Rev. Brian’s Sermon for Feb. 25 – Second Sunday of Lent

In the Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

All of this Second Sunday in Lent’s scripture readings consistently and harmoniously invite us to Faith. “Hoping against hope” as St. Paul puts it in today’s epistle (Romans 4:18). Trusting God, like our exemplar ancestor Abraham, even and especially when it seems impossibly unbelievable (Romans 4:19) and when most tried and afflicted (Psalm 22:24). Trusting in God’s faithfulness (Romans 4:21) particularly when things look grimmest and all the reasonable voices around us challenge us to defect and capitulate (St. Mark 8:32b-33).

Now the testimony of these (and all) scripture, is not just for the original ancients, but to instill, encourage and invigorate Faith in us today too, in the current situations and struggles in which we find ourselves (Romans 4:23-24a).

Today’s gospel reading from Mark begins with that little word “Then”. And so, as always, I encourage us to deeply listen and pay attention to these seemingly insignificant words, and it would serve us well to back up and contextualize today’s scripture. Allow me to remind you, what immediately precedes our lesson is Mark’s version of the story known as the confession of St. Peter: Jesus asks his disciples “who do folks say I am?” The disciples respond, “John (the Baptist), Elijah, or perhaps one of the other prophets”. Then Jesus ups the ante, asking, “but who do you say I am?” Peter (the spokesperson) replies, “You are the Anointed!” (Seemingly) great answer Peter! But then something very odd occurs, Jesus “strictly warns” them not to tell anyone this. By now you’ll be familiar, as I’ve alerted you numerous times, about this characteristically Markan “messianic secret”. Mark’s Jesus oddly, seemingly counter intuitively, doesn’t want this identity broadcast.

“Then” follows today’s reading. Jesus correctively tells them just what it really means that He is the Anointed Son. That necessarily (not accidentally nor incidentally), He is (not just possibly, this is God’s design), going to suffer (paschō), be rejected by the religious authorities, and be killed, and then (“sotto voce”) on the third day rise again. (Cf. Paul in today’s Romans (4:17) epistle, if God can bring all things (“visible and invisible” as we confess in the Creed) into existence, then is it any less believable that God could give life to the dead (4:24b-25). Jesus reveals that being the Anointed Son means inescapably going to the cross.

Then Mark, again kind of oddly, reports that Jesus says this to the disciples “quite openly” in notable contrast to the messianic secret! This is the identity Jesus wants made perfectly clear. Not the glorious title but the inevitable Passion.

But Peter can’t bear it. “Shut up!” he says. Mark reports Peter “rebuked” Jesus and His self-identifying proclamation. Mark uses the same word he had just done in the preceding 8:30 translated “strictly warned” there. And that he will use again in the next verse where Jesus “rebukes” Peter and exposes the real source of Peter’s objection. Another temptation from the adversary not to believe in who He really is. We are also familiar with this word from the earlier Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, where we heard Jesus order the demon “be silent” or better “be muzzled!” (Mark 1:25). There is no room for vacillation, it is all or nothing. Only one determined possibility. Only God’s.

Jesus has been confronting and in open conflict with the way the world thinks throughout Mark’s gospel. And so, then, unsurprisingly Jesus continues to expose, openly, publicly what is really at the core, Peter’s greatest fear, that discipleship means sharing in Jesus’paschō. (Note this is the word Christianity has traditionally used to describe the Resurrection). Only English uses the weaker word “Easter”, almost all other languages use Pasch(a). And Peter’s illusions are ours. To be a disciple means taking up one’s own cross and following the irrevocable and necessary path the Anointed Son faithfully, trustingly treads.

And this is only the first of Jesus’ corrective Passion predictions. He will repeat it twice more. Just to make sure the muddled, resistant disciples (and we) get it. (9:30ff & 10:33ff)

Being a Christian doesn’t mean escaping nor evading suffering, but precisely trusting God to be faithful in and through it and like the Anointed Son, to be vindicated in the end. Our Christian vocation is a costly, never-ending struggle and while we may not so harshly experience it, Christian profession and worship is still punished in parts of our world today. Remember even quite recently our sibling Coptic Christians have been martyred and their churches and worship services attacked. Interestingly and tellingly, when Copts baptize they are also tattooed with a cross on the hand, that in a society and culture where they are a persecuted minority their profession and witness can be publicly and irrevocably clear. Today, the Markan Jesus, the Passion-bound Anointed Son, invites us to consider what might it be like for us, if we were indelibly marked and couldn’t conveniently hide that we were Christians. What might it mean for us to live out our faith publicly, consistently, unabashedly, boldly? And to come follow Him.

May the God of Sarah and Abraham, the God Jesus trusted, grant us the same faithfulness and courage in our witness and journey of discipleship.

In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN

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