The Invitation 2nd Sunday in Lent Mark 8:31-38 Feb 28, 2021

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to You, O Lord, our Rock and our Salvation. Amen.

It’s been almost a year since our nation went into the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 shutdown. It has drastically altered our lives in one way or another. One of the things I miss are all the invitations. The phone calls telling me about my truck warranty expiring or my chance to join this group or that group notwithstanding. I miss being invited to something, almost any something, except of course those robocalls. Family birthday and anniversary parties, baby showers, church meals, and so on. Invitations are warm, welcoming, and would be greatly appreciated after a tough year. Invitations are important parts of our lives for sure.

Jesus’ message to His disciples throughout the Gospel is an invitation. In the scriptures today, that invitation seems harsh, that they must give up all and die. Not what they thought would happen after Jesus revealed himself as the Messiah to them, the same disciples who would later argue as to their own greatness and be rebuked. So what would that invitation look like if it was sent to you through the mail? Maybe it goes something like this, “You are invited: is the outside of the card. Inside it reads “Pick up your cross and share the pain and suffering it brings with it.” Then, it has a place to RSVP: “RSVP the Messiah, the Christ, the Lamb of God.” Is that an easy invitation to accept? We all hope we would immediately RSVP and pick up our cross. But maybe not. Maybe the pain and suffering doesn’t appeal to us as a society.

I am going to share with you a story I read in one of my high school English classes a long while ago. It’s about a good-looking young man who had many who fawned at his grace and beauty who invited him to their homes and to go out on dates. But he turned all the suitors’ invitations down feeling that none of them were good enough for him. One day he was walking near a pond and looked in and saw a reflection of himself. And found the love he’d long been waiting for. This story is the Greek myth about Narcissus. When he tries to grab his reflection, the pond ripples and the image of his face is gone. Here he is having turned down invitations galore from suitors yet his image haunts himself for the rest of his life and he eventually dies near the pond trying to capture the image he feels is worthy of him.

I’ve heard it said that Narcissus is the patron saint of humanity. So what does that statement say about us as a people? Sadly, I would say it is a true one. We label and diagnose conditions that we think we have, and more often those of others and we judge others. I don’t think of myself as a narcissist, but I do struggle with … well… me. I struggle with wanting to be at the center of it all. I think, in many ways, this Greek myth is a representation of the way that sin distorts us. The way sin is distorting our souls … and it haunts us.

God designed us in His goodness and His grace and invited us to look outward into His vast universe in the joy and mercy He created, but, if you read back to the very beginning of the story, Adam and Eve – early on they turn from this outward focus of a God-directed life and they focus on themselves. They look at themselves with pride and ask don’t we deserve more than we have? And from that point on, you and I struggle with thinking that people should give in to our wants and wishes and they should be beholden to us. But in the passage we’ve read today Jesus is going to invite us to something better and something more.

He invites us to lose ourselves and in doing so find the real meaning behind why we were created. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with giving up my life and finding meaningful existence. Whether it be family, material goods, finances, or hobbies, it seems it would be too difficult to suffer without them, but once you live that outward life that gives up what should not be kept to gain what you can never lose you’re able to look back and go you know what … that Jesus guy was right. Listen to the words and the invitation of Jesus.

If you go back and scroll though the beginning of Mark, you’ll see Him walk on water – He’s fed 5000 people, He’s just healed a blind man and He enters into this conversation with his disciples. Mark 8:27 — And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way {This is on the way to Jerusalem. He’s walking to His cross. He’s walking to His death, His sacrificial death for His friends and for people that would follow after Him.} … and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

If ever there was a loaded question – this is one. Jesus was essentially saying what’s the word on the street about me? How do they explain the miraculous signs that are coming from me? And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”    And he asked them, He asks all of us this same question: “But who do you say that I am?” {Both you and I are going to have to answer that question at some point. There’s really no grey area in the way that you answer it}. Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”

            You’re right, Peter, I am the Christ. He teaches them. …teach them that the son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. THIS is NOT the Messiah that Peter and many others is hoping for! The Messiah is supposed to put Rome under His thumb, not submit to their way of death on a Roman cross! The Messiah is supposed to bring hope and you’re telling us you’re going to die?! To quote a famous philosopher Charlie Brown, he said, “Winning ain’t everything, but losing ain’t anything.” Jesus is not only entering this for himself, but he’s inviting others to follow him in this way of the cross.

