Death.” And Number Two on his list is, “Lead us in Resurrection.” He argues that, “New ministries will arise…and we need to be smart about the way we plant them and support them.” New life is possible as the church and individual congregations move through the cross into new life. Liiiiife-Death-Liiiife.
I am grateful for Lent because it focuses on the cross of Christ, his cross of glory, and draws us through death, time after time, toward a merciful and life-giving God.
Jesus is Lord and he unleashes life through his death on the cross.
Jesus, God with us, died a death that reveals God who relinquished life so that new life becomes possible.
Jesus, God with us, reassures us that we do not go alone toward the crosses that claim us – whether they are ones upon which the church or we ourselves hang.
Jesus exhales and the Spirit’s inspiration frees you to imagine what might be next for ourselves and for the church including the freedom to fail along the way because we have been saved by grace through faith.
Jesus’ hangs with us on our crosses, revealing the truth of what is dying, comforting us when we fall under the weight of our grief, and bringing new life on the breath of the Spirit.