Deny.

Mark 8:31-38

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

31 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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 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.”

34 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. 35 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. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 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.”

How many times have we heard something, but we just don’t get it?  It may be right in front of us, or someone we are close to may be telling us something…but, we just don’t see it or hear it!  I know that’s true in my life!

And, how many times do we say something and wonder, is anyone listening?  Believe me, I wonder that all of the time as a dad… and as a preacher!!  

In our gospel lesson, we see Jesus giving a somber declaration, a prophetic word, that he must suffer, that he will be betrayed, and that he will be killed.  Peter would have none of this!  He had put his identity and expectations in and on Jesus.  His sense of self, his image, was wrapped up in a triumphant Jesus, a victorious Messiah.  Yet, Jesus says that tragedy must come first, that suffering is a key part of our identity with Christ.

Identity is interesting.  I have an identity…I’m a runner, pastor, parent, husband, friend…you have an identity as well.  Our church has an identity…we think of it in some ways, others may think of it in other ways.

In our culture, we also put our identities in somewhat vague national ideas…I’m a Democrat, or I am a Republican, or something else.  We place our identities in things that we have been conditioned to place them in.  Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to have political or cultural opinions, I certainly do.  Yet, in that mix, we have lost our identity in the local, in our neighborhoods and even in our city.  We’ve let ideologies and marketing shape us rather than getting into the nitty gritty of everyday local relationships.  We live above place, not in or with place. 

Oftentimes, we put our identities above our human experience and relationships.  We don’t often like to deal with struggle or suffering.  Even if we know we can’t avoid it.

Friends, this is what Jesus is sharing with us this morning.  Life is filled with suffering.  We do all that we can to avoid it, but it’s there. 

Jesus says in our text this morning that in order to be a follower of Jesus, we must deny ourselves and take up Jesus’ cross, the way of suffering.  We must be willing to enter into the darkness of our lives, the lives of others, and this world.  This is a hard word, but if we are to enter into life, true life where we grow and become all that God intended, if we want to experience true joy, we must be willing to suffer.  We must enter into tragedy.  

Jesus knows this and addresses it head on.  Peter rebukes Jesus for saying this, yet Jesus gives a strong response as a Rabbi should and would do to one of his disciples, “get behind me Satan”.  Don’t deny what I’m saying or will experience.  Jesus is frustrated, but Jesus loves Peter and wants Peter to understand that he cannot hide from suffering.  

We don’t want to deny ourselves, we don’t want to struggle, and we don’t want to ask hard questions of ourselves oftentimes in the church.  We look for miracle workers instead of looking for the miracles that we have deep within us.  We want the church to be filled with people, to come and join us, but we don’t stop to think about what those same people really need…a group of folks deeply committed to each other and willing to put others ahead of them and to deny themselves, enter into the struggles of others, be uncomfortable, and inconvenienced.  

We have an amazing church filled with amazing gifts in our people.  How do we release ourselves from what we’ve always done and find replenishing and renewing life by inviting others in to co-create new possibilities with us, while also engaging the community and joining in with what God is already doing around us?

I think it starts with vulnerability.  This season, this church has blessed me personally by so many folks being vulnerable with me…honestly vulnerable.  Not coming to me with pre-described opinions, but simply saying, “I don’t know where I am or where we are, but glad to be together…now, what is our imagination together”….and, so many folks have allowed me to also be vulnerable…when we start their, which, by the way, is the example of Jesus and God’s power…humility, emptying, and listening…

We feel like we have to have answers, have it all together, when, in reality, none of us do!  I know that I’m pursuing a doctorate in missional leadership through the church…I’m learning a lot…and I’m also learning, once again, that I will never have all the answers, nor does anyone else.

Richard Rohr says this: “the genius of the biblical revelation is that it refuses to deny the dark side of things, but forgives failure and integrates falling to achieve its only promised wholeness…Jesus is never upset at sinners, he is only upset with people who do not think they are sinners! Jesus was fully at home with this tragic sense of life.”

Jesus does go on to say that if we deny ourselves, if we take up our cross, if we are willing to look at our lives and become aware of who we are even in our suffering and darkness, then we will find Jesus with us.  Jesus will not give up on us.  

Jesus didn’t give up on Peter, and doesn’t give up us.  Peter is often called the rock.  Jesus said that he’d build his church on this same Peter that he rebuked.  He believed in Peter.

And, this same Jesus believes in Fleming Road UCC.  This church which is a part of the church universal that he anointed Peter to be a leader of.  Like Peter, we have to be vulnerable, and authentic, and also realize that we need healing and growth.  

I believe in this church.  This church’s best history is ahead of us, and that means embracing change, growth, and even the times we live in now.  We have to change, we have to think differently, we have to open the doors of our church to others, we have to move beyond the way we’ve done church and think differently in order to build community with those around us. 

Friends, yes, God’s story, and ours, is filled with suffering and tragedy, but the story doesn’t end there.  Yes, Jesus is betrayed, Jesus suffers, Jesus is killed.  We are betrayed, we suffer, and we die.  Yet, there is resurrection.  There is new life.  There is a Risen Christ.  WE will rise with the Christ, and, in fact, we are rising daily with this Christ, even as we experience suffering.  We are learning to trust as we hang in there with the story, living through the tragic as well as the triumphant, while staying committed to the authenticity that we’ve demonstrated for a long time.  The world around us is looking for that authenticity and a willingness to embrace the messy world we all live in, knowing that we aren’t alone in the messiness or the suffering.  God is with us, and Lord willing, a community of folks around us.

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