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Sermon based on Mark 8:31-38
Perhaps we remember a game we played as children called, “Follow the Leader?” As children playing this game would create an excitement when it became our turn to be the leader. In thinking of our culture and society I believe people are excited to lead but few wish to be followers. There are very few books written on the art of following while there are thousands of books on leadership written. We seem to be preoccupied in life with leading yet in our gospel lesson this morning Jesus clearly points out that being a good disciple is learning to become a good follower. In thinking of our gospel lesson this morning the words of the Christian author Max Lucado come to mind when he wrote the following: “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” For the disciples in today’s lesson they learned similarly that following Jesus meant they must turn their backs upon friends and family. Jesus described to Peter and the other disciples the great suffering, rejection and death he anticipated in his future.
Learning about the reality of where Jesus’ earthly mission will take him becomes almost unbearable for his closest followers. The disciples believed that Jesus’ earthly mission was to create a new political order not die for humankind. Peter always the bold and brash disciple attempted to keep Jesus from such a future. Jesus reprimanded Peter and told others that they too must be willing to suffer and even die to become a follower. Peter’s actions reveal for us how we as Christians can become fickle when it comes to discipleship. In thinking of discipleship, most of the time like Peter we are comfortable to follow as long as following is not too costly. When being a follower of Christ requires us to give more of our resources, whether that is resources of time, talent and even of a financial nature, we can become resistant. Our passage from Mark shares with us some responsibilities that Jesus outlines for us when we become his followers.
One responsibility of discipleship requires that we demonstrate selflessness in all we do. Most of us are familiar with the legend of Sir Isaac Newton’s famed encounter with a falling apple. Legend says that Newton was sitting under an apple tree, an apple fell on his head, and he suddenly thought of the Universal Law of Gravitation. As in all such legends, perhaps there is some truth in its details. Regardless of how Newton came to discover and define the Universal Law of Gravitation had it not been for another individual, Edmund Haley the world might never have learned from Newton. Haley challenged Newton to think more critically through his original thoughts on gravity. Haley offered corrections to Newton’s mathematical errors and prepared geometrical figures to support his discoveries. Haley was the one who encouraged Newton to write his great work, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Haley edited, supervised and even financed the publication. Historians have called Haley’s contributions as one of the most selfless examples of science. While Newton became famous, Haley received little credit and remained in the shadows until years later when gained notoriety for predicting the orbit and return of a comet now named after him. Haley was a devoted scientist who was not concerned who received credit as long as the cause was being advanced. Within Scripture and Christian history there are many figures far too many to mention in a single sermon that likewise have played a similar role as Haley once played in their selflessness to spreading the gospel message to others.
During our Lenten season John the Baptist is one such figure who once said that he must decrease in prominence and stature so that Jesus could increase. (John 3:30) Likewise, must become selfless in our following of Jesus. We need to give of ourselves not for the purpose of gaining power or control or even for the purpose of being recognized by others. We need to give of ourselves because we care about spreading the good news of the Gospel. Billy Graham, who passed away on Wednesday of this past week said the following in regards to this subject of selflessness:
“Only God can give us a selfless love for others, as the Holy Spirit changes us from within. This is one reason we must receive Christ, for apart from His Spirit we can never be freed from the chains of selfishness, jealousy, and indifference.
Another responsibility of discipleship requires willingness to bear the cross. These days that term “bear the cross” is one used in a serious or not so serious tone. Bearing the cross could be a burden or trial one must put up with such as an extended illness of a loved one that affects an entire family. The term is also used less seriously like for me, going grocery shopping is a cross I must bear. This phrase actually refers to the very cross that was carried by Jesus to his crucifixion. Many years ago I remember having a conversation with someone who had grown up in a Christian home but as an adult had strayed away from the church. They shared with me how they continued to read Scripture and how much they respected Jesus and the Christian faith itself. As we continued to talk I asked this person why they were not attending church anymore. This person’s response was that Christianity seemed to focus too much upon the cross. This person believed that the real message of Jesus was one that many Christians have forgotten to follow. When I pressed further this person shared with me that their belief was Christians should focus more upon the way Jesus lived his life and treated others, not so much as to what took place on the cross. While I understood what this person was trying to communicate, I disagreed with what he was saying. I like to remember these words from our Lenten liturgy that we prayed last Sunday in worship that says, “Christ, and Him crucified, remain our confession of faith.” (Moravian Book of Worship, pg. 76)
In many ways we as Christians do not focus enough upon the cross. The cross is more than a piece of jewelry around our necks or something that is displayed prominently in a sanctuary. The cross was a symbol of the cruelest and most painful form of death in Biblical times. Jesus described what all followers must prepare for if they take up their cross. Following Jesus at times will not always be met with praise rather with scorn and even today in some places death.
A final responsibility of discipleship requires us to be followers. Jesus’ life and example demonstrated the act of following. Jesus followed the instructions of God, His father as he denied himself and took up the cross that eventually led to his own suffering and death. Jesus’ response to Peter in this passage when he said, “Get behind me…” is indeed the only place a true follower of Jesus can ever be when called to follow. Everyone is following something or someone. Some people follow in the footsteps of their family. Some follow a philosophy of life, like the Golden Rule that calls us to treat others the way we want to be treated.
Others follow their own intuition, drawing from their knowledge of religion, philosophy, friends, and family. How about us? Who are the most important people we follow? I’m not talking about those we follow on Twitter or Facebook. Who do we spend a lot of time with in our lives? This church season of Lent calls us draw closer as followers to a single person, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ yet we know this is not easy. As Mark writes for us in the 8th chapter:
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.
These words from our gospel lesson in Mark are not any easier to hear for us as it was for the disciples who lived with Jesus. These words concerning ministry and discipleship demand uncompromising love for our Lord. We must be united in heart and purpose to give of ourselves in service in the Kingdom of God. Our faith in Jesus requires us to be obedient without reservation.
On this 2nd Sunday of our Lenten journey, as we continue to follow Christ to the cross and later the empty grave, let us renew our commitment to love and serve the Lord. Together let us follow the leader.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
February 25, 2018