Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, March 1, 2015
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Mark 8:27-38
Sermon Theme: “You Can’t Live Your Life in a Safe Deposit Box”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas: Anderson’s Cycle B Preaching Workbook)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
When two sisters divided a family inheritance, there was a precious gold watch that had belonged to their mother. Said one wise sister to the other, “You can have it if you wear it. But if you are going to put it in a safe deposit box and never look at or enjoy it, then I will keep it.”
Life cannot be lived in a safe deposit box. But if life is lived for Christ and the Gospel, it is “safe.” We have God’s promise.
In the television documentary of a nun who was killed in El Salvador, she was sure that God had called her to be a missionary to this particular place at this time in her life. When she was home on missionary leave, her friends, her family, and even a priest tried to persuade her of the imminent danger in El Salvador, and to dissuade her from returning to her missionary assignment. But she was willing to be lost for Christ’s sake.
Most of us, probably none of us, will be called to serve God in such a way, where danger is imminent and being killed is very real possibility. Yet we need to hear the message of this Gospel, because our commitment to Christ and our dedication to His work are so lukewarm. Many Christians today want to put their whole church in a safe deposit box.
It is quite evident from the way Jesus speaks about the cost of discipleship in following Him, it requires a commitment of the total person.
Our sermon text begins with Jesus asking His disciples what people were saying about Him. Did they get it right? Did they know who He was? The disciples reported some had said they thought He was John the Baptist, others thought He was Elijah, and some thought He was one of the other prophets.
Jesus didn’t seem too surprised, but He didn’t just drop the matter, — much to the disciples chagrin. No, He went on to ask them, “But who do you say I am?” Fortunately for the others, Peter blurted out an answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Fortunately for Peter, he got it right! Jesus praised him on the spot.
And that makes the very next scene in our sermon text seem so odd. Jesus changes the mood of the conversation quickly, and says that He is going to Jerusalem and He knows His enemies are waiting for Him there. He is certain they will arrest Him and beat Him and make Him suffer. And He knows that the outcome of going to Jerusalem will result in His death.
Peter had just voiced the great testimony that made Jesus seem unconquerable as the Christ, the Messiah. And now Jesus is talking about defeat and disaster. How do these match up? No doubt they didn’t hear Him say that after three days He would rise again. No doubt they didn’t really understand what being the Christ was all about.
And no doubt, Peter was very disturbed about what the Lord was saying, and, being the leader of the disciples, took Him aside and said something like this: ‘Look here, man; you’re scaring us. Do you hear what you’re saying? You’d better get this straight, this is getting out of hand!’
Peter and the other disciples were obviously shocked. Then Jesus broke the silence, no doubt pushing Peter away, and saying sternly, ‘Get away from me, Satan, you’re standing in my way, you’re blocking my path, you’re going against God.’ How those words must have stung Peter! “Get behind me, Satan!” No doubt he was hurt and he didn’t understand what Jesus was saying either.
The disciples had been aiming for glory, not suffering. Before they recovered from reeling over that revelation, Jesus was saying to them and the crowd, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Wow! Wow! Wow!
Aren’t we all a little like Peter? Actually, a lot like Peter! Yes, we follow Jesus, but . . . . ‘I don’t know about this kind of commitment.’ Jesus is teaching the disciples and us that the cost of discipleship requires a commitment that involves the total person. “I don’t care” seems to be the attitude of the modern world. “I don’t care” are the saddest words in the English language. It implies a life that is stuck in neutral. Should we build a new Sunday School building? “I don’t care.” Should we send money to Lutheran World Relief? “I don’t care.”
Total commitment of the total person involves all aspects of the church. For example, many congregations sing without passion or conviction. You know, we can sing Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and deny with our singing what the words are affirming. What is the secret of the spark in the eye, the lilt in the voice, the understanding in the brain, and the commitment in the heart? Many young people today won’t even open their hymnals during worship, and some folks, young and old, talk to each other during the liturgy, the prayers and the hymns. That is not total commitment of the total person.
Using air fresheners is not total commitment. Many Christians think that air fresheners “remove” things from the air, but that is a false belief. Air fresheners may actually contain chemicals that deaden the sensitivity of olfactory ( ) nerves to certain smells. They “remove” odors only by making a person unable to perceive them. Spraying other things in the air besides the teachings of Jesus is not total commitment of the total person.
Bearing your cross for Jesus does not mean complaining about some physical pains or mental anguishes. If you ask somebody, “How are you?,” and they reply, “Well, my bones ache but we all have our crosses to bear so I shouldn’t complain,” you must never confuse cross-bearing with the present moment’s infirmities.
Cross-bearing, you see has a purpose. Its purpose is to make a sacrifice for another. Cross-bearing is more readily seen in money given generously, valuable time expended in the Lord’s service, prayers prayed for others, sacrifices made for others (which is the same as making them for Jesus). Cross-bearing means a willingness to give away, to make a sacrifice of ourselves. It means walking a path of trust in a God who is there through it all.
The way many Christians are and the way they should be is kind of like the difference between a TOUR and a PILGRIMAGE.
A tour is where you let someone else do all the planning and half of the doing. They take care of your luggage. They put you on a big, air-conditioned bus and ferry you around to all the right sights. They pay the entrance fees for your tickets so you don’t have to stand in the heat or the sun or the smell by the booth. You can stay safe and comfortable and dry, while others do the sweating for you. That’s a tour.
A true pilgrimage, however, isn’t like that. A pilgrimage is always personal, always firsthand, always something you have to do yourself. No one else can do a pilgrimage for you, because that would take no commitment. Yet, that seems to be what Peter wanted. Peter and the other disciples wanted to sit back and watch God’s plans work themselves out from a safe distance, while they rest on the sidelines. That seems to be what many church-goers want. But, let me tell you, religion is no spectator sport!
Life is a journey, Jesus tells us, not a destination. Life is a pilgrimage, Jesus tells us, not a tour. It is lived in the footsteps of Jesus. It is carried out in the mission of the church. This is a road we must travel. If you choose not to walk it, you will never find yourself. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Yes, Jesus wants total commitment of the total person. It is so hard to convince people in this age and generation that total commitment is usually followed by joy. Only as we give it our all do we realize the full benefit. Some people do not want the wedding vow “until death do us part,” but prefer, “until something better comes along.”
Some young people want to “try” college or a job “just to see if I like it.” Many people want the church to be there for weddings, funerals, Christmas and Easter, but they don’t want to make a commitment to Christ and the Church!
But, dear friends in Christ, make no mistake about it, you cannot be totally committed to Jesus if you live your life in a safe deposit box. So, get out of the box, throw away the key, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.