Scott Mims, Virginia Beach, VA
Faster. Higher. Stronger.
On February 9, the XXIII Olympic Winter Games officially opened in PyeongChang, South Korea. By the time the closing ceremony is held on February 25, some 2,920 athletes from 92 countries will have competed in 102 events. Along the way, there are sure to be many amazing, dramatic moments as some of the very best athletes in the world go for the gold.
Yet, even though those who compete come from many different countries, they all share in the drive and discipline it takes to become an Olympian. What these athletes often make look so graceful and easy is the result of years of training, often for hours each day. Their whole lives are oriented around the goals they pursue. Doubtless there is much that those who compete at this level give up in order to focus on their chosen sport. And, even if they do not get to stand on the podium, their quest to compete has greatly shaped who they are.
Second Sunday in Lent
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
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“Then Jesus 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.”
We come this week to what is often called the fulcrum or “hinge” of Mark’s gospel account. Not only is it the midpoint of the book, it also marks several important turning points in the story. Geographically, Jesus has been working mostly in the region of Galilee, but now his ministry will lead him steadily onward toward Jerusalem and the cross. Theologically several shifts also occur. Up to this point, Mark has focused on who Jesus is as shown by his words and his works of power. The conclusion he hopes that we, the readers of the gospel, will reach is the same one that Peter voices in Mark 8:29, namely that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. But what does that mean? From here on out the gospel will focus more and more on this question. What does it mean that Jesus is the Christ, and, subsequently, how does that shape the lives of those who call themselves Christians? The invitation that was extended to Peter and the other disciples when Jesus first called to them, “Follow me,” will, going forward, be furthered refined. At the same time, it will also be opened up by Jesus to “any who want to become my followers.”
So, what does discipleship look like? What does it mean to follow Jesus? Another important feature of this passage is that it contains the first of three instances, three “passion predictions,” in which Jesus foretells what lies at the end of his journey to Jerusalem (verse 31). Here, as in the other two instances (Mk. 9:30, 10:32-34), those closest to Jesus fail to understand what he is talking about. Peter rather famously pulls Jesus aside, as if Jesus is the candidate and Peter the campaign manager, and he begins to rebuke Jesus for saying such things. Jesus just as famously puts Peter in his place. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” And here is the essence of the matter, it is not the disciple’s place to define what “Messiah” or “Christ” mean, for it is Jesus alone who gets to define these things. The disciple’s place is simply to get behind Jesus, to take up her or his cross, and to follow.
Finally, what does it mean to take up one’s cross? Is it simply to deal with the problems or troubles that come your way with as much patience, determination, and faith as possible? We often hear of “bearing our cross” in terms of just such perseverance. Yet Jesus has something else, something deeper in mind than getting through life as best as we can. After all, the cross that awaits Jesus in Jerusalem is not an accidental event or circumstance for him to “get through,” it is a direct result of his own work to confront the powers of sin, evil, and death.
As many of us prepare for this summer’s ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, I am reminded this week of the Gathering’s cross shaped logo and the theme: “This Changes Everything.” The life-changing grace that flows from what Jesus has done in taking up his cross beckons us to follow, and, in following him, to discover who we truly are. Jesus defined Messiah in terms of his identification with the outcasts, the forgotten, and the oppressed, bringing to them in word and deed the promise of God’s coming kingdom. This has important implications for all who would be disciples. “Taking up the cross means being at work where God is at work in the world to relieve suffering and injustice, to rescue the weak, and to bring peace and justice to bear in the human community.”  Because God has gifted each of us with a unique set of gifts, talents, abilities, and experiences, each of us has a unique opportunity to take up our cross and participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.
 R. Alan Culpepper, Mark (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc. 2007), 288.
Gracious and loving God, in the waters of baptism you name us and claim us and make us your own. Thank you for the gift of new life and for the invitation to experience that life in the community of your church. Fill us with your Spirit, call deeply to our hearts, and lead us to more fully and faithfully follow Jesus. Guide our thoughts, our words, and our actions, that we may be your hands and voice in a world so hungry to experience good news. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.