First Lesson: Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Responsive Reading: Psalm 22: 23-31
Second Lesson: Romans 4: 13-25
Gospel Lesson: Mark 8: 31-38
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story. I have a friend who worked for a while as a preacher in North Dakota. Her congregation was in the midst of some hard times. One day, she is giving a sermon when she says something that the Council President doesn’t like. The Council President proceeds to get out of his seat, walk down from the balcony, and walk up the center aisle. The Council President interrupts the middle of her sermon to openly criticize all that she was saying. A lot of the stoic Icelanders within the congregation had no idea what to make of this scene. Finally, the sheer uncomfortableness of it all put the scene to rest, and the North Dakotans resumed their daily lives. My friend and her husband shortly afterwards left this call.
Gracia Grindal who was a preaching professor of mine at Luther Seminary tells stories of when her father was a preacher those occurrences were common place. Pietistic congregants would openly disrespect the minister’s authority by interrupting the sermon with shouts of lines like “If you keep preaching like that then we’re all going to Hell”.
Just like a football coach, people often think they know better than a preacher, even if this preacher is God’s own son. We all know of the twelve disciples. Jesus a few years back had given a really unpopular sermon where he said “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”- John 6:53.
Many of Jesus other disciples left him until only twelve stuck around. Some might say that Jesus’ initial beginnings into the ministry weren’t all that successful.
Fast forward a few years into Jesus’ ministry. Jesus built up his reputation once again. Jesus had just fed thousands of people; he had just recently healed a blind man outside Bethsaida. The Disciples seemed to be finally grasping the meaning of Jesus’ message to be the Messiah.
I remember one of the most traumatic moments of my adulthood was watching the Vikings play the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship game.
I went into the game thinking there was no way that the Vikings would be able to win in New Orleans. The game goes back and forth. Vikings get the ball back with 4:00 left in regulation in a tie game. Chester Taylor catches a screen pass and rumbles down to the New Orleans 33’ yard line. I finally leap out of my seat. I figure I’m minutes away from watching my Vikings play in the Super Bowl after investing a quarter century of my life waiting for that moment. I’m getting ready to scream for joy at the top of my lungs. Knots are in my stomach. I figure one of the happiest moments of my life is around the corner. Everyone who knows the Vikings knows how this story plays out: twelve men on the field, interception, lost coin flip, Saints win the Super Bowl. There is no more painful feeling than watching hope fade before your very eyes.
The Sermon that Jesus was to give was going to be a punch directly to the guts of the Disciples. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”-Mark 8:31
Jesus predicting his crucifixion would have stung the Disciples. The Disciples probably felt misled upon hearing these words. They felt like the kid who believes his parents are taking him out for ice cream, only to end up at the dentist. The Disciples had been following him for years, even when others had abandoned him. The reason that they followed Jesus had to do with the hope that he would be different that the people of Israel would finally be set free from their cruel Roman oppressors.
Tired of being beaten down by the powers above them is why people would have followed Jesus in the earliest stages. Jesus was the number one pick for the sports team whose fandom rests solely on hopes and dreams for generations. Jesus was the good looking, charismatic, articulate candidate for the political party that dreams of winning an election. Jesus’ whole ministry for many people wasn’t so much about what he said or did, but rather that he sold “hope” and “change”.
Now Jesus is telling the disciples that he is going to flame out. We can imagine the scenario; imagine the girl who thinks that she has finally met the guy of her dreams, only to hear that she’s never going to get the ring. Imagine waiting all day to eat the perfect steak, only to see it charred to the point where it’s barely edible.
Jesus in this lesson is describing the end-game to an audience that wanted to hear anything but it. Jesus was about to die with the Disciples looking on from the stands.
Peter comes into the scene at this point. Peter is the leader of the disciples. Peter is the Church Council President. Peter knew he was going to hear grumblings about this message. Peter didn’t want to have conflict, yet Peter didn’t desire to see another incident where a congregation of twelve became a congregation of two. Peter decides to take Jesus aside. Peter was probably telling Jesus that the disciples had given a lot of time, money, and nights away from home for him. Peter had to let Jesus know that what he was preaching was not what they had signed up.
Jesus was stubborn though in the face of Peter. The Kingdom of God would not be made known in Jesus’ life, but rather in Jesus’ death. “To save your life you must lose it.” Peter had his opinion, but it was merely his opinion.
It was at this point that words of Isaiah rang true “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The way of the cross would be Jesus’ way.
When Jesus says “Take up your cross and follow me”, it is a saying about how we view success.
Just like the disciples we probably evaluate success very differently then Jesus did. If I was to ask people in this room to evaluate success the answers you might hear include the person with the biggest house, the person who drives the nicest car, the person who wears the best clothes, and the person that is able to afford any dinner that they desire from the local supermarket.
Last Saturday, I was having lunch with my dad where we ran into a lady who serves on the city council with him. This woman helps out as a youth leader at her church in the cities. Everyone knows this church’s name, even up in Lindstrom thirty miles away. She said that they got seven hundred kids on Wednesday night. These numbers are what many people would deem to be a prosperous church in they never have to worry about paying the pastor or being able to afford the heat. If one person out of twelve gets mad, they can ignore them then move on. Her church would seem to be the definition of a successful church. Staring at a powerful church was Europe throughout the life of Luther, yet it was this church that had lost something important.
