Tag Archives: Mark 8:31-38

Weakness and Vulnerability: Divine Things (February 25, 2018)

Mark 8:31-38

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. 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.”

I said last week that the author of Mark’s gospel writes in a pretty unique style. Direct, fast-paced, only including details that help make the point and leaving out anything else. And that this author invites us, the reader into the narrative–to finish the story, as it were.

This text today is Mark at his/her finest! It’s pretty hard to miss the point here, isn’t it? Disciples of Jesus are those that follow him even though he’s heading to his own death. To do anything else is to put human things ahead of divine things. And that, Jesus makes clear to Peter, is satanic.

Mark doesn’t leave us a lot of wiggle room. If you put yourself and your own life ahead of your neighbor’s, you are in essence losing your life. Real life only comes by giving yourself away for the sake of others—which is exactly what Jesus says he’s doing when he talks about his death.

Mark’s direct writing style on display. And, as the reader, we are invited into the story right alongside Peter. Human things or divine things? Follow Satan or follow Jesus? Serve ourselves or serve others? It’s that clear, that demanding, and should be that simple.

But here’s the thing. Like a lot of folks, I want to let myself off the hook just a bit, justify serving myself and choosing human things. And the Jesus in Mark makes it pretty clear where I stand when I do that.

I’m not alone there. So the one thing we all have in common is that the Jesus in Mark would say the same thing to each of us that he says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Because we want a God who doesn’t address our refusal to follow. We want a God whose only job is to forgive us for choosing the human things. Then, we can continue doing so feeling like God is backing our human choices.

Because just like Peter, we much prefer a God who is more human than divine. A God who meets our standard of power and might instead of one who is weak and easily killed. We want a God who is strong enough to take care of school shootings and gun violence for us, not one who invites us to follow him into the powerlessness of the victims.

Just like Peter, we expect strength in our Messiah, just as we desire strength in ourselves. That’s a human thing, not a divine thing.

Instead of striving to be powerful and strong, what would it be like if we followed Jesus into the divine thing. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who approached life from the position that they are always correct? Hard to be vulnerable and weak with them isn’t it? An encounter with someone like that is not usually an encounter with the divine, vulnerable Christ.

So, what if picking up our cross meant that we were as vulnerable as Jesus? We think the divine thing is power, when in fact it is the very human thing. Are we avoiding vulnerability in order to appear strong? Get behind me, Satan.

Jesus says very openly in this reading that the divine thing is to pick up our own cross and follow him. Because it’s in the vulnerability of the cross that God is most fully present with Jesus. Perhaps the cross we pick up is that same vulnerability. Because when we acknowledge our own vulnerability we are then walk with others in their vulnerability. Rather than avoiding weakness and brokenness which is the human thing, perhaps the divine thing to do is recognize God present in weakness. Both our own and others’. Rather than judge others in their vulnerability, rebuking them for a lack of Messianic strength, we join them in their brokenness, knowing that we are following the one who picked up the weakness of the cross. Instead of meeting power with more power, strength with more strength, force with more force, we seek to join the presence of Christ in the weak, the victimized, the wounded, the grieving.

That’s the divine thing to do. Because it’s only through the cross that there is resurrection. It’s only in weakness that there is strength. It’s only in vulnerability that there is life. Mark seems pretty clear about that.

There are a bunch of students from Parkland, FL who have experienced extreme vulnerability, and seen it in each other. They’ve decided to walk together in that vulnerability and in so doing have been resurrected to a new life, a new purpose. They’ve found a new voice in their collective weakness. And that voice just might change our culture of violence.

So we pick up this cross of weakness, of vulnerability, and we follow Christ. Not because of our certainty, but because that’s where we meet him. Because that’s where we discover resurrection and life. As we embrace others in their weakness too, walk alongside them in their vulnerability too, we recognize Christ present with us together. And together we experience new life.

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Posted by on February 25, 2018 in Sermon


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How Do You Know if You’re Successful? (Mark 8:31-38)

Think of someone who is successful. Why do you think they are successful? What’s the measure?

Are you successful? How do you know?

Our human nature is to strive to be prosperous, strong, influential. Doesn’t God want us to be successful? Don’t we thank God for our  successes—calling them “blessings”?

Peter and the other disciples have experienced Jesus’ “success.” They have seen Jesus cure people, cast out demons, feed thousands, challenge the powerful, teach crowds in amazing ways. He is amazingly strong and influential! Everything you’d think a successful person would do. Everything we think a successful church should do.

So imagine how shocked these disciples were to hear Jesus saying that success means suffering, rejection, death. And when Peter tries to question that view of success—because, after all, that just doesn’t make any sense—Jesus calls him Satan. He says that Peter’s human view of success is not of God. It is merely human, satanic. If Peter believes that human views of success are God’s views, then Peter is standing in God’s way, and he needs to back down and get out of Jesus’ way. Because God has a mission, and God will be successful. God’s reign of love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and generosity has come into the world, and in Jesus it is taking on the powers of human success head on.

Even though it will cost Jesus his life. Even though it will look to all the world as if Jesus has failed. And in the face of all that Jesus is still adamant that this is God’s success. He brings God’s love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and generosity into the world regardless of how inconvenient it is. No matter the cost to him. So, Peter, if you’re not on board with that then “get behind me, Satan.” The world will be loved and we will be forgiven. Period. That is Jesus’ mission; therefore, as his church, it is ours too.

So how did the church get so far off track?

When did the church become more concerned about gaining members and money than about forgiveness and grace? When did Christ’s church begin to put its members’ comfort and convenience ahead the inconvenience of showing God’s love and mercy in the world?

