Sermon "The Journey"
Kathryn Rust
Sunday, March 19, 2000
Mark 8:31-38

"The Journey "

Often we refer to our lives as a journey. Here, at First Congregational Church we are going to journey through our Sundays looking at the Faces of Jesus. Also in our Sunday morning class we are exploring what the gospel writers tell us about Jesus.

Journey... what do you think of when you hear that word? I think of a journey from the perspective of a car trip. I have a starting point and I know I will have an ending point. But exactly what I see and experience along the way I never fully know. Lent often employs a “journey” motif, sending Jesus' disciples towards Jerusalem and Golgotha. Often we think of Lent as this quiet contemplative time.

The emotions, which well up from within, are solemn, serious, comfortable, and usually not threatening. We may look at Jesus from the eyes of our memory back to our Sunday School days. Those of us who are reading the Yancey book have compared the Jesus person of film. Very often we think of a blond, blue-eyed gentleman always surrounded by children. Very often we see this Jesus person walking through this plush green garden with the sound of birds chirping and the smell of fresh green meadows with sheep grazing in full contentment. Well, those of us in the class are beginning to see “The Jesus We Never Knew.”

Ann Weems writes a marvelous book “Journey to Jerusalem.” I would like to share with you one of her poems.

The Way

The way to Jerusalem

looks suspiciously like Highway 94,

and the pilgrims

look suspiciously like you and me.

I expected the road to Jerusalem

to be crowded with holy people . . .

clerics and saints . . .

people who have kindness wrinkled in their faces

and comfort lingering in their voices,

but this is more like rush hour . . .

horns blowing, people pushing, voices cursing . . . .

this is not what I envisioned!

O God, I've only begun and already

I feel I've lost my way.

Surely this is not the road

and surely these

are not the ones

to travel with me.

This Lenten journey calls for

Holy retreat,

for reflection

and repentance.

Instead of holiness

the highway is crammed

with the cacophony

Of chaos.

Is there no back road

to Jerusalem?

No quiet path

where angels tend

to weary travelers?

No sanctuary

from the noise of the world?

Just this?

Can this hectic highway

be the highway to heaven?

This hectic chaotic feeling is more of what I felt, after I read the Mark scripture. In this account of the incident with Peter and the other disciples I heard a different Jesus. So different from that marvelous, calm, gently prophet of Jewish ancestry. This Jesus had a strong, assertive comeback to Peter's statement, “He (Jesus) rebuked Peter” or Jesus criticized him saying . . . “Get thee behind me Satan.”

I think what Mark is saying to us is that if we faithfully intend to follow Christ, we must be willing to step outside our “box” of contentment. As Ann Weems says, the journey is filled with chaos and the highway is hectic. We must be willing to leave our safe sanctuaries, our comfortable past Lenten mediations and risk entering the world, vulnerable and open to question. That questioning must come from our own understanding of the meaning of Jesus' message which may move us out of our comfort zone.

Those of us who were in the Sunday class last week heard the words “passion narrative.” These words refer to the whole account of Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion.

Actually, Mark has three incidents of the “passion narratives” the first one is in this reading 8:32 and it is outright denial “...and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Then Mark tells of another in 9:32 and that is frightened silence “but they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him” and finally we see Mark bring to the forefront complete obtuseness in 10:35-36, “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” ... And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

The disciples never seem to grasp the meaning of Jesus' message. They continue to misunderstand his role as the Christ. They fail to comprehend what discipleship will come to mean, what it will come to cost. It is my suggestion to you that this Lent, you nudge yourself out of your place of comfort. We sometimes shirk from taking that first step that pushes us out into the world of chaos as the poem mentions.

This comfort zone might be referred to as the “couch potato” syndrome. Taken to the extreme, where “couching” and cocooning” become not periodic escapes from a chaotic lifestyle, but a lifestyle all their own. Our living rooms, our televisions, stereos, and computers become our windows to the exorcised world. These escape areas can take on a variety of guises. We seek sanctuary from the unknown in our jobs, in our addictive co-dependent relationships, in our ideologies, even in our churches.

Let's go back to Peter and the other disciples. They appeared to be out in the world. They had hiked all over Galilee and were now on their way to Jerusalem, guided by none other than Jesus himself. But their reaction to Jesus' passion narratives reveals that their faith in Christ was still bound to his acceptable role as the popular healer, the wonder Messiah, the strong, successful leader.

Dazed by the new vision Jesus proposed of a beaten, humiliated, rejected, and crucified servant, the disciples retreated further into their comfort zone of the dream Messiah they had envisioned. Jesus' attempts to tell his disciples failed to push them from their warm, self-designed sanctuaries to confront the approaching tomb. It was not until they had experienced the terror and the confusion of Jesus' death and the wonder and exultation of his resurrection, that the disciples were able to smash the walls of those safe sanctuaries and see the world as it truly was! It was not until then, that they were at last able to take up the cross and follow the Christ. In Jewish Roman rule a cross meant death. Death by the cross was a form of execution used by Rome for dangerous criminals. A prisoner carried his own cross to the place of execution, signifying submission to Rome's power.

