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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko


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2nd Sunday in Lent

Mark 8: 31-38

Rage is easy, sacrifice is costly


Rage Against the Machine

During the Friday morning minister’s study group that I attend to begin my sermon preparation, someone mentioned that the rock group Rage Against the Machine has become quite popular. He said that they were a throw back to the rock groups of the 60’s whose music had a prophetic message denouncing social injustice. I committed that rage is easy and also quite profitable but what are they doing about it. My colleague said that they distribute material at the concerts on key issues and encourage people to become involved in the political process. I remained unimpressed. Rage is easy. It has become a trademark of culture. People are constantly demanding their rights. They are protest against the government for changing laws and for not changing laws. We have become a society of complainers. I have also seen too many celebrities use the stage to promote themselves more than to stand against social injustice. Rage is easy but sacrifice is hard. It is not enough just to complain the real measurement is a person doing about the problems of our world. So, I checked out RATM’s web site. My attitude toward the group has changed. I have not joined their fan club nor do I support all their causes but I am impressed that they are willing to affirm the people who have made a commitment to work for social change.

Each month they designate someone, Freedom Fighter of the Month, They are ordinary people who have become actively involved. Taylor Hayne-Miller is a 14 year old boy who is protesting against a power plant in Salem OR. Taylor thinks that the power plant’s emissions should conform to the Clean Air Act. For the past three years, the plant has increased its emission of sulfur dioxide, nitro dioxide and carbon dioxide, significantly contributing the problem of acid rain. The young man has participated in protests against the plant, attended public meetings, and written letters to Congress. His involvement has been somewhat tranquil compared to Matt Doeringer and Sam Ellision. They are two high school students working for the cause of Mumia Abu-Jamal—a man currently on death row. Matt and Sam called on state representatives, senators, the governor, and mayor to argue in defense of Mumia. They also led 200 fellow students in a march on City Hall that began as a walk out at their high school to heighten the community’s awareness to Mumia’s case. The walk out cost them one detention. A minor slap on the wrist but a reminder that social disobedience even a peaceful one bears a cost. You and I may not agree with their politics, we may not agree with their methods but we should be impressed by their commitment. I dare say that those students are more committed to their cause than many adults are to their Lord.[1]

Early this year, we read in the gospel lessons about the accounts of Jesus calling his disciples. He asked each person to become somewhat irresponsible. He asked them to take an extended leave of absence from their jobs, to spend less time with their family and to give up their tee time at the country club. Jesus invited them to join him in wandering around the countryside, begging for food, sleeping in a different home every night, and arguing with the religious authorities. What a wonderful life?

In today’s lesson, Jesus raises the standard. The cost of discipleship is more than just friendship with an itinerate preacher. The true believe does more than attend synagogue on Sabbath. The person who confesses that Jesus is Lord does more than listen to engaging discussions about theology.

The passage comes at a crucial point in Jesus ministry. We partially reviewed the setting two weeks ago when our Scripture lesson was on the Transfiguration. Jesus spent two years teaching the people in the synagogues and instructing his disciples whenever they could get away alone. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and raised a cripple man off his bed. The time had come to begin his finally journey to Jerusalem; a journey that he knew would climax with his death. He needed to know if people were beginning to understand his message. He needed to know if anything was making sense to those 12 men who had become his closest friends. So, just before this mornings passage Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am.” The disciples respond by telling him what they had heard the people saying. “Then there came a breathless silence and he put the question”[2] to them, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s word must have brought a deep sense of satisfaction to our Lord—you are the Christ the Son of the living God. By that response, Jesus knew that they were coming to understand the deeper reality of his message. He was not just any rabbi. His teaching was more than just a catchy set of cliches on how to be holy without being religious. He was not just some wonder worker who performed amazing tricks and then walked out of people’s lives before they figure out what happened. Jesus also knew by Peter’s response that the time had come to take them to the next level.

A life of self denial applies to every disciple

Jesus did something quite unusual to introduce his teaching—he called the crowd to be with him. He normally did not have to call them. The crowd flocked to Jesus with a persistent intensity that he often had to be creative about looking for ways to escape but on this occasion, he summoned them. He only did this one other time, when the elders replaced a life of faith with conformity to tradition. He wanted every one to know that a person could not become righteous before God merely by performing the ceremonial hand washing of the Pharisees. Holiness sprung from the heart not through the rite. By his actions, Jesus places the demands of discipleship on every beleiver. It applies to those in positions of authority and to those in the pew. This call has important implications for the believers in 21st Century as well as the 1st. It does not create a spiritual elite or a ladder of accession.

Free to choose

While the call is issued to every believer, surprisingly Jesus gives each person the freedom to choose or reject him. “If any man would come after me,” Dietrich Bonehoeffer writes, “Nobody can be forced, nobody can even be expected to come. He says rather, “if any [man or woman] is prepared to spurn all other offers which come [his or her] way in order to follow….”[3] However, a decision is required of every individual.

