Facing the impossible

Second Sunday in Lent

  • Genesis 17: 1-7, 15 -16
  • Psalm 22:23-31
  • Romans 4:13-25
  • Mark 8: 31-38


God, we come to hear you call us beloved. We come in faith so that in Christ we may face the impossible. We come so that your Spirit may lead us into the impossible and find the possible that only you can give. We are yours. We worship you. Amen.

Facing the Impossible with Abraham & Sarah

I really cannot imagine it! Marg and me in our 90’s and being told we’re having a baby!

I don’t think I’d be too happy over such good news. I think I’d do more than laugh. I’d cry. Although I must say that I look forward to being a grandfather. But that’s another matter entirely.

Abram is 99 and Sarai is 90 years old. God has called Abram to “Go from your country and your kinfolk and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great” (Gen. 12:1-2).

So Abram and Sarai and family left their homeland in Haran and wander afar following God through what we know today as Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt.

It is hardly a way to become a great nation, a great name, a great blessing! Sarai couldn’t even have children. No children, no son, no family name. Yes, Abram had a son with Hagar. But that’s another story.

The best telling of this Abraham and Sarah story I have ever heard is Ted and Lee’s biblical drama. How many have seen Ted and Lee tell it?

God is great mystery. And God has great humor. Without mystery and humor, God and the Bible become deadly tools in our hands. With humor and mystery, God and the Bible turn the impossible into the possible. Thanks be to God who with mystery and humor makes the impossible possible. Here Abraham and Sarah encounter God who with mystery and humor gives them a new name and makes the impossible possible.

The impossible possibility continues with Jesus. Mark takes us to the heart of that impossible possibility in the heart of the Gospel. Last Sunday we heard Mark begin the gospel with Jesus being baptized by John and beloved by God to face the beasts in the wilderness and begin ministry. In baptism we began our Lenten journey with Jesus.

Facing the Impossible with Jesus

Mark’s Gospel story of Jesus today jumps ahead from that beginning to the heart of Jesus’ message, mission, and meaning. We just heard that Gospel from chapter 8 in the middle of the Gospel.

To this point life with Jesus as a disciple is glorious. Remember from last Sunday’s Gospel beginning, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus returned to Galilee and proclaimed the good news of God:

The time is fulfilled;
The reign of God has drawn near;
Repent and believe the good news. Mark 1:15

With that first and frequent proclamation, Jesus set out in faithful obedience to God. Life with Jesus is filled with miracle healings and great stories.

An early key is the Parable of the sower in chapter 4 (verses 3-9). Two key healing encounters take place just before this turning point of the gospel. Jesus heals a deaf man (7:31-37) and a blind man (8:22-26). Hearing and seeing with eyes of faith are the unfolding theme of Mark’s Gospel. If you are going to follow Jesus faithfully, you have to see and hear! Jesus lamented to the disciples, “Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?” (8:18). “Do you not yet understand?” (8:26). (Mike Raschko, A Companion to the Gospel of Mark , p. 99).

Now comes the turning point, the fulcrum of the gospel in chapter 8. It could be called a “crisis of confession and confrontation of the cross.”

Jesus had just asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist, Elijah, and a prophet.”

The Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter confesses: “You are the Messiah.”

That confession should win Jesus’ praise. “What a disciple! What a confession!” But Jesus gives no praise for Peter here. What does Jesus do? Jesus confronts the disciples with his hardest saying. Jesus tells the disciples the “cost of discipleship.” Peter tries to set Jesus straight with a rebuke. Jesus rebukes peter and speaks openly about the “cost of discipleship.”

But they don’t get it. Or they don’t want to “get it!” It is impossible.

At the center-point of Jesus’ ministry, those who profess faith in Jesus are the very ones who misunderstand the mission and meaning of Jesus. They must face the test of a faith that will follow. They will be confronted with the cross. (Lamar Williamson, Jr., Mark , Interpretation, p. 151.)

Jesus began to teach them….First Passion Prediction

Jesus began to teach them…..that four things are going to happen. All of them are impossible in their eyes. [Tell….teach ….]

Then Jesus 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.

That Jesus, the Messiah, as Peter just confessed, should suffer was inconceivable.  That religious rulers looking for the Messiah should reject Jesus as Messiah was unconscionable. And most of all, that Jesus would be killed as Messiah, was unimaginable. That Jesus, if he were to die, but would rise again in three days, was incomprehensible.

Jesus said all this quite openly.

Jesus is no longer hiding anything or holding back. The journey to Jerusalem and the cross begins right here.

Jesus began to rebuke them

Peter can’t stand it. This is impossible. He takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. ‘You can’t talk like that to us. It’s silly and it’s dangerous. We have big plans for you. You’re Jesus, remember! You’re scaring us. You’re upsetting the authorities.’ Listen again.

Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him.
But turning and looking at his disciples,
Jesus rebuked Peter and said,

“Get behind me, Satan!
For you are setting your mind not on divine things
but on human things.”

What does Jesus do? He confronts them with more stark and startling images.

Jesus 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.”

If you and I were in that crowd in first century Palestine and heard Jesus tell us to “take up the cross and follow” what would we have heard and what would be our response?