Following Jesus, therefore, meant identifying with Jesus and his followers, facing social and political oppression and ostracism, and no turning back. But Jesus' words meant that his followers had to prepared to obey God's Word and follow his will no matter what the consequences for the sake of the gospel. So if we become a follower of Christ we must deny oneself or be willing to let go of selfish desires and earthly security and step of the “box” of contentment. We must turn from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.

Are we Peter? Have we journeyed with Jesus through the wonderful witness of “miracles” and healings of sick and listening to Jesus say comforting things to the multitudes who have come to meet Jesus as he journeys to Jerusalem? But wait, now Jesus turns to Peter or is it “us” and says in verse 21, No, No you don't understand. We have been faithfully going to church and have been participating in leadership in your church yet now you tell me I don't understand, I don't get it! I have been a faithful disciple or follower. Now you tell me in vs. 34 there are three requirements to follow you:

1) to deny myself

2) to take up my cross

3) and to follow you, Jesus

Yes, Jesus is speaking to us today. He is asking us to relinquish the illusion that we possess our own lives, and that we can somehow neatly arrange our lives into a series of safe, controlled, self-affirming segments. Christ is really saying that we are not our own, we can never insulate ourselves completely, life is a continuous and sometimes hazardous journey. If we shirk from moving forward with Christ as our guide, we either stagnate or find ourselves in a full retreat, being controlled by evil seductive shortcuts! Those are pretty powerful words!

What do they all mean? How does that affect me as I live in my family? What does it mean when I go to work everyday and interact with those in the workplace? What is my cross?

Sometimes scripture can be so vague. Personally I have wanted my church and of course my pastor to tell me the answer or at least give me some guiding words. I have been taught to be the best in anything I do. I had to get top grades in high school so I could go on to college and then in college I was told I had to get top grades so I could get into a “good” graduate school. Don't we now tell our kids that?

And now, we are in the workplace and in order to keep our job we must work for perfection. To earn the higher salary we have to show extra effort. A promotion usually leads to more money. More money leads to looking better in the eyes of our peers, or families, ourselves. Bigger, better, MORE!!

Now all of a sudden we read in Mark 8 to deny, take up a cross, something which historically means pain and agonizing fate, and turn from the ways we have always been told are the way to go. It turns out to b all upside down or inside out.

I now am reminded of the poem of Ann Weems, about the chaos that I am feeling. It almost seems too much to even think about let alone make some effort to do something about. I try to live by what I hear in church, read in scripture, but I get so frustrated I don't understand. I don't know the answer to that question of Jesus!

I am reminded of the show on TV “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” I have been answering all the questions correctly. I am about to win the top prize more than I can possibly imagine. All will be wonderful in life for me.

Let us go back to our Journey to Jerusalem. We have been journeying with Jesus. All is great. Yes, we have had some challenging moments, but we have all made it and feel great. But, then Jesus makes it more difficult. Jesus says, No No you don't understand.... Vs 35 “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.” Let us return to the TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” As we are in the throws of a chaotic experience, attempting to understand this statement, is it possible that the question the gospel text poses is one we can't answer. But God has provided us with three lifelines to use when we are not sure of our final answer.

Lifeline One: Scripture.

When we want to have some wrong answers removed, Scripture is where we start. The Word of God gives us guidance, helping us to avoid bad choices and make good ones.

Lifeline Two: The Church

We can poll the community of faith for support when we are facing the challenges of life. This Body of Christ, is there for precisely that reason: to warn when danger lurks and affirm when we're exercising our gifts.

Lifeline Three: Jesus

Jesus Christ himself is our Lifeline friend who models for us the right answers and, on his way to the cross, shows us how to live a life pleasing to God.

Remember when we step outside our “box” and the security of our personal safe places, we are never again alone.

To be alive in the world is to be a part of community and one of the greatest joys experienced is to be a follower of Christ Jesus. I encourage all of you this Lenten Season as you journey to Jerusalem that you do look at the “Jesus You Never Knew”, explore the 4 Gospels, look at the many faces of Jesus, but never forget your three lifelines! All are packaged in the assurance we have of an awesome, grace-filled, loving God!

Let us pray:

O God, you have built into our personalities a yearning for both the adventure of the journey and the contentment of security. Free us to get involved in the exploration of the “passion narratives.” Lord let us taste your amazing grace as we stretch to grow in our journey to accept Christ's challenge and to take up the cross. Lord, give us the courage to believe and the assurance of the life lines of your Word, this fellowship of Christians and the security of your being our friend, the Jesus we seek to know. Amen.

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