Our life in Christ begins in baptism most often not by our choice but by the choice of our parents. We are nurtured in faith through their loving care and the instruction of the Church. At some juncture, we must make the decision for ourselves whether to accept or reject the claim that the water has put upon us but that is not the final decision. Sam Shoemaker, who Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh during the 50’s, once said that conversion is giving all that I know of myself to all that I know of God.[4] That is a wonderful way of understanding faith and commitment. When we first come to faith, we only know and understand so much about God. We cannot explain the great tenants of the faith; we cannot summarize Paul’s arguments against Christian legalism in Romans and Galatians. We only know that in our own small finite way, we believe only so much about an incomprehensible God. A skeptic once asked the great theologian Karl Barth what was the most profound truth of faith. Barth replied, “Jesus loves me!” The skeptic then asked how could he be certain of that, to which Barth replied, “Because my mother told me and she would not lie.”[5] Even for great theologian, had a rather simple faith.

When we come to faith, we also only know so much about ourselves. Therefore, at conversion we can only give what we know of ourselves to what we know of God. However, as we grow older, we become more aware of both ourselves and of God. At that point in time, we come to another crossroads. Once more, we must make a decision. Now that we know more about God and ourselves, we are confronted with a decision. Are we willing to give him more of ourselves? Are we willing to deny more of who we know we are? Are we willing to be more aware of Christ and less aware of ourselves?

Our faith and commitment are never static one-time decisions. Each day circumstances challenge our resolve to walk in faith. Each day opportunities force us to reconsider our decision to serve our own self interests or deny them and serve our risen Lord.

Sacrifice is Hard

Confessing Christ requires a decision to deny ourselves and follow him but even a life of self denial is only prepares us for our true calling—to carry our cross. Again, Bonhoeffer writes,

Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for his sake. If in the end we know only him, if we are indeed looking only unto him. If Jesus had not so graciously prepared us for this word, we should have found it unbearable. But by preparing us for it he has enabled us to receive even a word as hard ass this as a word of grace.[6]

But what are our crosses? Unfortunately, they are often mistaken for trials or hardship. People typically think that an overbearing and unreasonable boss or a tragedy that strikes their family is their ‘cross.” But they are not. We should not call an illness, even one so painful that no medication can bring relief; nor a financial loss that leads to bankruptcy and the loss of a home, or a natural disaster that produces mass destruction and hardship, a cross. For the believer, a cross is the pain we must endure because we have made a conscious decision to embrace the a life of faith and walk in his steps. The cross we bear is the disdain from people even our friends for living out the truth of his teaching. It is the financial loss we incur when we refuse to bend our business ethics to make a profit. It is the doing without that we feel when we give generously to the poor rather than buy the latest toys. It is the rejection we feel from our friends when we take an unpopular political position to defend the rights of the oppressed. It is the lack of recognition we experience because we have chosen a career of service rather than a career that would lead to prestige, honor, or wealth.

During the dark days of World War II, throughout England men were leaving their jobs to enlist in the armed services. They not only wanted to defend their country but they also sought roles that would bring them greater social recognition. Soon England found that the labor force to work the mines was dangerously low. Something needed to be done or they would not have enough coal miners to extract the oar.

Responded to the crises, Winston Churchill delivered a speech one day to thousands of coal miners. He concluded his speech by describing the grand parade that would take place when VE Day came. First, he said, would come the sailors of the British Navy, the ones who had upheld the grand tradition of Trafalgar and the defeat of the Armada. Next in the parade, he said, would come the pilots of the Royal Air Force. They were the ones who, more than any other, had saved England from the dreaded German Lufwaffa. Next in the parade would come the Army, the ones that had stood tall at the crises of Dunkirk.

Last of all, he said, would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in minor's caps. And someone, he said, would cry from the crowd, "And where were you during the critical days of the struggle?" And then from ten thousand throats would come, "We were deep in the earth with our faces to the coal."[7]

Churchill called on those men to take up the cross of service for their country. Their only reward would be the black soot on their faces and the knowledge that they supplied their country with the fuel to defend their nation.

Conclusion

The message is unmistakable clear. Our Lord calls every believer to a life of self denial yet, he offers us a choose. He does not force it upon us. We must be willing to make the decision again and again throughout are whole. Once we begin to turn from our self-interests to look to Christ we see a cross that he has called us to carry. We do not have to go in search of it. Our cross is always within arms length. We simply must pick it. However, if we refuse to take up our cross and submit to suffering and rejection we will forfeit our fellowship with Christ.

It is easy to complain about the government. It is easy to lament over Third World poverty. It is easy to rage over the unfairness of life but it is hard to pick up cross and serve.



[2] William The Gospel of Mark, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 197.

[3] Dietrich Bonehoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: MacMillian, 1963), 97.

[4] Robert Truttle, Sanctity Without Starch

[5] Unknown source.

[6] Bonhoeffer, The Cost Of Discipleship, 97,98.

[7] Brett Blair, Online: http://www.sermonillustrations;.com, 1999.

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