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Lent 2B Sermon
Mark 8: 31-38
25, 2018


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

When our son was just a couple of years old, we decided to treat the phrase, “shut up” like a bad word. We taught him that we don’t say it, and that it was just as bad as the other bad words that we weren’t going to say. It worked in those first few years, until he got into situations at school where kids would say to each other, “shut up” and he would tell us that so and so was saying bad words. We had to explain that it wasn’t really swearing, but we considered them bad words because they are often rude and disrespectful. With the increased number of people around him every day saying it, I don’t think our influence lasted that long, although I don’t think he says it very much even today. And I am not sure if we even went there with our daughter. You know how it goes with the later children.

Even though it doesn’t say it exactly, there are a couple of “shut ups” in our gospel lesson. Whenever you see the word, “rebuke,” that person is basically saying, “shut up!” Think about it – for once Jesus actually speaks plainly and not in parables or cryptic lessons; here, he talks about undergoing great suffering, be rejected, killed and after three days rise again. And the first response he gets from Peter is, “shut up!” To which Jesus responds, “no, you shut up!” That is usually what someone says who has been told to shut up and has no comeback – “no YOU shut up!”

But you will notice that Jesus has a comeback for Peter. After he refers to him as Satan – a very harsh reference – he says, “… you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” In other words, this is serious stuff. This is no gentlemanly argument where we can both walk away and, “agree to disagree.” This is a dramatization of the life and death clash between the divine and the diabolical.

It is so serious that after this conversation with Peter, Jesus turns his attention to the crowds that are there. He tells them that this will not only happen to him, but that it will happen to all who follow him. Like Jesus, we are all called to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. That is not an easy task. First of all, we don’t even like to deny ourselves anything for the seven weeks of Lent, let alone our lifetimes! If it makes you happy, do it! That is the mantra of many in our culture. But the cross is no mere piece of t-shaped gold on the end of a necklace. Crucifixion was the most humiliating, torturous execution the Romans could devise. Even Cicero decried it saying, “There is no fitting word that can possibly describe a deed so horrible.” This is part of Jesus’ journey … and it is where we are called to follow too. But in our sinfulness we regularly act in ways that tells Jesus to shut up.

I have told the story before, but I think it merits telling again. A woman had trained to run a half-marathon. She showed up on race day and mistakenly got into the group that was running the full marathon instead of the half. She ran 13.1 miles but saw no sign of it being the end, so she kept going. She kept thinking that she would see a finish line any time, but never did. Finally she figured out what she had done, stopped running and left the course. She did so because that wasn’t what she signed up for, and she had completed the half-marathon, so she was done.
Peter and those around Jesus must have been thinking that this was not what they had signed up for either! Up until this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus was doing some amazing and spectacular things. He was healing, feeding, calming storms, and generally loving those who society was calling unlovable. Certainly this was all going to end very well … and as we know, it did end very well; but it had to go through some very rough terrain to get to the end.

As followers of Jesus, we are assured of the joyful destination … and we are also assured of the difficult road to get there. We may at times feel like telling God, “Shut up – this isn’t what I signed up for!” But the promise from Jesus is that all of this – not only the ultimate joy of the resurrection – can be classified as, “divine”. Denial, losing, dying, forfeiting for the sake of the gospel are all divine things upon which Jesus would have us set our minds as we follow him.

I want to invite you this Lent to give up saying or thinking the phrase, “shut up.” Last week when a news personality criticized LeBron James for speaking his mind, she closed with the phrase, “Just shut up and dribble.” Good, healthy dialogue and understanding gets squashed when phrases like this are used. “We should arm teachers” – shut up! “We should outlaw assault rifles” – shut up! “We should welcome dreamers” – shut up! “We should make America Great again” shut up! All sides wish that those who disagree with them would just shut up. The disciples wished Jesus would not have been so open and clear about this and shut up. But when we seek to travel together through the rocky, rough terrain – much of which we didn’t sign up for in the first place – we need each other, no matter our race, gender, political affiliation or social standing. The threats around us are as horrible as the threat of the cross in the days of the Roman Empire. My daughter didn’t sign up for a school day where she is told never to be the first one out of a classroom if the fire alarm goes off because it might have been pulled by someone who will open fire when you step out there! But that is where we live today, that is where we carry our crosses; and, thankfully, that is where Jesus travels with us as well.

I have seen some posts on social media saying that the reason that school shootings are happening is because God isn’t allowed in the schools. I just want to tell those people, “shut up!” St. Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. No one can keep God out of our schools, and to say that they can denies the very existence of God in the first place. If this is true then what about the shootings at First Baptist Church in Texas and Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston? Rules about public prayer and religion cannot keep God out of the schools, and do you know why? Because people like Hannah Wolfe and Phil Hangen and Jabe Miller and Ethan Adcock and Kate Jones and Logan Prater and countless of Christians are there, following Jesus (alongside faithful Jewish and Muslim people) as they study, play, sing and act every day. Even if, God forbid, something would happen at any of our local schools, God is not absent. As a matter of fact, the divine presence of our loving God is there carrying that cross with them, loving them, comforting them, and strengthening them along their journey. Debate gun control and the second amendment all you want; openly argue about the best ways to keep our students and staff safe in their schools. Pray, protest, write public officials to express your opinion about this very human issue. But on the very divine issue of the presence of God in our schools, courtrooms, government buildings and other public places, don’t fall into the trap of signing up for something different. The hope-filled promise that I cling to every day is that nothing can separate me, my family, my neighbors, church, nation or world from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.