February 25, 2018


Pastor Elizabeth Ekdale

Several days ago, I stepped out of the Intensive Care Unit (Kaiser Hospital, San Jose) into the hospital hallway.  I was stopped in my tracks by beautiful music piped through the speaker system:  the melody to Happy Birthday was being played on a harp.  Later that day I read a sign explaining the significance of the music – the birth of a baby in the hospital. In the late hours of evening, back in ICU at the bedside of my father, I pondered how, if at all, the hospital recognizes the death of a patient.  Imagine, if all staff, visitors and even the hospitalized were asked to pause to honor the death of a patient from this life to eternal life.  I wonder what song would be played over the speaker system?  

I know – it will never happen – it is simply too unsettling.  Too disturbing to have death acknowledged in the open - in plain view.  Today’s gospel story is similarly unsettling because of Jesus openness about his suffering and death.  “He said all this quite openly.”  Mark writes.  Jesus began to teach the disciples that he must undergo great suffering, be rejected, and be killed, and after three days rise again.   There was no mincing of words from Jesus.  He said it straight.  No wonder Peter responded as he did.  Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for such honest and direct talk about death.  Rebukes Jesus.   Peter could not deal with such open speech. 

This is the truth of this text.  And a very hard truth to hear.  Jesus response of condemnation to Peter is an important necessary reminder to us in this season of Lent.  As soon as we set our sights and hearts on something other than the cross, we have, as Karoline Lewis describes, traded the “death and resurrection of Jesus with a more convenient and acceptable means of imaging what it means to follow Jesus.  What it means to be a disciple.  What it means to live and be in a world that desperately needs to know that being a Christian is not an easy ticket to heaven.  Is not your guarantee of prosperity.  Is not your bypass around the hardships of life.”  (workingpreacher.org)

We need to sit with Jesus open truthful words:  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.”  The season of Lent is far more than our own practices of self-sacrifice and focus on repentance.  Otherwise, being a Christian is nothing more than thoughts and prayers that never actually anticipate action. 

Parkland; another school shooting in the United States, the 8th school shooting to have resulted in death or injury during the first seven weeks of the year.  Thoughts and prayers?  As Karoline Lewis says openly, “That’s not what Jesus suggests as an answer.”  They have their place and time.  I have no doubt when it comes to thoughts and prayers, and the power of thoughts and prayers, they work and bring comfort to those who receive them.  At the same time?  “There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you’re unwilling to resolve,” says theologian Miroslav Volf. 

And so, Jesus called the crowd to him along with the disciples and says to us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Because that’s what happens when you are willing to take on the evil powers of this world.  That’s what happens when you are determined to show the world that God’s love and goodness is greater than any human show of might.  That’s what happens when you say, “While we live, we live for Christ Jesus, and when we die, we die for Christ Jesus. Both in life and in death we belong to Christ.”  And then live as if you believe it.  (Karoline Lewis)

Jesus makes it clear – he is willing to die because of God’s great love for the world – which runs smack against Peter’s expectations of what a successful Messiah should be doing and saying.   The High School youth of our nation have captured the hearts and minds of so many because of their plain and open speech with politicians who can only respond to one more tragedy with their “thoughts and prayers”; against the gun lobby who pour millions and millions of dollars into the coffers of our politicians to keep them towing the party line. 

Jesus and these students model for us gospel speaking – addressing the sins of our society and the sins of our communal, national and global world and about how God wants it to be different.  Imagine students who can attend school without any fear of danger of gun violence?  We dare to do more than just imagine – we are called to act by taking up our cross and embodying God’s presence in the world known by the incarnate Jesus.

Most of the time, our minds are set on human things – those impulses and illusions that waste our time and energy and our very lives.  That is why the sacred reminder of Jesus plain and open speech about cross bearing and losing one’s life is so important.  Our thoughts and hearts and bodies are lifted to that which is life giving, justice producing and peace making. 

Today we consider in our own lives how to live out Jesus plainspoken invitation to follow.  In this Lenten season of renewal – we begin first and foremost out of a place of grace – trusting that God so loves us and has redeemed us through Christ’s death and resurrection that picking up our cross, losing our life for the sake of the gospel will bring to each one of us the new life that we yearn to receive.  Amen.