Here’s what Peter gets right: Peter gets right that God is going to win, that Jesus is going to be victorious, but he has little clue as to the way that this is going to happen. We wrestle with figuring this out too. We would really rather Him come and reign, but He says “that’s so not the way I rule. God wins, but HOW does God win?

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him {Don’t you love this? Any of you that have kids, have you ever been “corrected” by them? This is what Peter does. He brings Jesus to the side because he’s respectful still of his Messiah and he goes I think you’ve got it wrong! Now, Peter was saying what everybody else was thinking. We have said God, I don’t like the way this is working out! WE had a plan here, didn’t we? That job was supposed to be mine. That was supposed to be my house … that’s what Peter is saying to Jesus. And I think you and I have this desire to have control so we’ll often say back to God the same thing that Peter says to him.

Peter is called out – listen to the way that Jesus does this. Verse 33: But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan — For you are not setting your mind on divine things, but on human things.” Right here Jesus invites Peter, and us, to something more. He invites Peter to a life that’s not just based around him, but that’s based around the cross. That’s based around not just living a great life and getting all the things that we want, but in finding more than we ever dreamed we thought we wanted through laying our life down. Verse 34: 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. He points out this truth that the harder you try to hold on to and define and elevate your life, the quicker it slips through your fingers because you are focused on the wrong things.

I can remember in Junior High being taught for the first time how to tumble. I was in the gym and getting ready to stretch. The coach leads you through that, then bam! Time to do monkey rolls, barrel rolls, cartwheels, let’s see what you’ve got there, Davis. In my mind I saw me being successful and doing all of these on my first attempt. Trust me when I say it did not happen like that for me. It felt like I was going to die of embarrassment, but then I popped up with some encouragement (after laughter) from my friends. Now, at this point I have a decision to make: I can try again or give up. A thought pops into my head – maybe I’ll be the first 5’6” 200 pound 14 year old kid to put together a tumbling routine without hurting myself. Again, it didn’t happen like I planned the second time either. That’s when it was time to let go of thinking only of me! So what if I can’t tumble? This means I check my own interests and my ambitions that are self-centered at the door. The Apostle Paul put it like this in Phillippians 2:3-4 … nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others as better than yourselves. Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.

            That’s a wonderful invitation! In a word, Jesus and Paul were inviting us to SURRENDER. This word “life” in the passage in Mark 8 could also be translated “soul.” It’s the Greek word “psyche.” It means your identity, your personalify, or what makes you YOU.

We have a number of ways that we try to define that. In today’s world, what makes you YOU is the family and the legacy that will outlive them. In the individualistic culture that we live in, what make us who we are is typically the job that we work. Try this out: Ask somebody to tell you about themselves. They’re going to answer with I work at or I am a(n) insert profession … But is that really who we should be?

Shouldn’t we be part of the bigger picture God has created us to be? What we do is important, it gives us resources to use in meeting the bills, raising kids, helping ourselves, but that is looking inward, not outward.

What Jesus is inviting us to is not a free ticket to heaven in this passage. When He talks about saving your life or saving your soul, he is talking about eternal life that starts today. This is not a dictation on how, but an invitation about how to live in the way that God designed for us, and to look outward at His ways. That’s what this is about.

Jesus invites us to carry the cross, but it’s not all pain and suffering. In serving others, we gain much more than we can ever lose. In being compassionate, loving others, teaching, and praying, we are accepting an invitation that doesn’t need an RSVP. In the end, it is a joyous celebration, in which we reap the gift of an eternal and everlasting life with Jesus. Yes, we will sacrifice and struggle in life. Yes, we will fall and with the support of Him who is bigger than us, we will rise in His glory. Lord, let us accept Your invitation today and every day. Amen.

 

 A sermon by Lay Preacher Joe Davis as Supply at Saint Michael Lutheran on Feb. 28, 2021.