CCC February 25, 2018 Mark 8:31-38
Have you ever been in a situation where you are listening to someone and just wished they would say what they thought, instead of dancing around it? You just want to holler ‘Just say it!’ In French we say, ‘Arrête de tourner autour du pot’, in other words ‘Get on with it’.
Well Jesus cannot be accused of that problem. He could not be more direct! Poor Peter, but good for us. Jesus’message is clear.
Before we go to his message, what was the context?
Just earlier, while Jesus is walking with his disciples he had asked them who people thought he was. Some answered various things and that is when Jesus becomes specific and says: ‘Who do you think I am?’ Peter answers ‘You are the Messiah’. Jesus then tells them not to tell anyone.
This is where today’s text picks up the story. Jesus goes on to tell people quite openly that the Son of Man, i.e. The Messiah, must suffer, be rejected by the religious establishment, be killed and rise again. Jesus was wanting to make it quite clear that he was rejecting completely the idea of the Warrior Messiah that people were waiting for. He rejected the idea of redemptive violence. No matter how bad the Roman occupation was, the messiah he would be will not be the conquering warrior. Rather he knew that what he was teaching, what he was doing, would set the authorities against him and it was only a matter of time that they would come after him.
Now Peter was not of that mind, no way, he pulls Jesus aside and tells him so. Poor Peter, you cannot blame the guy. He had expectations, the whole nation did, and he thought he had finally met the man who would set Israel free from the Romans. It is no wonder that the gospel writer inserts stories of Jesus healing the blind, before and after this story. People were blind to what Jesus was saying about what type of Messiah he would be.
Now as the story goes on, Jesus starts to clarify what the implications are for his followers. They are to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow him. That is going to be my sermon, that short phrase. Followers of Jesus are to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow him.
Let’s start with to deny oneself? What does it mean?
I am going to start with what it does not mean.
It is lent. Many people have given up something for Lent. Over the years, I have heard various people share that they have given up: chocolates, wine, pornography, TV, social media, just to name a few.
Those can be good and fine, but I think when Jesus talks about denying oneself he means something more than those individual actions.
Sometimes people stay in unhealthy and abusive relationships believing that is what it means to deny oneself, or they are told they should for that reason. I want to be clear, that is not what Jesus had in mind.
Denying oneself is when we use as a general guide something much greater than ourselves. Loving the Lord our God with all our heart soul and mind and our neighbour as our self points us away from ourselves as the guiding principle for our life choices.
The Cathedral is in the heart of Montreal. We are resting on the Promenade de la cathédrale, we are in front of Birks and next to The Bay. We are bombarded by ads that try to have us believe that if we buy this item then we will be happy. If I buy that men’s cologne, I will look as hot as those ads! Not so!!!! You know what I am getting at. We cannot buy our happiness.
Now that having been said, I read this week that you can. Michael Norton, a psychologist in the US, in a study, discovered that you can buy happiness…if you spend it on others. Giving makes us happy.
An elderly woman was being counselled by her son and her financial advisor not to give as much of her money away. She had to tell them clearly that she had an abundance and it made her happy to give it away. She added she knew she was doing the right thing.
It is not by focusing on ourselves that we find happiness or that our lives will be fulfilled but on focusing on something greater then ourselves.
Jesus calls us to deny ourselves. He is asking us to change our paradigm, the way we frame our thinking and actions. From a paradigm that is focused on ourselves, we are called to live within the paradigm that focuses rather on God and others.
Let’s continue, Jesus also told his listeners to pick up their cross. That is a hard one. What was Jesus asking his followers? What was he getting at?
Jesus assumed that following him would put people at odds with the authorities which could cost them dearly, even their lives.
Now for us here in Montreal, here in Canada, we live in a democratic society, speaking up for issues of justice and peace will not get us thrown into jail, it will not cost our lives. That is not the case for a lot of places in the world, where being a Christian can cost people their freedom, their lives. This is true also for people who are not specifically Christian but people who work for social justice in the world, for the rights of aboriginal people who find themselves exploited by multinationals, for the rights of LGBTQ+ people in their countries. They have picked up their crosses and it will cost them dearly, for some their lives.
In the US, the social issues are so dramatic it is nearly easy as a Christian to find a cause to give one’s energy to, one’s life. It was February 14, Ash Wednesday, that we were reminded with the shooting at the High School in Florida, of the insanity of the debate around guns and the terrible cost to them. Yet young people from that school, and elsewhere, are raising their voices, challenging the law givers. They are confronting the authorities, they are challenging what is wrong.
But here in Canada? I was speaking to a couple of parishioners this week about this question. What about us?
Although, it is not as obvious, we cannot kid ourselves, our nation is not lily white. Yes, we live in much more peaceful country, but we have our problems. Racism exists, homophobia exists, islamophobia exists, we only need to remember last year’s killings in Quebec city mosque. Our government, our Canadian companies outside of Canada, are doing things that, as Christians, we have a right and a responsibility to speak out against, whether it is the sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, or Canadian mining companies who have an abysmal record on their foreign sites. We have our issues that as Christians we can commit ourselves to work towards eradicating.
Speaking out won’t cost us our lives but it will cost us because we Canadians are like Peter, we don’t want to hear about the bad stuff. Some people wont like that we speak out.
It will be personal to each one of us but called we are to challenge what is wrong.
Jesus tells each one of us to pick up OUR individual cross to challenge, as he did, what is wrong in the world.
Jesus calls us not to focus on ourselves but to live within the paradigm that focuses on God and others.
In closing, I love the passage we heard from Genesis this morning. Here is this very, very old couple being sent out on a new mission, given new names with the promise that God would bless them.
The message for us is pretty clear. We are never too old to make the changes that Christ is calling us to make.
Many of you have heard of Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. He was known for his ministry to the poor and marginalized and an outspoken critic of poverty, social injustice, violations of human rights, torture and all forms of violence. He was assassinated in 1980 while saying mass by an order of a right-wing politician. He is considered now as a 20th century martyr, in the Roman Catholic Church as well as our own Anglican Church. Archbishop Romero obviously picked up his cross and was killed for it.
Why I am mentioning him this morning though is that he was chosen archbishop because he was a conservative ‘establishment’ choice. It was shortly after his appointment though that his close friend, a Jesuit working for social justice, was assassinated. This had a dramatic effect on him as he literally changed sides, from the Establishment to the side of the poor and marginalized. As a 60-year-old man, Bishop Romero heard the call to pick up his cross, to become an advocate of the poor.
Like Abraham and Sarah, like Bishop Romero, we are never too old to hear the call of Christ.
My sisters and brothers on the journey, regardless of your age, young or old, or status in life, Christ calls you to make The Kingdom of God your guiding goal.
Christ calls you to pick up your individual cross that will challenge what is wrong in this world.
In doing so, you will be following the one who has called you.