Let us pray:
Open our eyes that we may see our story in your story, O God. May these words and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I begin once more with an excerpt from a Lenten poem by Malcolm Guite:
This is the day to leave the dark behind you
Take the adventure, step beyond the hearth,
Shake off at last the shackles that confined you,
And find the courage for the forward path.
You yearned for freedom through the long night watches,
The day has come and you are free to choose,
Now is your time and season.
Companioned still by your familiar crutches,
And leaning on the props you hope to lose,
You step outside and widen your horizon.
Let me read just a few verses prior to today’s lectionary’s pericope from the Gospel of Mark:
“27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”[h] 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them …”j
It has been said and written that “Jesus’ question and Peter’s answer constitute the crucial hinge in both Mark’s Gospel and our own life of faith.” It is the point of contrast between Martin Luther’s “theology of glory” and “theology of the cross.” Yes, we have a Messiah who now owns up to the title – even if he does tell them to hush up about it. But the disciples – and through them we ourselves – can now face certain and ultimate challenges that will come with that: rejection, suffering, and death…wait; didn’t he say something about rising after three days as well? In the moment, Peter seems to have missed that; we have an edge over him on that one. We know the other side of the cross.
But do we know the cross? Do we know the path of suffering? The Via Delarosa? Do we know the tomb? Peter knows those things, intimately. Eventually Peter comes to know the other side of the cross, the empty tomb, and the resurrection glory – also intimately well. Living through his path of suffering made him into one of the best loved disciples and ignited in him pastoral insights he probably would not have had otherwise. Peter’s story is overlaid with Christ’s story.
In reality, so is our story. In any of us at any time along our journey of life, Christ’s story awakens in us something deeper, something that brings to us a wider awareness of the gifts of the Holy One poured out upon us and for us. How we learn to live into these gifts and the deeper journey of faith in store for each of us is through discipleship. Mark’s Gospel puts today’s pericope in the middle of his text; surrounding it is all that came before and all that comes after – as a centerpiece, it is the crux, if you will, of the faith journey Christians travel. Here there is insight, warning, and a challenge:
“The church that rightly lifts high the cross of Christ all too often neglects the narrative of faith articulated in Jesus’ teaching here: that discipleship involves giving up our own lives through sacrificial love, leading to the surprising and ultimately saving discovery that in giving we have received.”
The sacrificial journey wherein we take up our own crosses – meaning the responsibility for going ourselves into the messiness of life – also means giving “our lives sacrificially to acts of love, compassion, justice, and peace, even in the face of the same imperial forces of sin and death that confronted Jesus. In this season, we are wise to ponder, not only the cross…” and the Journey of Jesus to it and through it, but also today’s teaching where Jesus calls “all his disciples to take up our own crosses and to walk with him in paths of love and service.”
What does that look like? Enacted, there would be as many different stories as there are people sitting in this room and then some more outside the walls of the church – and more outside the walls of Christianity. I can only relate my own journey with you. Here is a part of it: When I had just had my first child in 2011, I had to make the choice to return to my work on a part-time basis instead of the full-time basis that I had been used to up to that point. My path of love and service just got complicated with child rearing. I gave up my full-time career path in camp and conference ministries to be a daddy. For another five years I continued to serve in a part-time capacity, eventually adding part-time pulpit supply both here and other places. To date, taking up my cross meant my leaving camp and conference ministry a year and half ago to better focus on this bi-vocational path of fatherhood and pastoral leadership.
I am convinced, however, that I am still walking in a path of love and service as my story continues to unfold. How about you? Do you see where you are in your story? Can you see how Christ’s story is overlaid or undergirding your own? As we continue to journey together through Lent, let us examine our stories in light of Christ’s story within the Great Story as it is written in the Book of Life. I would like to conclude with a quote from Richard Rohr’s daily reflections; let us pray:
“Holy One, you have given us the gift of story in our lives, ways of understanding who we are, ways of making sense of our world, of finding meaning and knowing how to respond to all that happens in our lives. Please show us where our stories fall short or are too narrow, where they exclude rather than include, where they divide rather than unite. Help us to see where a story we live out of may go amiss of what is real, where it allows us to escape becoming whole, where it lets us live comfortably in fear. Fill us with your story, the story of unity and compassion and love. Fill us with images that energize us and give us hope and lead us to the fundamental truth that you have tried to teach us all along: we are all one. Amen.”
 Malcolm Guite, The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter (London: Canterbury Press, 204)
 Joseph D. Small, “Theological Perspective, Mark 8:31-38” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor ((Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Paul C. Shupe, “Pastoral Perspective, Mark 8:31-38” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor ((Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations, from Saturday, February 24, 2018 weekly summary email subscriber list. (Center for Action and Contemplation: Albuquerque, NM, 2018) Accessed February 24, 2018.
Questions for Reflection:
Have you ever experienced the abandonment of friends during a difficult season? Were there people who remained with you no matter what you were facing? What was that like?
Why do you think Jesus tells the disciples not to share that he is the Messiah, but says openly that he will suffer and be killed?
Imagine hearing Jesus’ declaration that you must lose your life for him and the sake of the gospel as if for the first time. What is your reaction? What does it mean to lose your life for Jesus and for the sake of the gospel?
What does it mean to “take up your cross”? Are you taking up your cross?
How do we gain the world and forfeit our lives?
As Lent progresses, how are your Lenten practices going? What are you learning about yourself? Your faith? God?
Household Prayer: Morning
help me walk with you this day.
If you lead me where I fear to go,
give me courage and keep me true,
that I may bear my cross without shame
and live in the promise of life eternal. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Jesus, if I stray,
show me my fault,
forgive my sin,
and set me rightly on your path.
Keep me on the way of the cross,
and lead me to the eternal joy of Easter. Amen.