My sermon for the second Sunday in Lent focuses on our gospel reading of Mark 8. Jesus tells the disciples what is to come–his passion, death, and resurrection–and Peter doesn’t take the news very well. It’s not exactly what he signed up for. The question I landed on was, “What do we expect from God?”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Has anyone ever seen the show “Undercover Boss?” It was popular a few years ago, and I ended up stumbling upon a marathon of episodes one Saturday a few years back. The basic premise is that the owner, or CEO, of a company goes undercover in the everyday jobs. For example, the owner of Best Western trained in housekeeping, maintenance, and hospitality at three different motels.
It’s revealed to everyone at the end that this is actually their boss, and inevitably everyone is shocked. Sometimes the past few days start making a lot more sense to the employees. The fact that the new hire in housekeeping had seemingly never used a vacuum cleaner before didn’t seem so strange.
The show was all about the shock value: people don’t realize, would never realize, it’s the owner of the company that they’re working with. You don’t expect the owner of the company to be scrubbing toilets and doing the dirty work. There are certain things that are considered beneath the dignity of the bosses. Below the paygrade. They do not fit our expectations of CEOs and CFOs and business-owning millionaires. Of leaders.
In our gospel reading, Peter’s expectation of his leader, of Jesus is challenged. In the part of the story just before what we read, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers confidently: “You are the Messiah.” When Jesus tells him what that means, that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected, and be killed, and after three days rise again, Peter cannot handle it. He rebukes Jesus for saying these things.
These aren’t the things that the Messiah is supposed to do. The Jewish people, especially while living under Roman occupation, were eagerly awaiting the Messiah. At the time of Jesus, it was an incredibly common belief that the Messiah would come with great power and force, through off the oppressing Romans, and rule over an earthly kingdom. King David come again, except like a thousand times better.
Perhaps Peter’s reaction is a little more understandable. He has said that Jesus is the Messiah, the one on whom he is going to pin his hopes, his future. The future of his people. And Jesus has followed that up by saying he will suffer and die. This is not at all what Peter expected from his leader. It is not at all what Peter expected from his God. A God who dies, a God who suffers, will not bring an end to Israel’s problems, or to Peter’s problems.
I wonder sometimes if we expect any different from God. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus reflects a very human way of thinking. The way to victory is a way of power and might. Might makes all things right and results in winning, being victorious, and success. Look at the way we act and think: if guns are a danger that threaten our society, our children—the obvious answer is to have more guns, so we can defeat this problem. Winning is pursued at all costs; it’s survival of the fittest.
And are our expectations of God any different? What do we expect from God? An all-powerful being who will fix our problems? Blessings and prosperity? Personal fulfillment? That’s not what Jesus has to offer. It’s not what he had for the disciples, and it’s not what’s offered to us through Christianity today.
Instead, we are given brokenness. Suffering and death. Those who wish to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their lives for the sake of Christ will save them. No wonder Peter rebukes him. Jesus is being incredibly vulnerable. And that’s something we’re often uncomfortable with. We don’t like to let our guard down. We’re even be more uncomfortable with our leaders being vulnerable. And we certainly don’t like the idea that God is vulnerable.
We’d rather have strength, and health, and self-sufficiency, or at least the appearance of these things, over weakness, pain, and dependence on others. But Jesus says that to follow him is not a bypass around the hardships of life. It’s not an easy road. It’s not your ticket to heaven or your guarantee of prosperity. Instead, following Jesus is to be vulnerable. To open ourselves up to our own weaknesses, and to the suffering and weakness of others.
We do not get a God who takes our problems away from us, or offers easy solutions. We do not get a God who keeps us away from pain and hardship, or suffering. But instead we have a God who suffers and dies, and calls on us to do the same. Instead we have a God who is with us in our struggles and weaknesses, a God who appeared to us in vulnerability, so that our own weakness might become a blessing. We have a God who is present with us in the midst of hard times, in the midst of difficult things. A God who understands what it means to suffer because God suffered.
We have a God who is not above our messiness, or too good for our imperfect lives. We have a God who is right with us in the middle of the imperfections and mess. We don’t need to deny our brokenness and pain. Peter thought that suffering, loss, death, and grief were all things to be avoided, believing them to be literally god-forsaken. But in the cross, God demonstrates that there is no place God refuses to go in the quest to love and redeem us.
We don’t need to avoid the rough places in our lives. We don’t need to hide them away and pretend that everything is fine. These are places where God is. And these are places where God calls us to go for the sake of others. To enter into the brokenness and pain in our world, not with easy answers or to put a band-aid on the problem. But to enter into pain and heartache knowing that our God is not afraid of these places. That our God has been there before. That God is capable of taking suffering and death and transforming it into life and hope.
These aren’t easy things to do: being vulnerable, sharing another’s pain, walking with each other through suffering and grief. Following in the way of the cross is not easy. Peter and the rest of the disciples continued to struggle, and they even had Jesus there to help them!
It is not an easy way, but it is the way of God. The way that God walked for us, and that God walks with us. This Lent, may each of us be renewed, strengthened and uplifted along our way. May we rejoice in the God who is always with us and for us, even in the darkest of circumstances. And may we seek to share that companionship and vulnerability with others. Amen.