Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent
25th Feb 2018
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent Year B (2018)
“He said all this quite openly” Mark 8.34
Three years ago, the former deputy prime-minister of Russia, Boris Nemptsov, was shot dead from a car on a Moscow street facing the Kremlin. We know now that he had predicted his eventual death. He had said some time before that this would happen, and his family spoke of this possibility only the week before it happened. In similar vein, Martin Luther-King and Ghandi both spoke of their own death by assasination as a matter of distinct possibility.
Jesus, too, speaks of his suffering and death quite openly to the disciples, as we learn this morning in our Gospel reading from Mark. And we are bound, on reflection, to admit that such predictions are startling and unsettling. They are filled with intensity and foreboding. When their predictions come true the fact of their death is experienced with added shock but with intense feeling. In such a way the second century church father Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. The martyr’s death was a rebuke those who would have it otherwise and defend their own brand of ‘peace’ by force, rather like President Assad of Syria today. It remains true that
The people who have really made history are the martyrs.
If we follow this line of enquiry in relation to Jesus we would make him a mere adjunct of history, just another martyr, even though one of its great exemplars. Jesus’ prediction of his own death invites us into a deeper relationship with him, and through him, to God the Father. Jesus death is not just to be sacrificial but sets in being a whole new relationship between God and us. In revealing the fact of his death, Jesus is telling us that only by giving himself up to death can that he be revealed as the Son of God. This is a message which is tobe delivered in his own body and not by force of will or argument. Rowan Williams, in his simple commentary on Mark’s Gospel makes this plain:
The God who is going to change everything, change for ever the conditions in which human beings live, is a God who is ‘beyond’ power as we would like to understand it; a God who does not coerce belief or clinch arguments, but who repeatedly demands relation and trust.
This is the secret that Mark’s Jesus wants to disclose.
Rowan Williams, ‘Meeting God in Mark : Reflections for Lent’.
God is trusting us with his very being in His Son, Jesus. In Jesus we are all of invited to go with him and to become what he would have us be. We are to live in Him and not follow the dictates of our own selfish desires and fantasies. In the language of Mark’s Gospel we are to ‘take up our own cross and follow Him’.
Lent reminds us that this relationship will make demands upon us which might involve personal and other kinds of sacrifice. We can no longer behave as we please but receive from God the call to be his servants in the outworking of His salvation in Jesus. For this task we must ask for his grace,, perseverance, relying on God’s mercy, forgiveness and healing. It is in living for Christ and not for ourselves alone that we make his Cross evident in our world. He find our lives in their truest sense, only when we have learnt to let go of our lives and give them to God. But importantly, we do not this through our own efforts alone, but by God's grace.
The Eucharist is God's way of accompanying us, affirming us on our journey of faith and transforming our understanding of his abiding and transforming presence. Five centuries after the last supper, St. Augustine preached a sermon On the Eucharist (Sermon 57) in which he extended this imagery to include even us.
You are the body of Christ,” he said. “In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken, and given; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of the Eternal love.
As he holds the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood in mind, he tells the people,
“Behold what you are. Become what you receive.”
Behold what you are, become what you receive… Late twentieth century understandings of The Church understood her to be a Eucharistic community, in which all Christian people will become what they receive in Christ and empowered to make their own communities ones of human transformation and of hope.
What might this mean for us at Holy Cross? We all need to wake up to the fact of our being God’s Church in the first place. Church going should give way to Christian action on the ground, and we should be aware that we are God’s agents in the here and now for the establishment of a new world. We need to ask ourselves whether the name ‘Christian’ is for us just a by word or whether it truly informs our daily living and our commitment to this church.
Do I come to church on time and prepare myself to receive the sacrament?
Am I prepared to commit to the Lenten disciplines and services on offer this year?
Am I prepared to give this church more of my passionate time?
Am I ready to play my part in making this church a beacon of light and hope for King’s Cross?
Do I really care?
Jesus’ commitment is unto his own death. Though we can’t approach that kind of self-giving, we can, nonetheless, promise to give ourselves more fully to the church which is His body.