Mark 8: 31 – 35 The Glory of the Cross Sunday February 28, 2021


The Glory of the Cross

Mark 8: 31 – 35

 (preached February 28, 2021)

 When Jesus speaks to the disciples in our passage for today from Mark, he doesn’t sugarcoat the trouble that lies ahead.  He says he will have to go through suffering, rejection, even death before he rises again. Peter doesn’t want to hear it.  “O Lord!” he says.  “Nothing like this will happen to you!”  But Jesus wastes no time setting Peter straight.  He says, “Satan has got ahold of you, Peter.  You’re not setting your mind on divine things.  You’re setting your mind on human things.”  Hard words for a disciple to hear.

For years Peter has been with Jesus through thick and thin.  He left his job and his family to follow him.  He was the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the One sent to establish God’s Kingdom here on earth.  Peter has worked alongside Jesus as he brought sight to the blind, healed the sick, brought hearing to a deaf man, and food to thousands of people.  So Jesus’s words must have stung, when he told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.”  At that moment Peter may well have felt that, when it came to being a disciple, he had failed.

Failure is hard to take.  But as tough as it is, failing is part of being human.  All of us fail from time to time.  Did you ever notice how many words we have for a failure?  We call it a disaster.  Catastrophe.  Fiasco.  We use those words in the kitchen, when our soufflé collapses.  We use those words in the classroom, when our test comes back covered with red marks and a big F at the top of the page.

We have a lot of words for failure because all of us fail from time to time.  Failing is tough.  It can be even tougher if we think our failure says something about us personally: if we think it says something is wrong with us.  But before we go to that place of personal blame and shame, it helps to remember that failing is part of being human.

Take Thomas Edison for example.  He’s regarded as a great inventor, but many of his inventions failed.  When he tried to make furniture out of cement or make motion pictures with sound, he failed.  The great Babe Ruth, in his baseball career, struck out more than a thousand times.

Failing is part of being human.  So when we fail, we might try to make lemonade out of those lemons.  We might quote the wisdom of the world, saying failure helps build character.  It’s true.  Failures like that do help build character.  But there are different kinds of failure.

There’s a big difference between failing at something that is in our power to control, and failing at something beyond our control.  Thomas Edison continued to invent things.   Babe Ruth spent hours and hours improving his batting average.  With hard work and practice, they succeeded.

But sometimes our failure is caused by something that’s beyond our control.  At work, you might practice your sales presentation over and over.  You might get the sharpest graphics and the boldest sound effects.  But after you make the pitch, your client still says no.

Sometimes we fail because of things we can’t control.  When we fail at those times, the wisdom of the world doesn’t have much to say.  People might tell you, “I’m sorry,” or “That’s such a shame,” but more often than not, people don’t say anything.  Our world knows how to respond when things go well.  Our world knows how to respond to success: with parties and parades and accolades.  But how does our world respond to failure?   Failure isn’t talked about, at least not in a helpful way.  When it comes to failure, we want to pretend it didn’t happen.

When you and I fail, it can hurt even more when we take the blame on ourselves.  It hurts even more when we see it as something we did wrong.  It wouldn’t have happened, we say, if we had done something different.  Or it wouldn’t have happened if we had said something different.  Or, we think, it wouldn’t have happened if we had kept quiet.  It’s our fault.

Did Jesus feel a sense of failure at times?  He was human.  He might well have felt that he had failed.  Especially as he went through his last days, Jesus might well have felt a tremendous sense of failure.  What had his ministry accomplished?  A few sick people were healed.  Some who listened to his preaching knew more about God.  But as Jesus headed for his trial and execution, he might well have wondered, did it really make any difference?  In those last hours of his earthly life, his disciples had all disappeared.  The crowds who had flocked to hear him preach were nowhere to be found.  He was alone.

You and I know how the story ends.  We know the story of the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We know that God raised Jesus from death in triumph, as Jesus himself had foretold.  But before all that, on the awful day that he was crucified, Jesus might have wondered, had he accomplished anything?  We know that he wondered where God was.  On the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In one sense the cross was a sign of failure.  If Jesus had hoped to be surrounded by faithful followers in his last days, in that sense he had failed.  But you and I know how the story ends.  We know that Jesus was God’s love in human form.  We know that God was with Jesus on the cross, that symbol of failure.  We know that God hallows that symbol of failure with God’s own holy presence.

Does this mean that our failures aren’t painful?  No; failure is painful, but because of the cross, we can go through failure in a different way.  We can experience failure in the faith that God is in it with us.  We know that with Jesus on the cross, God has shared our anguish, our fear, even our death.  We know God can transform our failures by God’s holy work of resurrection.

Because God was in Jesus as he endured the cross, never again will you and I have to endure our failures alone.  Never again will we have to feel abandoned.  In Jesus, God has been through the worst the world can throw at us.  By enduring the cross, God has filled it with his holy presence.  So we know that when we fail, God is in it with us.  We know that, in some mysterious way, God is working to bring out of it a kind of resurrection.

You and I are going to fail sometimes.  But when we fail we don’t have to descend into blame and shame.  The cross says that God is with us even in our failures.  The cross says that God can work with our failures: that God can hallow and transform them.  The cross says that when we fail, God is ready to go to work.  When we fail, God is ready to hallow our failure, to use our failure in the holy work of resurrection.

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Lent 2

“This Little Light of Mine”  – Mark Patterson

Maria Ferrante, Soprano
Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist