Monday, March 5, 2012

Follow Me?

Mark 8: 31-38, page 44
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 you 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 adulteress 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.”
The Oscars were on last week, and I think it was when Angelina Jolie debuted her right leg that I realized celebrities are different from ordinary people.
No one, or no one I know, really dresses like that, but more than that, no one I know possesses such confidence, is so universally recognizable, and lives such a foreign lifestyle.
On the other hand, while no one I know has ever been attacked by flash photography just for getting out of a limousine, there is a lot to remind us that really, celebrities are still just like us.
Hearing acceptance speeches I realized that just like most of us, most celebrities aspire to modesty and graciousness, at least when they know people are looking.
Like most of us, they long for acceptance, bask in affirmation, and look ugly when they cry.
And just like us, they make mistakes and disappoint the people who care about them.
They worry about the future and cling tightly to the present.
They strive to be better while at the same time compromising their values and losing themselves to the world around them.
They’re different from us, but at the same time they’re not.
Jesus can give the same impression.
He’s the Son of God but calls himself the Son of Man.
He’s holy, divine, and yet he’s still flesh and blood.
In our first scripture lesson he silenced the storm with his words, something none of us can do, while in the second scripture lesson his words cut his friend deeply, something all of us have done and can do.
“Get behind me Satan,” he says to Peter, as though in a state of frustration he overreacts, or in a struggle to go through with what he knows he must do, he silences the only one with the power to talk him out of it.
It’s amazing that when he is tempted by Satan himself in the desert for 40 days the author of the Gospel of Mark barely mentions it. You would think that the Gospel writer would spend more time describing this event, something that few can say they’ve experienced firsthand. However, while describing something that we’ve all experienced, an honest argument between friends, the Gospel of Mark goes into detail.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, like a friend concerned that Jesus had gone too far, had shared too much, or had presented a self-destructive plan when there must be an alternative. “Surely there must be a way to avoid all this, Jesus. Be rejected, suffer, and then be crucified? There must be another way.”
Like Jesus, you know what this is like.
You know what you have to do, but your resolve is thin, and a friend who can talk you out of it is the most dangerous enemy you can face.
You’ve eaten your last slice of pie, resolved to live better – but all it would take to fall back into bad habits is a visit from an old friend.
You’ve made the decision to go off to school, to pursue your dreams, but your high school boyfriend could keep you home. It would only take the right words.
Seeing clearly right and wrong is easy if the devil is dressed in red with horns and a pointy tail, if all you need to do to stay on the straight and narrow is avoid people who lurk in shadows and alley ways. But the truth is that doing what is right isn’t nearly so easy. Temptation creeps into boardrooms disguised in a suit and tie, and the greatest struggle isn’t persevering down the path of righteousness alone but persevering when the ones who love you the most are sure there could be another way.
What we learn from this conversation between Jesus and Peter is the truth – that temptation is the most powerful, not when it comes in the form of the Devil himself, but when incarnate in what we least expect – that’s when doing what is right is the most difficult.
Drugs exist without posing any threat until they’re offered by a friend.
Doing what you believe is right is hard enough, but when standing up for the one everyone else is ridiculing means disappointing people whose acceptance you want, it’s nearly impossible.
We all strive to be better, but when opening the door to the future means breaking relationships we’ve held dear in the past it’s easier to just keep things as they are.
So when Peter rebukes Jesus is when the Christ faces his most difficult challenge.
Like you and me, he faces a choice – stick with Peter or go on alone.
It must have been a similar situation for Delores Heart, who after staring in a movie, one in which she had the opportunity to kiss Elvis Presley himself, left Hollywood to become a Benedictine Nun. Can you imagine how her friends rebuked her? Why would she leave now, when she’s on her way to the top? “Do you have any idea what I would give to be in your shoes, and you’re going to throw it all away?” Some good hearted friend must have suggested counseling, assuming that Deloris had lost her mind.
She returned to the red carpet for her first Academy Awards since 1959, dressed in the monastic colors of black and white. I wonder what her friends say about her now.
That Christ knows this temptation makes him human. That he struggles with it makes him just like you and me.
It’s conformity that he breaks with, and while conformity is such a value of the Empire just as it is now, conformity has never been a value for those who choose to follow him.
He is just like you in that he knows how hard it is to stand up and do what is right, and while Christ is the only one who gets it right the very first time, like Peter you are invited to follow though you’ve fallen short before.
Even though you’ve gone along with the crowd before – today he invites you to stand up for the ones who no one else will defend.
Even though you’ve accepted behavior that you know is wrong before – today he invites you to follow him down a path of righteousness.
Even though you’ve let them hold you back – today he invites you to grab hold of your destiny, to follow him, giving up the life that you have so that you might truly live.
The road of the righteous is hard, but those who give up their lives for the greater good will never die. And of them the Son of Man will never be ashamed.

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