Service of the Word: Second Sunday of Lent 2021

Blessed by God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; And blessed be God’s kingdom – now and forever. Amen.

Confession & Absolution

The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart God will not despise. Let us come to the Lord, who is full of compassion, and acknowledge our sins in penitence and faith.

May the Father of all mercies cleanse you from your sins, and restore you in his image to the praise and glory of his name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gospel

A reading from the holy gospel according to St. Mark, chapter 8 beginning at verse 31.

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, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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.” 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. 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 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.”

Here ends the reading

Sermon

The gospel of Mark is one great show and tell story to let us know the identity of Jesus. In his opening lines, Mark tells us that Jesus is good news for the world because he will usher in, bring about, God’s plan to transform the world by transforming people. The first 8 chapters show us that Jesus is God’s agent of transformation: he heals, he forgives sin, he connects people to God, and he becomes the new focus and hope for Jewish hopes and dreams for change. After being shown all of this, Jesus asks the disciples directly: who do you reckon I am then? Peter get’s it right when he says: the messiah, God’s agent of change and salvation on earth.

That conversation takes place just before we reach our passage today. Now that Peter and the disciples have established who Jesus is – Jesus now wants to tell them the plan – how he will transform things.

What the disciples expect to hear is a mixture of a battle plan and a political party broadcast. They want to know when he’ll beat up the Romans, take over the Temple in Jerusalem and usher in a joint church and government that will bring perfect harmony in Israel and beyond. It may sound odd to our ears that Jesus was expected to fulfill political and social goals, as well as religious ones. But for Jews, as for the Romans, the reason you were successful and got things done was because you had the right God or Gods on your side. Political power and spiritual power were inseparable. The disciples felt that Jesus would and should fit this mould. That he as God’s agent of transformation should bring political and religious change forcefully, visibly and quickly and at the same time; getting rid of the evil empire and ushering in a new era of righteous, religious and just power of which they hoped to be a part.

Imagine then how the disciples felt on this day when Jesus for the first time ever mentions to them and to the crowd that he’ll suffer rejection and death at the hands of corrupt officials. The messiah can’t die – he’s got work to do. Jesus must be mistaken. Peter takes him aside and tells him to get back on the victory march; fast forward to the good bit. Peter wanted Jesus to transform everything – yes – but he also wanted to tell Jesus how to go about it, and that’s when Jesus blows up on him: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

How often do we find ourselves frustrated and upset, thinking we could do a better job than God at being God? Perhaps when we see the delays to our plans; hope postponed; freedom constrained and suffering prolonged for yet more months. We know that God means our good, that Jesus is the one we need, but we’d rather he delivered the goods in the visible, quick and seemingly easy way that life could be – if only we were in charge. We don’t want to hear about the suffering, then the three day delay that comes before the resurrection. And yet that’s what Jesus said must happen – it’s necessary, there’s no way around it or below it or over it, only through his death can transformation and life, for us and for all, take place.

Jesus here and elsewhere never fully answers the question why his death was a necessary part of God’s plan for transforming people and the world, but we do get hints, images and shadows of an answer. Jesus death on the cross is described in scripture in many ways. As a full sacrifice or payment, a perfect offering by Jesus to God on our behalf. As the moment when everything destructive and evil in the world falls upon Jesus, yet he gets up again and evil, although lingering on for a while, is mortally and fatally wounded. When Jesus dies, any guilt and shame for our shortcomings die with him. On the cross Jesus is temporarily separated from the Father when he bears our sins and dies to remove them – all so we will be reunited and reconciled to the Father. Our old personalities – the bits untouched by God – die with Jesus on that cross, so that we can have live as new creatures with a new spiritual identity as God’s children. Some misinterpret these images to mean that Jesus unwillingly got harmed or that God’s anger against sin needed an outlet before he could forgive us. Those notions don’t quite grasp the nuance of the symbols used or accurately describe the God that scripture describes. None of these images and analogies are perfect, they come from an ancient sacrificial culture trying to describe the divine mystery of the incredible sacrifice Jesus made that day for us. What we do know for sure is that without dying, Jesus could never have brought about the transformation from darkness to light that God promised the people of Israel and any who believe. That makes his death, as well as his resurrection, good news for you and for me.

If Peter had his way and there was no cross, then many would lose out. There’d be no time for confession and forgiveness; no opportunity for reconciliation between humanity and God; no transformation of evil into good. It’s the love of God that sent Jesus to die and asked Peter to be patient for God’s plan. It’s the love of God that asks you and I to let God be God this Lent and this Lockdown, in his way and time – not ours. It may be time we need to allow the deep, slow and invisible work of Jesus transform us and the world from the inside-out. It’s the love of God which asks you to carry your cross, offer your obedience in prayer, witness and service this Lent, so that the life transforming and world changing news of Jesus can reach powerfully into the lives of those who know you as a follower of his.

Blessing

Christ give you grace to grow in holiness, to deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow him; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always.