SCRIPTURE   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.”


MESSAGE         “What to Say?”                 Rev. James Renfrew, Pastor

What to say?  What to say when things are going your way?

What to say when things aren’t going your way?

What to say when you hit your thumb with a hammer?  Ouch!

What kinds of things make you say “ouch!”  Step on a tack?  Bump your head while trying to fix a leaky sink?  Flip your bobsled at 90 miles per hour?  Tripping over a tree root in the dark?  Or responding someone else’s sad story “… and then the IRS auditor told me, you owe another two thousand dollars plus interest and penalties …”.  You say “ouch” even when it doesn’t happen to you.

Does anyone like saying ouch?  That’s like asking if anyone likes to get hurt.  I went to have a root canal one time and the dentist used Novocain to reduce the pain as he drilled (and drilled and drilled).  Just thinking about it makes me want to say “ouch”.  “Do any of your patients refuse Novocain?”, I asked.  He looked at me like I was crazy, because no one  ever refuses Novocain during a root canal.  No one wants to say “ouch“.

As they approached Jerusalem, Jesus taught that he must suffer.  He explained that he would be rejected by his own people and put to death on the cross.  But Peter liked the teaching, the healing, and the miracles, all the wonderful signs of God’s love and care in action.  What to say to Jesus?  Die on a cross?  Ouch! This talk about the cross must be a mistake!  Who would ever want to follow a leader who predicts defeat and failure?

Jesus told Peter that what he said was wrong, mistaken, way off course, because to do everything possible to avoid the cross would result in little more than cautious mediocrity, when what was needed was a bold, risk-filled venture to renew God’s people.

Peter wanted to build on the good reputation that Jesus had worked so hard to gain.  But Jesus was preparing to risk it all, claiming that “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for him and the Good News of the Gospel will save it.”

It’s very tempting to avoid talking about the cross, and to talk about positive things like healing, forgiveness, peace, instead.  But in so doing, we end up avoiding the very work that Jesus invites us to do.  To take risks is what it’s all about … we have to immerse ourselves in sickness to offer healing, we have to place ourselves in friendship with sinners if we hope to have opportunity to forgive, we have to bind ourselves to the poor if our words of justice are to have any chance of success, we have to face the powers of death if we hope to experience resurrection.  To stay uninvolved, to remain at a comfortable distance, without any risk to ourselves, turns the Gospel into a vague set of wishes, instead of God’s radical agenda for truth in action,

Why did Jesus have to go to the cross?  Some might say that Jesus HAD to suffer, because that is what God required him to do.  He had to suffer because that was the price he had to pay for our redemption.  He died because that was what God wanted.  Yet when we speak like this, it gives the impression that God is unusually cruel, desiring the death of Jesus because of things that the rest of us had done.  Did Jesus mean that God WANTED his suffering and death?

The truth is that Jesus did not die because of God, but because of people who had become so compromised with sin that they gave into all the logical reasons for death, not realizing that they were giving up the possibility of their own life.  Did God want Jesus to die?  It is more accurate to say that Jesus could see he would not be able to survive his effort to bring justice and love into an unjust and hateful world.  If he held back the force of the Gospel, what would die was the last remaining chance for good. To escape suffering and death would require him to back away from the needs of people he had come to save.

Christians are often faulted for being unrealistic in a tough world.  “Get real” we are told, as if forgiveness coddles criminals, as if peace rewards dictators, as if the Gospel is only a sugar coating without any substance.  Yet in understanding the need for human salvation and the ultimate price that would have to be paid to achieve it, Jesus was the most practical of all.   If you seek to change the world, you have to act in that world.  Wishing & hoping, dreaming & praying, is never enough.

This is why One great Hour of Sharing takes place during these weeks, to remind us of Christ’s call get involved in the healing of our world.   OGHS is much more than the money offered, it is the decision to commit ourselves to his ministry of engagement in the world, to put ourselves in a position where it is very likely that we will say “ouch”.

I always return to the story of Gretta Valenza, an elder in a church I served in a very poor neighborhood of  Rochester.  One day when we were fussing over our budget, thinking of ways to conserve our funds, Gretta, then about 85 years old, pounded on the table to get our attention, “If we aren’t willing to risk everything for this neighborhood, then we have no business being here”.  Ouch!  Gretta knew something about the cross.

The truth of the matter is that Jesus was not killed by evil people, but by people who thought that the road to eliminate sin was to cooperate with it, not knowing that such a compromise would ultimately steal from them everything that God has to offer.  We could even go so far as to say that people like ourselves caused Jesus’ death, but my message today is not about establishing blame.  Our task is to focus on the promise of God, the good news of Jesus Christ; that out of suffering and the cross, new life arises.  While we are often defeated by violence and injustice, God never is.  The cross – it is not a symbol of defeat, but a symbol of victory.  Peter objected because he thought Jesus was promising defeat.  The truth is that the cross did not defeat him at all.

The bread rises when the oven temperature is raised.  When the heat is on us in this world, we rise with Jesus in the resurrection to come, we rise in hope for the whole world!  Jesus is giving each of us something to say!