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Taking Up the Cross, Inwardly and Outwardly

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 28th of Second Month, 2021

Speaker: Brian Young

Scripture: Mark 8:31-38, NRSV

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “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.

For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Good morning, Friends!

I’ve been having trouble re-orienting myself these past couple of weeks. As Eden told us this past week, we’re now in the season of Lent, and I often try to observe Lent by adding something new: by trying out a new discipline, by trying to expand my practice in some way. And for probably years, my prayer practice has been remarkably puny—well, not remarkably—it’s just been puny. And so I’ve felt the call to do something more purposeful in prayer; to spend more time, and to expand the kind of intercession that I routinely do when I pray first thing in the morning. Part of what I realized I needed to do was to find another time during the day, because I needed a little bit more time for what I was intending to do. I wanted to write in my journal as I prayed; I wanted to journal the prayers, and I knew that I would need some time somewhere other than first thing in the morning. And it’s been really hard to re-orient myself to that new practice! I have not been doing particularly well with it. The day gets going, and wooosh! It just doesn’t happen. I forget, or I decide, “well, I’m too busy for it right now, I’ve gotta do something else...” and it goes by the way. I don’t pick it up later, as often as I resolve to do.

So I’ve been having trouble re-orienting myself to this new practice, re-organizing my day so that I have time and space for intercession and prayer in the manner that I would like to do.

Last week Eden helped us understand what that season of Lent is about, particularly the whole tradition of fasting. She reminded us that it’s a process of preparation, a process, as she put it, that tells us “that spiritual depth requires mindfulness and commitment.” We don’t get into that kind of a place without re-orientation, without re-organization.

Lent is an opportunity to ask ourselves how much we are willing to re-organize our lives (and thus far, my answer to that question is, “not much!”) In her message, Eden talked about fasting as a negative act, which is the way most of us probably think of it. That is, abstaining from something, or giving something up; taking something away. She also invited us to see fasting as a positive act: engaging in works of justice, mercy and compassion—the kind of fast, as it says in Isaiah the prophet, that God desires. Any discipline we undertake, whether a negative or a positive fast, or some other practice, requires us to re-orient, to re-organize our lives. And that’s not something we will do easily—speaking for myself: it’s not something that I do easily. I rebel against any suggestion that I need to do something differently; I resist anything that might impinge upon my comfort, my routine, my way of doing things. And so that’s the resistance that I’m experiencing, trying to make a small change in my daily practice to include a bit more prayer.

I am going to suggest that we see a similar kind of resistance, although on a much different scale, in Peter’s reaction to Jesus in today’s passage. We were actually with these two just a couple of weeks ago, you might remember, when we looked at Mark’s story of the Transfiguration, in chapter nine. Today we’re rewinding to chapter eight, but to a scene that’s very much related. There’s an important lead-in to this passage that we didn’t read, and I’m sorry I didn’t change the bounds of the Scripture—it would have been better to start a couple of verses earlier. Because there’s an exchange between Jesus and Peter that really sets the stage for this encounter here in today’s passage. Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Messiah [the Christ]” (8:29). Then Jesus orders the disciples to say nothing about this to anyone (8:30).

And then we go on to what Jim read to us. Jesus goes on to the teaching of his coming trial, death, and resurrection. Two things here stand out in significant contrast to that exchange he’s just had with Peter. First, notice that while Peter has just named Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, God’s Anointed One, Jesus does not use that term to refer to himself. Instead, he chooses “Son of Man.” It’s the Son of Man who will be rejected, who will suffer, who will be killed, and who will rise again—not the Messiah. Second, while Jesus says the disciples are to say nothing about his being the Christ in v30, Mark tells us in v32 that Jesus speaks “quite openly” about his suffering, death, and rising again. Why does Jesus seem so reticent about one aspect of his destiny, and yet so forthcoming about another?</