What our lesson reminds us though is how power isn’t always a good thing. When we have power, we have control. We always leap to the question of “What can we do?” “Whom can we control?” or “How can we control it?”
Tullian Tchavadian tells the following story.
There was a young woman one night browsing on Match.com whose eyes notice a gentleman named John Fitzgerald Page. The woman expresses a token of interest in Fitzgerald Page. Fitzgerald Page would seem to be a great catch: Ivy League educated, great shape, MBA degree, drove a BWM and a sharp dresser. John Fitzgerald Page believed his hype and believed himself to be the biggest catch in the city of Atlanta. So when this lady tries engaging with John Fitzgerald Page, he wanted to know that she demanded excellence for herself. He needed to know that she had a top-notch education, that she kept herself in impressive shape. When Fitzgerald Page’s admirer responds “no thanks” upon hearing his series of expectations for a mate “he lost it”. “How dare she”, she was a fool to not try to prove herself to him. She was never going to find another guy like John Fitzgerald Page. Fitzgerald Page’s angry email quickly spread across the internet exposing his pride for the whole world to see.
There are plenty of Christians who think this way. They think only in terms of their resume. Jim Nestingen tells the most common thing he encounters in the church is hearing people talk about all the great things that they’re doing in the name of the Lord. The way many Christians talk you’d think Jesus Christ will soon be out of a job as there are no sinners to save.
John Fitzgerald Page couldn’t grasp the meaning of love. Love is not accepting someone who meets our standards; Love is standing by someone even as they fail to meet our standards. The Love of God would soon be fully known on a cross.
As Jesus predicts his coming demise, Peter begs him not to go. We all know Peter. Peter thought he was the nice guy. Peter assumed his leadership was being productive. Peter wanted everyone to get along. The trouble though with the self is that it gets into the way. There is nothing that we can do. Jesus’ sermon probably wasn’t all that good. Call committees probably wouldn’t have been clamoring to hear more. He didn’t tell funny stories, he didn’t deliver brilliant analogies, and he didn’t bring the audience to tears with control of their emotions. The thing about salvation is that it isn’t even the result of effective preaching versus ineffective preaching. Salvation only comes through death.
The Disciples were never going to be able to grasp this. A few months later upon Jesus arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane they brandish swords trying to fight death off.
This morning, we confront the harshest of spiritual truths best expressed by Gerhard Forde. We die; death is not something that we do. As we look towards Christ’s death, we see a preview of our death. The cross is a preview of our funeral. The only thing we can do to get ready is do what Jesus did upon the cross. We can climb Calvary’s mountain unto the brink of death, and then stand with helpless arms at our side. Coming to terms with the powerlessness within our spiritual existence is the meaning of the words “Take up your cross and follow me”.
The thing about death is that it is not the end, death is rather the beginning.
Peter identifies something crucial in our Gospel lesson for today. Peter recognizes that there are only two ways to view God. Peter sees God the first way as the ultimate power, as the greatest good in the universe. God is the entity that we can’t grasp. God above us, yet Jesus proclaim God to us today in an entirely different way.
Jesus proclaims God’s way as he is “crucified under Pontius Pilate”. Jesus proclaims God’s way as “he journeys to his own grave”. Jesus proclaims God’s way as he stands alongside The Girl that Mr. Atlanta John Fitzgerald Page rejected.
A few years ago, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was jilted by the loss of his best player LeBron James. Gilbert gave an off the cuff rant in the midst of his pain. Within Gilbert’s rant though he spoke a profound spiritual truth when he said “Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there. Sorry, but that’s simply not how it works.”
What we hear today is that Heaven comes only after Death. We can’t get to heaven without having to die. We can’t have a resurrection without a cross. “Take up your cross and follow me” Amen
 John 6:66
 Mark 8:1-10
 Mark 8:22-26
 Mark 8:27-30
 My old preaching professor Michael Rogness wrote a terrific commentary on this passage (Mark 8:31-38) over at Working Preacher. Rogness’s commentary was accessed on February 23rd, 2015 for March 1st, 2015 services.
 Mark 8:32
 Mark 8:35
 Tying in this passage to Isaiah 55:8-9 is a connection made by Rogness.
 Mark 8:34
 Rogness draws this passage into connection with one of Luther’s most important bits of theology in the distinction between the “theology of the cross” and the “theology of glory”. The theology of the cross means that God’s connection to human beings is most revealed in weakness (sin) rather than strength (sanctification).
 The Cross Alone website has an old sermon by Gerhard Forde “On Death to Self”. This sermon tends to put a different spin on the verse “Take up your cross and follow me” than how people often grasp it.
 Tchavadian, Tullian. “Grace and Personal Identity”. Liberate.org. 2.Sept.2013. Web. Feb. 24.2015
 This insight was made by Nestingen when I had him for Lutheran Confessions in 2005 at Luther Seminary.
 Forde makes this connection.
 Forde, Gerhard. “Dying to Self”.
 Mark 8:34
 Lannon, Nick. “Billionaire Dan Gilbert: Theologian of the Cross”. Mockingbird. 15.July.2010. Web. Feb.24.2015.
 Mark 8:34