A Field Trip to Capernaum 02/25/18 (Lent 2)

A Field Trip to Capernaum
Texts: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Mark 8:31-38
Rev. Heather M. Hinton
February 25, 2018 ~ Second Sunday of Lent

We begin with a confession. Not just any confession, but Peter’s confession: the first declaration of who Jesus is. Sadly, Peter’s confession is not part of the passage assigned today from the Gospel of Mark, and that’s unfortunate because we can’t understand today’s lection if we don’t back up just a few verses to Peter’s confession.

So let’s do just that. Jesus and his disciples are traveling again; this time Jesus is taking the disciples on a field trip to Capernaum. On the way, he asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answer him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answers, “You are the Messiah.” And Jesus immediately commands them to tell no one. (Mark 8:27-30)

Why the secrecy? Well, largely because “Jesus still has a lot to teach them about what he must face: betrayal, denial, suffering, death, and finally, and most mysteriously, resurrection.” One person has summed it up this way:

Reading the passage one can feel the stakes rising. There is suddenly more to being his disciple than watching him heal and hearing him teach. Having told them “plainly” about his cross, he tells both the intimate disciples and the larger multitudes that if they want to be his disciples they are going to have to take up their own crosses and follow him, paradoxically losing their lives in order to gain them. [1]

The cross: an instrument of torture and execution. Not only is Jesus going to go there; he is also telling his disciples that they have to go there too. As someone once said, “And so Peter begins the long tradition of Christians arguing with Jesus.” [2]

The cross. There has been a lot of unhelpful theology about the cross down through the ages. Many of us were taught that Jesus had to be sacrificed, that it was through his death that our sins could be forgiven. This is called penal substitutionary atonement – big words that basically mean this: God is so vindictive, so angry, that we have to kill in God’s name in order to be reconciled to God. That’s the theology we find in so many of our hymns and prayers and the general received knowledge of current Christianity.

But the Early Church did not teach penal substitutionary atonement. This theology of the cross didn’t develop until the Middle Ages! So let’s think about it again. And maybe the way to understand the cross is in relation to all the other things Jesus taught. What if we think about the stories Jesus told?

The parable of the Good Shepherd: the one who lays down his life for the sheep.

The parable of the Prodigal Son: the father who always welcomes back his wandering children, not with punishment but with open arms.

Or we could think about the images Jesus used:

The image of the vine and the branches: we are intimately connected to God.

The image of the bread of life and the cup of salvation.

The image of the mother hen brooding over her lost and troubled city.

Or we could think about the context in which Jesus lived:

Conflicted elites. Regional and class divisions. Racial animus. Scapegoating. Religious factions. A sense of “our best days are behind us.” Violent uprisings.

And in the midst of all of that, Jesus taught his disciples to go the extra mile, to turn the other cheek, to forgive seventy times seven times, to love the enemy. He taught them to heal, and feed, and welcome, and serve.

He taught them the way of love.

And that love means that a true disciple of Jesus, a dedicated follower of the one who is Love incarnate, is willing – no, is compelled – to love: fully, deeply, sacrificially. Taking up our cross means carrying one another’s burdens.

Paul sums it up beautifully in his letter to the churches in Galatia:

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2)

In other words, take up your cross – take up one another’s burdens – and follow Jesus.

Today, I’d like us to practice taking up our crosses. And by that I mean, let us share one another’s burdens. Let’s recognize and hold the pain we all carry – personal pain, as well as the pain of our communities and our world. This is a prayerful time; in fact, it’s actually the part of the service we usually call “The Prayers of the People.” We’re just going to do it in the middle of the sermon – so don’t hold back now in expectation that there’s another time to pray aloud. This is it! So any of the worries or concerns or pains that you would normally name – or not name aloud but call to mind – during that time: those are all part of today’s sermon/prayer.

Earlier, I talked with the kids about how sometimes the hard things in our lives can feel like rocks weighing us down. Since I don’t have enough crosses for everyone today, we’re going to combine metaphors. Let these rocks represent the crosses you carry for yourselves and one another. I invite you to come forward, take a rock from the table, and place it on the altar. And as you place it, I invite you to name the burden that rock represents. It could be an event that has happened that has broken your heart open; it could be a loved one or a friend who is struggling; it could be a sorrow or pain or brokenness in your own life. If you really can’t speak it aloud, feel free to speak it to me quietly. If even that is too hard, I invite you to place a rock silently. But remember this, which I say with deep love: we cannot help you bear your burden if you don’t share it with us.

Once everyone has had a chance to name their burdens and place them on the altar, we’ll have a few moments of stillness as we listen to some music and holding one another in prayer. The words to the piece we will listen to are on the insert in your bulletins, on the side that says, “Music as we honor the burdens we share.”

****

As we look at all of those burdens, we may feel that our crosses are just to heavy to bear. And that’s when we have to remember God’s promises.

Take, for example, God’s promises to Abraham. In this morning’s reading from Genesis, God promises Abraham that he will have an abundance of children who will become not just his family, but whole nations. This is, in fact, the third time God has made that promise to Abraham and Sarah. One would forgive them for losing hope completely, but they don’t. As one scholar has said:

This old couple is deeply flawed, yet they have remained faithful to God’s promise. With no evidence that they will ever be parents of a single child, much less the parents of a nation, they have continued in relationship with God and one another. Their trust is unconditional. In years to come, three distinct religions will spring from this trust, claiming Abraham as their grandfather in faith. Their grandmothers will be different [that is, Sarah and Hagar], but not their covenant with God. God will be their God, and they will be God’s people. [3]

All of them – which means all of us: heirs to the promises of God. God will be our God and we will be God’s people. God will never leave or forsake us. God’s kingdom of justice and love is here, among us.

And so we dare to hope. We dare to hope that the words Jesus read from scroll of the prophet Isaiah are true words of promise:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ (Luke 4:18-19)

We dare to hope. In the face of all of the burdens we bear, we come to be reminded that there is hope. With Paul we dare to say,

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… (
2 Cor. 4:8-9)

In that spirit of hope and trust that God’s promises are true, even if they haven’t completely unfolded quite yet, I invite us back into a spirit of prayer. As you feel moved, please come forward and take a flower. There are cards with strings and some pencils on the table. Please write down for us a person, place, thing, event that gives you hope and tie the card to the flower stem. As you place the flower in the vase, please tell us where you are finding hope these days. Once again, once we have prayed together in this way, we will spend a few moments quietly listening to some music; the words are on the other side of the insert.

**

Let us join our hearts and voices in the prayer Jesus taught us, saying… Amen.

 

[1] Paul C. Shupe, “Pastoral Perspective.” Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol 2. p. 70.

[2] Brian McLaren.

[3] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Homiletical Perspective.” Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol 2. p. 53.

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