“Changing One’s Mind”

Mark 8:31-38

March 1, 2015 – 2nd Sunday of Lent

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Church

 

Mark 8:31-38

 

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.”

 

Prayer.

 

This may be one of the most difficult passages to address from the pulpit.

This may be the most painful passage every disciple of Jesus ever experiences.

 

You see,

The threshold for Grace in God’s kingdom is set really low,

So low, to be completely honest,

Such that everyone is a recipient.

You don’t have to do anything, other than breath.

Indeed, everyone freely benefits from

The abundant, unlimited grace of a creative, loving, and redemptive God.

However, the threshold for Discipleship in God’s kingdom is another story.

The requirements for being a disciple of Jesus Christ are set so high

They become nearly unobtainable in this life.

 

I find it interesting that sociologist who study trends in Christianity

Have had to adjust categories to compensate for changes in American Christian behavior and practice.

Years ago sociologist considered regular attenders of weekly worship as people who attended 3 of 4 worship services a month.

Today, regular attenders are counted as people who attend once or twice a month.

The bar of discipleship remains high,

But we as a people

Slip further and further behind.

 

Be forewarned, beloved sisters and brothers …

I’m just saying;

Be forewarned.

The volunteer who wanted to follow Jesus but insisted on burying his father first,

Was turned away.

Jesus didn’t believe he had the chops

So he spun him around and showed him the door.

The wealthy young man who wanted to become a disciple

And was asked to give away everything he had to the poor,

Turned his back on Jesus and walked away sad.

Even Jesus’ family ended up running Him out of town and tried to throw him off a cliff.

In this Gospel of Mark, at the end, all the disciples flee from Jesus.

Only Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome were left;

And they looked on from a distance.

When Mary Magdalene reported the resurrection,

The disciples didn’t believe her.

Jesus appeared to the eleven

               “and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness,

because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”

(Mark 16:14b)

Even his own disciples weren’t worthy of this high bar of Discipleship.

How is it that we can ever stand a chance?

How can we ever stand a chance to serve as a disciple of Jesus Christ?

 

Early Christian Fathers saw the standards

Set by Jesus to become one of his followers

Were set so high

Something had to be done about it,

Because everyone would quit before even trying.

God-talking Christian Fathers debated this for centuries.

It was our own John Wesley, the father of Methodism,

Who, in my opinion, completed the question

- QED, as we used to conclude math theorems -

With his observation of Christian perfection.

Our life’s journey leads us onward and upward to Christian perfection.

It is the gold standard

Achievable only when we are sanctified,

Made perfect by our death and glorified into eternal life.

We strive to become the perfect disciple of Jesus.

With every breath we

Strive

For this highest of ideals.

 

So, before you bolt out of the church like your hair is on fire,

Know that you’re in good company.

Not one of us has achieved these standards of Jesus.

These standards are just as abrasive to me as they probably are to you, too.

But all of us are striving.

All of us are sharing the journey together.

 

Jesus had turned the world upside down;

He healed the sick,

Raised the dead,

Multiplied seven loaves and fed four thousand.

Jesus taught with authority and cast out demons.

Everyone saw Jesus more than just a generational prophet

Crafted from the mold of Moses, Abraham, Isaiah, or Jeremiah.

Everyone was so hyped up they believed Jesus to be

The Son of God.

Then, with a snap of his fingers,

Jesus suddenly informs his disciples

That he was going to be rejected, suffer, die, and rise from the dead three days later.

Everyone was stunned!

This was crazy talk!

This was cold water on a hot fire!

 

He,

Who would be welcomed with loud “Hosannas,”

Would be soon mocked with “Crucify Him!”

Surely not us, Peter rebuked Jesus.

No. Not us.

We’d never let you be tried and killed like a common criminal.

Hopes and dreams were dashed like a skydiver without a parachute

When Jesus replies

               “Get behind me, Satan!

For you are setting your mind not on divine things

but on human things.”

(Mark 8:33b)

 

This then, is the standard to become my disciples, Jesus tells everyone:

“If any want to become my followers,

let them deny themselves

and take up their cross

and follow me.”

(Mark 8:34)

So, let’s get controversial and talk about this standard.

              

1. Deny yourself.

 

It seems the season of Lent is all about self-denial.

What have you given up for Lent?

Eating meat?

Deserts?

Chocolate?

Booze?

Though this works conveniently well for our culture and Christians today,

This is hardly what Jesus had in mind.

 

In Greco-Roman culture the self was not thought of as an individual.

Rather, the self was thought of as everyone and everything that made up the person.

Spouse. Children. Grandchildren. Family. Tribe.

Occupation. Work. Call. Means of employment. How you put food on the table.

Wealth, withholdings, flocks, land, slaves, women, children.

