Sermon – February 25, 2018 – Second Sunday in Lent

Our gospel story for today is a turning point in the Gospel of Mark. For the first time, Jesus clearly and plainly explains what is to come of his life. Jesus will undergo suffering, he will be rejected. He will be killed. He will rise again. Jesus is not speaking in metaphor or parable. This isn’t some riddle that the disciples need to parse out. Jesus openly and clearly teaches his disciples of the path that he is on. Though Jesus’ message may have been clear, Peter still refuses to believe it. This wouldn’t be the last time either. Jesus tells his disciples of his fate two more times in this Gospel, yet the message doesn’t sink in.

The paradigm is being shifted—this Jesus is not the kind of savior that the people were expecting. This savior is not leading military parades and overthrowing the oppressor with an iron fist. This savior, though of the same line of David, is not born into a powerful family. Jesus does not fit the messianic expectation. Jesus, this savior, is going to go where the divine shouldn’t have to go. This savior is going to die.

I think in some ways we like to echo to Peter’s refusal. Even though we know the end of the story well, that Jesus ends up triumphant over death and the grave, we still have a hard time believing that Jesus shows up in the most heinous of human spaces. Often times our most honest and initial question when tragedy strikes is to wonder, “Where was God in all of this?” Even though we have the benefit of knowing the story we flail just like Peter, we fail to remember the dark places in which Jesus has already showed up.

There is an image that has been circulating the internet in the week after the last school shooting in Parkland Florida. The image reads, “Dear God, why do you allow so much violence in our schools? Signed, a concern student.” In the image, God then responds, “Dear concerned student, I’m not allowed in schools.” Please, let this gospel reading remind you today that there is no place in which God in Christ does not go. God is not absent from our schools because God is never absent. Just like Peter could not stop Jesus’ crucifixion, we do not have the power to dictate where God does and does not go. If we truly believe that Jesus has the power to overcome death, then we have no business believing that Jesus cannot fathom entering our schools unless invited. God is not a bully who refuses to interject unless they get their way, nor is the freedom of religion practiced in our school systems destructive to God’s omnipresence. God has proven again and again through Jesus that God has a vested interest in being in places of suffering because God already knows what it’s like to suffer. God does not let innocent children die because God is mad at us. And to say otherwise is to reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Listen, a huge percentage of my work here at St. Matthew involves working with children and teenagers. Every time I hear the news of another school shooting I think of them and another piece of my heart feels as though it is ripped out of me. As a pastor and public theologian, I take vows to preach and teach according to scripture and to call out injustice when I see it. The pinnacle of our Christian faith revealed to us though scripture is that the world tried to silence Jesus, he was crucified and buried, but that he over came death and rose again. We hear this story again and again when we read our scriptures. We repeat this story every week when we recite the creed together. Together we proclaim that God worked through the most horrible of places, that Christ literally went through hell to bring about new life. I cannot and will not believe or preach for one second that God refuses to be with our children, their teachers, and school staff as they go through the same. This path that Jesus tells Peter that he is on—it prevents Jesus from ever being absent in our lives. Whether or not we like it or expect it or ask for it, Jesus shows up. God in Christ is present.

We make a mistake though if we believe that Jesus’ presence in our lives equates perfection—That just because God is on our side than we are immune to the brokenness of our world. I believe in power of prayer and I pray everyday, but there is a problem when we pray for Jesus to fix something without being willing to do the hard work of tackling it ourselves. At the end of our gospel story for today, right after Jesus tells his disciples about his path towards death, he tells his disciples, “if you want to actually be my followers, you’re going to have to follow me.” Follow me in doing this holy work of bringing new life into our broken and hurting world. Follow me by showing up in those dark places that no one would dare to go. Follow me by putting the lives of those who are vulnerable in front of your own comfort.

With his life, Jesus promised that one day our world will be made whole again. That one day there won’t be hunger, or hurt, or illness, or violence…that one day children won’t have to fear going to school. Jesus paid the ultimate price for this work but he wouldn’t ask us, his disciples, to follow him if he didn’t need us to complete it. So, what are we willing to risk in order to partake in the work of bringing this new Reign of God into our hurting world? Because Jesus is pretty clear what the consequences are: suffering…rejection…maybe even death. Jesus’ way is the way of the cross.

As soon as we set our sights on someone or something other than the cross, we have most definitely traded the death and resurrection of Jesus with a more convenient and acceptable means of what it is to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is not a means of prosperity, it is not a validation of your opinion, following Jesus means going where Jesus went and using our lives not for our own gain but for the betterment of our world. Is it worth it?

Honestly, I cannot answer that question for you. You will need to answer it for yourself. But remember, the at the heart of this gospel story… at the heart of Jesus telling his disciples of his suffering, rejection, and death…at the heart of the cross is the message that Jesus is able to go to the most challenging, dark, horrific of places and bring about something redemptive, beautiful, healing, and new….I guarantee that this is happening right now in Parkland, Florida. There will never be a place that we go, there will never be anything that we could possibly go through, that hasn’t already been faced by God in Christ. Jesus shows up for his people.

So, knowing that, why not take a risk and step into this true kind of discipleship? Jesus is calling us all to say something, do something, show up in ways that will bringing about this new life, healing, and redemption. It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to hurt. But do not be afraid, we do not walk this path alone. Amen.