Go to almost any Christian congregation of any denomination and it won’t be long before you hear the priority of human success. “How big is the church?” “This outreach program is fine, but will it bring in new members?” “How do we get more people inside our doors?” “How’s the budget?”

Peter would stand with us in using these as measures of success. Because in our world they make sense; from a human perspective they make sense. If our human measures are successful, we appear strong, prosperous, influential to the world. We gain status and respect in the world.

But if we hold that as a higher measure of success than forgiving the unforgiveable and loving the unloveable, then Jesus tells us to get behind him, because we are not contributing to God’s success.

Christ’s church can’t make decisions based on how many people like them. The church can’t back off loving the neighborhood because some withhold offerings. If we were merely a human institution those views might make sense. But we are not just a human organization. We are the body of Christ. We are called by God into God’s success. Even if it is painful. Even if it is hard. Even if it is inconvenient. Even if it costs us. Even if it leads us toward the cross.

Ironically, Jesus says it’s following him to the cross that leads us to success and life. Isn’t that a kick? God is successful. The world is loved. The world is forgiven. Even the church. Even you. And nothing will stop Jesus from continuing to bring that love and grace to you. Even if it costs him. God will succeed. God already has. God’s love surrounds you now. You are absolutely forgiven now. Perhaps, as the church, we will find that successful. Because apparently Jesus does.

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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Sermon


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Generosity: A Measure of Discipleship (3/4/12)

2nd Sunday in Lent (B)

Mark 8:31-38

Immediately before these verses, Peter had this great insight as to who Jesus actually is. You are the Messiah. But the next thing Jesus says to him, in our text today, is, Get behind me, Satan! Does that bother anyone else but me? Satan? Really? If Peter said something incorrect, why doesn’t Jesus just say, Good try, Peter, but that’s not quite right. Thanks for a really good effort, though. Let’s work on this together, OK? But, no, he calls him Satan. That doesn’t square with our common perception of Jesus as nice guy and good teacher.

I give Peter the benefit of the doubt, here. When someone you care about talks about dying, the natural human response is for us to not want that to happen. Peter takes Jesus aside and tells him so. It’s just human. And Jesus blasts him for it.

Because here’s the deal: what Jesus is saying about his coming death and resurrection is so desperately important that he simply can’t afford to be nice. There isn’t time. It’s like a child starting to run out into the street. You aren’t so worried about being polite, you simply grab them however you can and pull them back to safety.

That’s the sense of urgency here. The difference between divine things and human things is that important. It’s life and death. Get behind me, Satan!

So as far as Peter’s rebuking Jesus, just because something is a common or even an expected human response doesn’t make it good, right, or Godly. In fact, often the divine things fly in the face of common sense and human expectations.  “The last shall be first.” “Love your enemies.” “Leave the 99 sheep to go look for the 1 who is lost.” “Give to everyone who asks.” “God’s Messiah must be rejected, suffer, die, and be raised.” Jesus adds another one right here, 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.

Let’s bring this home: I don’t think Jesus is talking about losing your life as in dying, but more losing the things that we think will give us life. When someone talks about “living the good life,” don’t we usually think that means having lots of money, financial comfort and security, and surrounding ourselves with the good things money can buy? In our human culture, it makes sense to us that more money equals better life. So we talk that way, live that way, and all seem to agree. We do whatever we can to make more money and to keep more money. Because we believe that having more will give us a better life.

Then when Jesus throws the divine thinking on us, saying something about giving away so much that we have to adjust our good lifestyle, we either ignore him as “oh, that silly Jesus,” or, just like Peter we quietly take him aside and rebuke him. C’mon, Jesus. You know that can’t be true. I work hard because I only want to provide good things for my family. Surely you’re not saying that my children should do without, are you?

And Jesus replies, Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

But Jesus, I’ve got to provide for my kids. College expenses will be coming up. I’ve got to save for retirement, don’t I? That’s just being responsible!

And Jesus replies, 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. It’s that important.

Since so much of our culture, our identity, our sense of what life is about is tied directly to how we feel about money, I think that’s one of Jesus’ primary targets for us. We have accepted the notion that more money equals more life, but Jesus says that’s the type of human thinking that leads only to death. Get behind me, Satan. It’s that urgent.

When it comes to money, the divine thing in the face of our human thinking is generosity. The nature of God is that God gives us everything, constantly, continuously. Whether we deserve it or not, whether we believe in God or not, whether we go to church or not, whether we are generous or not—God is generous to us. The gifts of creation are constant. As Martin Luther wrote in the explanation to the first article of the Apostles’ Creed,

I believe that God has created me together with all creatures. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. God does all this out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.

Forgiveness and unconditional love are given to us day after day after day. And it’s not that God sits back and doles this out to us out of some excess reserve. The divine nature of God’s generosity means that God gives God’s own Son, the Son gives his own life, for our sake.

We’re still early in Lent, this season of deliberately changing our minds from human things that we believe give life to divine things that actually do. So let’s get specific about that. Jesus tells us in this text that if we want to become his followers, we would deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.

This Lent, why not make a conscious move from saving our lives to losing them? This Lent, why not try giving more and keeping less? Biblically, a general guide for generosity is giving away 10% of our income; at least in the Old Testament. The New Testament refers to giving away everything. But 10% is a pretty good gauge, I’ve discovered. So try it. If you’re already giving away 10%, try 15%. Outrageous generosity is a divine thing. See what happens when we set our minds not on human concept of having more, but the divine concept of giving more. Try it this Lent. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? It’s that important. It’s that urgent.

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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Sermon


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