Jesus knew that he had to go to Jerusalem and that in Jerusalem he faced the cross. Now the disciples begin to see “the politics of Jesus.”

In writing on these words of Jesus, Ched Myers says that there is no equivocation for Jesus concerning the political implications for discipleship and the cross. “The ‘cross’ had only one connotation in the Roman empire: upon it dissidents were executed….

The threat to punish by death [on the cross] is the bottom line of the power of the state; fear of this threat keeps the dominant order intact. By resisting this fear and pursuing kingdom practices even at the cost of death, the disciple contributes to shattering the powers’ reign of death in history”
( Binding the Strong Man , 145 & 247).

Take up your cross and follow Jesus

The first half of the Gospel is preparation. John prepares the way for Jesus. Jesus is prepared through baptism and facing the beasts. The disciples are being prepared to follow Jesus on “The Way.” It is “The Way” of the cross. Now the real disciple begins.

The rest of Mark’s gospel is that journey to with Jesus to Jerusalem. The journey is one of suffering and death and resurrection. (Tim Geddert, Mark , BCBC, 196).

Lent is precisely the time to confront us with these hard questions and decisions along with the first disciples. Who of us is ready? Who is faithful to walk this way of the cross?

None of us can on our own. Together with Jesus and each other we can do so.

We do not sustain ourselves. We cannot do it on our own. It is impossible. We are sustained in Jesus Christ and the Body of Christ. “The Way” ahead leads to Jerusalem and the cross.

The Way of the Cross today

I do not know what all “The Way of the Cross” means for us today on this Lenten journey with Jesus. I suspect that it will take us to places that we are as reluctant to go as were the first disciples. I know that we can only face this impossible way with Jesus through whom all things are possible.

Three years ago we were preparing for Iraq in quit a different way than the nation was preparing for Iraq. Next Sunday is the third anniversary of the beginning of this tragic war built on lies and violence.

I hadn’t expected to even mention Iraq this Sunday. I expected to do so next Sunday. But today we have to name again the sin of this war. Jesus gives us the way to see and speak and follow.

In the midst of the impossibility of this evil war, we also have hope and seek to see with eyes of faith that Jesus gives us. We see the suffering victims of violence. Our sisters and brothers in Iraq are suffering beyond our imagination. Our sisters and brothers in Christian Peacemaker Teams have followed Jesus to Baghdad as a nonviolent presence in the midst of immense violence.

Our hearts break with the tragic recovery of Tom Fox’s body in Baghdad Thursday evening. Today I feel deep grief and great hope. Grief at the death of one who knew more deeply than we can begin to comprehend what it means to take up the cross and follow Jesus, to give his own life in order to have life.

Jesus is speaking these words to us today. Jesus is heading for Jerusalem and the cross today.

After spending most of Friday listening to Jesus calling us to take up the cross and follow, we heard of Tom’s death Friday evening. Never have I felt so deeply the truth of Jesus words.

Tom Fox heard Jesus speak them and dared o take up the cross and follow. Let me share just a few words about and from Tom for this tragic time.

CPT Release: We Mourn the Loss of Tom Fox 7 March 2006

In grief we tremble before God who wraps us with compassion. The death of our beloved colleague and friend pierces us with pain. Tom Fox’s body was found in Baghdad yesterday.

We mourn the loss of Tom Fox who combined a lightness of spirit, a firm opposition to all oppression, and the recognition of God in everyone.

We renew our plea for the safe release of Harmeet Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember. Each of our teammates has responded to Jesus’ prophetic call to live out a nonviolent alternative to the cycle of violence and revenge.

In response to Tom’s passing, we ask that everyone set aside inclinations to vilify or demonize others, no matter what they have done. In Tom’s own words: “We reject violence to punish anyone. We ask that there be no retaliation on relatives or property. We forgive those who consider us their enemies. We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.”

Tom Fox on “Why we are here” in Iraq on his last day before abduction….November 25, 2005 (excerpts)

If I understand the message of God, [God’s] response to that question is that we are to take part in the creation of the Peaceable Realm of God…. [H]ow we take part in the creation of this realm is to love God with all our heart, our mind and our strength and to love our neighbors and enemies as we love God and ourselves.

I have read that the word in the Greek Bible that is translated as “love” in the word “agape”…. [T]his word is best expressed as a profound respect for all human beings simply for the fact that they are all God’s children. I would state that….as “never thinking or doing anything that would dehumanize one of my fellow human beings.”

As I survey the landscape here in Iraq, dehumanization seems to be the operative means of relating to each other. U.S. forces in their quest to hunt down and kill “terrorists” are, as a result of this dehumanizing word, not only killing “terrorists”, but also killing innocent Iraqis: men, women and children in the various towns and villages.

“Why are we here?” We are here to root out all aspects of dehumanization that exists within us. We are here to stand with those being dehumanized by oppressors and stand firm against that dehumanization. We are here to stop people, including ourselves, from dehumanizing any of God’s children, no matter how much they dehumanize their own souls.

Then Jesus began to teach them….

“If any want to become my followers,

let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.