He Called Me Satan

“He Called Me Satan”   Mark 8:31-38
Delivered to Church for the Highlands

2nd Sunday in Lent, March 4, 2012

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 “He called me Satan!  Can you believe that!”  Those must have been Peter’s first words after hearing Jesus call him Satan.  If they weren’t his words, they must have been his initial thoughts.  All this after being called a Rock by the greatest person ever.  “I’ve gone from Rock to Satan,” he must have continued.  What happened in his life?  Why the change of names?

Jesus had his reason for saying what he did. He wasn’t being childish. or condemning, or even mean. Get behind me, Satan!  No, what he was doing was calling Peter out on his wrong thinking.  I am sure Jesus was a little mad–ok, really mad– and even taken aback for a moment, that this leader of his had been with him so long already and was still obviously missing what he was all about.  He was hearing the words of Jesus but they were getting caught in the filter Peter still had for his agenda.  Peter was zealous in his love for God and had different ideas about how the Kingdom should go.  He lost Peter at “suffering.”  That wasn’t in his plan at all.  Suffering was what they had done all along.  Jesus must be wrong on this plan.  We can just imagine the frustration on Jesus’ part with Peter’s misunderstanding.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to understand more of what Jesus was all about in his own suffering.  He wrote, In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things, the figure of him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger.[1]  This kind of plan Jesus was explaining was strange.  Jesus was becoming a stranger to Peter.  And this would continue until after the resurrected Jesus greeted him for breakfast one day.

Rather than call Peter other words for the evil one, he gives the counter to what Peter is really wanting.  He gives the true path to the kingdom.  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.  He obviously sees where Peter is headed with his own agenda and set out to correct it with a simple, yet profoundly blunt and challenging call to action.  It was the complete opposite of what Peter had in mind.  He is no doubt thinking of a political overthrow, maybe even thinking of what position he will have in the new regime.  Whatever he was thinking, it wasn’t about suffering.  It sure wasn’t about losing his life.

Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book Wisdom Jesus, has a great way of putting the kind of effect Jesus’ plan and pathway have on those who hear it,

As we actually taste the flavor of what he’s teaching, we begin to see that it’s not proverbs for daily living, or ways of being virtuous.  He’s proposing a total meltdown and recasting of human consciousness, bursting through the tiny acorn-selfhood that we arrived on the planet with into the oak tree of our fully realized personhood.[2]

This Gospel thing, then, is really a lot more than we sometimes think.  It is much more than attending church for one hour a week.  It goes way beyond the money we put in the offering plate (although don’t stop!).  It far surpasses “right belief” and a walk down the aisle of a church.  If we aren’t careful, we can have the right beliefs but still end up with a gospel of our own making, one that has a bias toward our ideas of the kingdom; to our goals and agendas. What would you have been called had you been there that day with Jesus?

What we need to hear from Jesus today is this same, simple challenge:  deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him.  It is just that simple.  It is just that hard.  It could be that we have learned self-denial, doing well with this one more often than not.  It could be that we have our cross with us, bearing with it as we go through life.  Yet, it could be that we haven’t yet started following Jesus. We say we are following, and we have people to think we are.  But, we so often wander off into our own pathway and quit looking at where Jesus is leading. These days of Lent provide us with an opportunity to do some self-examination of our footsteps, to see if they are still headed in the right direction.  The texts we are hearing help us to be aware of who Jesus was and what he was all about as he walked this earth.  We can get into the story, inside the pack of disciples, into the interactions that Jesus is having with the people around him.  We can step more fully into the context of Jesus and his words about the kingdom.  Will you allow this time before Easter to be such an opportunity for you?

If we do, we have two criteria for self-examination. The first is “denial.”  Jesus was obviously living a life of self-denial, and he called his followers to do the same.  For them to truly follow him as the Way of God in the world, they would need to deny themselves.  We are no different today.  For us to follow Jesus today, we must practice self-denial.  This practice looks like different things for each of us.  For some it is avoiding something you know you can’t handle–a donut, a person, a drug or a drink.  For others it is saying yes when you want to say no. For some it is taking a meal to a hungry person when you would rather be feeding yourself.  It is keeping a commitment to tutor a child when you know you have other places to be. For many, it is letting others have their way, their time to speak or be, rather than you having yours.

If that criteria wasn’t enough, Jesus provides another:  cross-bearing.  Jesus wanted to be sure that his followers understood that their way would be one of difficulty and suffering.  It would involve taking up a cross.  Again, we are no different.  We are no different in that we really don’t like to hear about crosses.  And we certainly don’t relish the idea of carrying one.  If given an option, we take the shorter line, the easier way, the comfortable choice.  But Jesus didn’t call us to comfortable.  He didn’t call us to take a place in the shorter line. He didn’t call us to be first and foremost. He didn’t call us to sit around and be served.  He envisioned a church familiar with suffering, persevering through discomfort, standing behind others, losing their lives.  Now that’s a whole new way of thinking.  It is one that will get you in trouble, one that will take up your time, one that no one else may be able to understand.  It is one where you may find yourself listening to an elderly person tell the same story every day.  It is one where you enter the wounds of post traumatic stress disorder of a vet who is trying to forget what never seems to go away.  It is being a church where you bring toilet paper for people who’ve run out.  It is one that makes us peculiar people, people with a different purpose, folks who walk a different path.  This cross-bearing kind of life, while sounding like a plan for failure, ends up being what real life is really all about.

Thomas à Kempis wrote:

Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share his feast, but few his fasting. All desire to rejoice with him, but few are willing to suffer for his sake. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion. Many admire his miracles, but few follow him in the humiliation of the cross.[3]

 May we be in that few.

[2] Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Wisdom Jesus. p.27

[3] Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ; found in: Tony Lane, Timeless Witness (Hendrickson, 2004), p. 188

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