Status, citizenship, appointments, awards, resume.

 

Deny yourself, Jesus commands.

Deny yourself from your family and loved ones.

Deny yourself from your work, your wealth, your accumulations, your pensions, your property.

Deny yourself from all status, throw patriotism out the window, and make yourself lower than the lowest of lows.

Then, let’s talk.

 

I know if a preacher ever calls out someone and their tight knit family

Who’s kid wants to do cheerleading on Sunday mornings,

Or who’s son wants to play Pop Warner during worship,

They’d get run out of town on a rail.

If church leadership told everyone to give all they have to the church treasury,

Let alone a measly ten percent,

They wouldn’t make it to their car in the parking lot.

If anyone challenged anyone’s patriotism or love of this country in this congregation,

Just call 911.

 

Leave it all behind, Jesus commands.

Let the dead bury the dead,

For death is of this world.

Families, clans, principalities, nations, and possessions;

In a hundred years, where will they be?

What will it matter?

These are like treasures of this world,

Where rust consumes and ashes scatter in the wind.

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, we are reminded.

 

Rather, set your mind on divine things, Jesus invites.

Set your mind on Jesus

And let the rest take care of itself.

Remember your Creator, your Heavenly Father;

That’s setting your mind on divine things.

Look forward to where this river of faith is taking you.

Look up and anticipate the coming of the Lord.

Taste and see the presence and goodness of God

Right here in our midst!

 

If our Lord’s command to deny yourself hasn’t thoroughly angered you,

You don’t have a pulse, you’re dreaming, or you haven’t been listening!

It’s killing me like nails on a chalkboard, too.

If our Lord’s command also hasn’t inspired you to stay the course,

To continue on this river of faith that leads to Jesus,

Then let’s help get you unstuck

- everyone push and get you out of the ditch -

And help get you headed back on the journey towards Christ.

We can do this,

Especially if we do this together.

 

2. Take up your cross.

 

O.M.G.

Have you ever been to jail?

Who lives in a jail?

Losers, that’s who;

At least that’s the prevailing opinion, as far as I can tell.

This is the wisdom I overhear in coffee shops:

Losers who break the law and are sentenced to jail can just sit and rot until their punishment is paid.

We don’t like to think about prisoners, or their conditions, until justice has been served.

In fact, I hear it all the time,

People ask why not just kick-start the death penalty?

It would save tax payers a lot of money,

justice would be served,

and everyone could go home happy.

And while we’re at it,

What’s wrong with a little torture?

Punishment should equal the crime, many believe,

In an eye-for-an-eye sort of way.

Don’t even start talking, pastor Todd, about prison and rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation is for pot smoking, hippy, liberals.

It’s all about the crime and punishment.

 

Here is a bucket of ice water into everyone’s baptismal font:

Jesus was a tried, convicted, condemned, and executed criminal.

Take up your cross

Is His command to make ourselves as low

As the most vile loser in the County jail or State prison.

Take up your cross

Is our Lord’s invitation

To walk with Jesus with our heads held high

And with a heavy wooden cross on our shoulder

Straight to Golgotha

Where we are going to die together.

 

Law and order

Are of this world.

 

Dying with Christ

Is setting our eyes on divine things.

 

3. Follow me.

 

Following Jesus means we live radically.

When surgeons use the term radical,

Be forewarned,

Everything must go.

Every piece of tissue must be cut away,

And then another twenty percent, for safe measure.

When Jesus uses the term radical,

He means leaving your former life behind.

Everything you’ve done,

Everything you’ve built,

Everything you’ve accomplished,

Must be laid aside and left behind.

One must walk away from life

Before one can begin to walk with Jesus.

One’s mind must be changed

From this world

To the divine.

 

I’ll be perfectly honest with you.

I hear these conditions for discipleship

- deny self, pick up a cross, and follow him –

And I’m about ready to cry!

There is too much of this world I love

And I want to cling to.

I can’t do this by myself,

And I suspect no one else here can, either.

 

This is why we’ve been given a Savior.

This is why Christ steps forth from the tomb on Easter Sunday.

This is why we come full circle back around

To this thing called GRACE.

“Amazing grace!

How sweet the sound,

that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now I’m found;

was blind but now I see.”

 

Our Lord places the bar of expectations for grace

So ridiculously low that anyone can achieve it.

For grace

- The grace of God,

So freely and abundantly given -

Is what compliments our imperfect and incomplete faith,

Makes up for our every short fall.

Grace puts us over the top

When we one day achieve perfection

And enter into God’s glory.

 

Dearly beloved,

Strive.

Strive to change your mind.

Strive to change your mind from that which is of this world.

Strive to deny the self, pick up the cross, and follow Jesus.

Strive to keep your mind only upon Jesus.

And let the Grace of God do the rest.

Amen.