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Mark 8:31-38

8:31 Then he 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.  

8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 

8:33 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.” 

8:34 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. 

8:35 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. 

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?  

8:38 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.” 

It feels important to put tonight’s Gospel text into context. Right before Jesus began to teach his disciples, he was having a conversation with them and he asked them who do you say that I am? And Peter responded with: you are the Christ. 

And then Jesus had asked them not to say anything to anyone. 

Now – in the very next line unlike the usual Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, we are told that he begins to teach them openly about what is to come because of who he is.  

It’s weird. ‘Don’t tell them my special name’ and in the next breath he’s looking up and saying loud enough for anyone in the vicinity that the Son of Man is going to be rejected by everyone in power and is going to die and not just any death either – the worst death. 

Then he gathers a crowd this Jesus in Mark who usually does things and then tells the people ‘Shhhhhh’. And in front of the crowd he tells them what they need to do if they want to follow Jesus. He performs miracles and heals people, whatever don’t tell anyone, but this you need to hear and so does anyone else who wants to follow. This is our indication to pay special attention. 

This is the first prediction in Mark’s gospel of the death and passion of Jesus Christ and he’s not predicting it quietly or off to the side. 

Peter doesn’t want this for him. He’s just identified for sure who Jesus is – for sure and he’s not ready to contemplate the cost at least not yet. 

It makes sense that he says what he does to Jesus. Who would want this – for anyone?  

But this passage has got me wondering about you and me. What might these words mean for us? 

If we identify Jesus in our lives as the Christ – the anointed one – the Messiah. Then what does that look like? What divine things should we be focusing on as a result? What cross are we carrying? 

Lent is exactly the time to be thinking about these things. This is the season to pay particular attention to our relationship with God. To notice what might be in the way of us living fully into that relationship. If we are called as followers of Jesus to turn more and more deeply into the teachings and love that is found in God,  then we might also be called to notice what is getting in the way of doing that. What is preventing us from living into the invitation that we receive from reading these passages? 

That is why we as a community have taken on these new practices within our liturgy for this season.  

This is the third year that we have put the litany of penitence at the beginning of our Lenten services, not because we are particularly sinful in the weeks leading up to Easter, but because this a time to remind ourselves what we are committed to. And because sinfulness doesn’t have a season. We live in this world and are tempted by things that aren’t god for us all of the time – and I don’t just mean alcohol or chocolate or meat or whatever you may have chosen to give up this season.   

We live our lives in this world with all of the very real temptations that it presents to love ourselves first, to have whatever we want regardless of where it came from or how it was made because in some version of reality we deserve whatever we want. Which sounds lovely but can be dangerous when you play that out all the way to the end.  

When I just take what I want, live as I feel I deserve and don’t think through any of the consequences then I allow myself to forget that I live in relationship. I live connected to you, to the people in my neighbourhood, to my family, to the people who grow the food that I eat, to the person who grows my coffee beans, to the person who made my mobile phone, to the person who sold it to me. 

My actions, how I treat people, the things I choose to buy, they have a ripple effect on the world around me. And this is the case with all of us. 

And so if we believe in a world in which God is infused into all the things: into every living thing from the ground up – then our choices also impact the God who loves us into being. But not just us – loved everyone into being. 

We recite the commandments because they are the most basic version of the rules that we follow they were what God requested of us very early into humanities relationship with God. So this season we remind ourselves and some of them are pretty basic: don’t kill, don’t steal but others are trickier: don’t bare false witness, don’t make yourself false idols, honour your parents.  

Or maybe you live a blameless life and they are all easy. That would be nice. 

My experience is that it is not easy – easy to say but once we get into the weeds of actually living and the complexity of relationships with other humans. Once our desires are engaged, life becomes less do and don’t and more but you don’t understand, there was more to this, it’s not that simple. 

So we say the commandments – we remind ourselves how we are invited to live because of our faith in a God who is love, who loves us first. 

We are trying out silence this season for increasing amounts of time because where do you experience silence intentionally? The world is loud and it’s distracting. Sometimes it’s hard to pay attention, to listen.  

So here for these six Sundays, we are practicing listening. To ourselves, maybe to God, maybe to our heartbeat, maybe to the footsteps of others, maybe just to close your eyes and hope it ends soon. But maybe you will hear something – a nudging, an invitation, your breath.  

This Gospel in which Jesus tells us about his death for the first time, a death that we know is coming but doesn’t get easier or lighter (at least for me), in this passage we are not only reminded that Jesus will die but why.  

We are reminded that we live in a world in which there are still chief priests and elders presiding, holding power, looking to hold more power, not particularly interested in the impact that they have on us or the world because they are more interested in their own gain. 

This is a gospel that reminds us to pay attention differently from them. That the way in which our world is organized – for profit – is not the way of God which is for love and for grace. 

The call here is to remember that we do not live in isolation, to remember that ripple effect that our lives have, to remember the covenant that we have with God that is steeped in God’s love for us and so the love that we can have for one another – even though that can be really, really hard.  

I love the people closest to me, the ones that I have chosen, but sometimes loving the rest of humanity is work.  

The call to deny ourselves which sounds terrible but can be, I think life giving.  

We deny ourselves the freedom to just buy into the way things are because that is easiest. 

We deny ourselves the feeling that we are not enough and instead living into an understanding that we are – enough – as we are beloved. 

We deny ourselves the assumption that only our thoughts and feelings matter and instead look around and notice all of the people who are around us, notice who is gathered around the table with us and that they are enough too. 

We deny ourselves the assumption that we can sit and do nothing and that someone somewhere will help to take care of the wrongs that are so prevalent today and instead we stand up with people who feel unsafe, we write letters to lawmakers, we acknowledge the land that we are on and we show up at marches. We make sure that washrooms are safe for trans people. We share food with those who need it. We are careful with our language. We treat the people around us the way that we want to be treated. As though they matter. Because they/ we do. 

We lose a life that is easy and we seek a life that advocates for justice and mercy. 

We lose a life that is only about one and seek a life that remembers that we are part of a whole. 

We lose a life that claims to be easy and seek a life that is honest about the work that is before us and how complicated that can be. 

But this life that we seek? We seek it together, as a part of community. 

We break bread and share the cup as a reminder not only that Jesus is with us but that we are with each other. 

We acknowledge the places where we mess up – our sinfulness and we seek forgiveness together, we go back out to try again not alone but as a part of this whole. 

So look around. We aren’t saying this quietly, in a corner. We proclaim it loudly. We are trying to live another way, with each other. These are the people who we will do this with or at least is might be where we start. 

Who do we say Jesus is? Because it matters. It directly impacts how we live.