Sunday, 1 March 2015

Take up your cross

1st March 2015 – Lent 2 at Stewkley

Reading Genesis 17

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’

3 Abram fell face down, and God said to him, 4 ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: you will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 

15 God also said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’

Reading Romans 4

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ 23 The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Gospel Mark 8

Jesus predicts his death

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’


For some people, Lent seems to be about trade. Giving and receiving. Giving up what you have for a while — and taking up something you would not normally do. Denying yourself. Setting aside temptation. Renouncing some things, and rejecting others.

Just think how this fits into Mark’s gospel — we will be reading up to end November. Elders and chief priests reject Jesus. Peter protests Jesus fate — Jesus rebukes him — Peter is to renounce Satan.

Then Jesus talks to crowds — deny yourselves — take up your cross and follow me. Give up comfortable life and safety — take up Christ’s cross and follow him. Losing one’s life in this world — gaining life in the world to come. Denying the whole world in order to save one’s soul — there is nothing we can exchange which would be worth losing our souls to gain.

All the language of trade — fits in with what Lent is all about. But the business of Lent is life itself. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

How different all this was to what the disciples’ expected and hoped for. We are used to hearing Jesus’ predictions of his death — how jarring this must have been to the first followers. They hoped for freedom from Rome — challenging secular and religious authorities — a fairer and more just society. They had seen his miracles — experienced the excitement of big crowds following him — heard his words of power — got to know his magnetic personality.

No wonder Peter took Jesus to one side and rebuked him. This is not what we expect of you, he probably said. Jesus rebukes Peter in return. Firstly for his human way of thinking. But then Jesus makes it worse. Not only will he be crucified, but most probably his disciples will follow. The most dreaded way to die. Slow, agonising and ignominious. To save your life, you must lose it Jesus adds. What is worth more to you than the salvation of your very soul?

Three times in Mark’s gospel, Jesus lays out the fate that awaits him in Jerusalem, yet the disciples were too afraid to ask him about it for fear of further rebuke. How can all this be? we ask ourselves, as we would have had we been present at the time.

As it says in Isaiah 55:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts”

This conflict of interests has been played out on our television screen in Wolf Hall. The glory and pomp of the church at the time of the Reformation is contrasted with the theology of the cross, as offered by the reformers. Behind the facade of the magnificence of cathedrals and the wealth of the church lies the torture, burnings and recanting of those poor creatures like William Tyndale who read the scriptures like today’s gospel, and saw in them the true gospel, not the one preached by the church.

As we continue to read through Mark to the end of November, and as we look ahead in Lent, let’s remember there is more than a glimmer of hope, which we can share with Jesus and the first disciples. Jesus will be killed, but he will also rise again (Mark 8:31). Furthermore, those who lose their lives for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the gospel will save it (Mark 8:35).

This is the hope Jesus gives us, even though in their horror the disciples did not hear it. The psalm for today, Psalm 22, reflects the message of this gospel text. The first verse is quoted by Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Verse 24 speaks of suffering, but in the end, as in today’s gospel, there is restoration and deliverance. So take up your cross and follow him, for that way life life, the salvation of your souls. Amen