The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - February 25, 2018
Scripture Reading: Mark 8:3-38

Sermon Title: Our Cross
Second Sunday in Lent

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     Mark writes things very concisely.  I like this, tell me the story without a lot of extra stuff.  But because it is so concise, he packs a whole lot into everything he writes.   In the passage this morning, Jesus is with his disciples, and he asks his disciples who people think he is.  They give a bunch of names, and then Jesus asks but who do you say I am, and Peter answers correctly.  You are the Messiah.   Jesus implies that Peter was correct, but donít tell anyone

     And then Jesus goes on to talk about how he will be killed and after three days rise from the dead.  Peter tells Jesus not to say stuff like that, and Jesus says ďGet behind me, Satan.Ē  And then teaches the disciples that those who want to follow him must take up their cross. Those who want to save their lives will lose it, and those who are OK with losing it for good reasons will be saved.

     To understand what this is all about, I think we have to look at where Jesus was in his life.  Jerusalem was under Roman rule at that point, but if you go back in history before Jesus, and even after Jesusí death, Jerusalem was ruled by many different figures.  There were some bigger rulers, but in trying to trace the history of that area, every 50 to 100 years it seems, someone invades, or tries to invade.  The temple, where the Jewish believed God lived, was damaged or destroyed, people are kicked out of Jerusalem, and then come back.  Just before Jesus was born is described as a period of relative calm. 

     At that time, your religious life and your secular life were much more intertwined then they are today.  So as you were learning in the temple or at home, this history was certainly part of your upbringing.  When you read the Old Testament, several of the texts were written when Israel was in exile in Babylon.  So it makes sense that Jesus and his disciples knew at least a good part of this history. 

     The Jewish believed that a messiah was going to come and save them.  This messiah would rule over Jerusalem, and life would be wonderful again.   King David, from years ago, was a wonderful king, so the Jewish imagined that if they had a king like that, who would come in the form of their messiah, it would make Jerusalem great again. 

     I say that a bit as a joke, but it makes sense.  Just the other day I was talking to Collin, my 10 year old son.  He asked if I had played some video game when I was a kid.  Now Atari was coming out when I was growing up, but we didnít have anything like that.  The closest we got was that we could borrow a computer from the school system on a long weekend or holiday.  I described the games we played on there, and a bit of the DOS commands you needed to know to get it to work.  I said that we didnít watch much TV either.  My parents didnít get cable, although it was available, but we lived on the top of a hill, so we could aim our antenna toward New York and pick up 3 channels, aimed toward New Haven and we could get two more.  There were no VCRís, no DVRís, and cartoons were only shown on Saturday morning.  So I went outside, rode my bike around the neighborhood, played with any other kids out riding their bikes.  We hiked through the woods, played in muddy ponds; in the winter we went sledding or built snow forts.  Those were the days.

     And Jesusí disciples had heard from their parents about those days.  The items were different, but very often things look better when we look back upon them.  In most cases if we could turn back the dial 20 years we would.  This messiah would do that, a strong leader to make Jerusalem great again. 

     Can you hear Peter thinking at this point?  OK, there were no elections at this point, but Jesus is becoming popular, well known.  We donít like living under this Roman rule, we pay really high taxes, goes up every year, and it is spent on things that we donít get the benefit of.  And there is corruption; although there is no way to prove it, we suspect that people are buying seats of power.  If the people rise up, these powers will fall, and then Jesus can take his place as ruler.  Our messiah is here. 

     Get behind me Satan.  And you disciples, get behind me also, follow me.  We are not going to be riding into town, overthrow the government, and take our power that way.  You see, Jesus understands, and is trying to teach his disciples and us that Godís power is not about violence, or overthrowing a human made structure.  Just look at what happened a few years after Jesus - the Jewish people rose up against the Roman Empire in 66, and in 70, after just 4 years the Romans came back in and destroyed the temple.   Teach you to rebel, not only are we coming back in, we are going to destroy this place where you say that your God lives, the center of your religious and cultural life.

     I wanted to see how long the longest empire lasted, and there is no agreement.  History is not as clear as it is presented in some history books.  All empires have risen and fallen over time.  They do not last forever.  States and countries change.  Remember Yugoslavia, Tibet, Czechoslovakia, East Germany.  Those are countries that have ceased to exist in fairly recent history.  And there are new countries forming all the time.  South Sudan, Somaliland.  The United States of America is only about 242 years old.  

     Jesusí reign is without end.  Jesus is not the king of a human created country. That country, all countries come and go, but God remains.  And we are invited to join in this new Kingdom but must carry our own crosses.  There are things within us that need to die if we want to be part of this new God Kingdom. 

     It is hard to be part of Godís Kingdom because we live in our human created Kingdom.  Most of us, perhaps all of us are citizens of the United States.  We pay taxes to support our government. Many have gone off to fight for the freedom we have here.  And there are good things about living here.  We are a pampered country.  Electricity and water run into our houses, we have oil or gas or wood to burn to stay warm.  We have food that comes all wrapped up in plastic we can buy.  We have fruits and vegetables arriving year-round from around the world, available to us almost any day we want.  There are many in the world who donít have that.  In Puerto Rico we cannot even restore power to many people after months of trying.  Many there do not have clean drinking water.  Go outside the United States and its territories and we can find people who have never experienced water running in their houses and have never had electricity.  In parts of Africa right now there is a drought, it has not rained for over a year, there are no crops growing.  There are countries involved in wars right now.  As horrible as our school shooting was just over a week ago, there are places which are bombed daily. 

     And this is Godís Kingdom, or we pray it will be.  What crosses do we need to bear in order for it to come?  I think the first is realizing that we are all created in Godís image.  That is easy to say, but harder to live.  Would we allow God to starve, or live on the street, or be sick without medical treatment?  Would we allow God to live where there is a mile walk or more to get water which might be safe to drink?  Would we allow God to live in a warzone?

     This simple statement, that we are created in the image of God, opens up huge problems, which we will not solve this morning.  But awareness, and seeing a solution, are important.  How we get to those solutions is carrying our cross.  Might I have to give up some of my comforts in order for others to have food and clean drinking water?  Might I have to conserve the resources I have access to, so that everyone can benefit?  Might I have to admit that I donít do as well as I could or should?

     And here we are, full circle back to Lent, a time of admitting our sin, and preparing for Easter.  But the stuff I am suggesting is not just something we do during Lent.  We pray for thy kingdom to come.  I am not sure I can describe that kingdom, but I know it when I see it.  When I see a mother and child, that is Godís kingdom.  When I see neighbors reaching out to neighbors, that is Godís kingdom.  When I see companies put people over profits, that is Godís kingdom. 

     So I leave you with a challenge this week.  Look for Godís kingdom, and when you see it, ask yourself what cross you might need to bear to make it available to all.