Kent M. Organ, Interim Pastor
Text: Mark 8:27-37
Everything is about to change for Jesus and his friends. They are about to leave the halcyon days of Galilee, with its adoring crowds. They are heading for Jerusalem.
It’s the turning point, time for mid-term exams. So Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter gets it right. “You are the Messiah of God, the Christ.” But Jesus warns, “There’s a cross ahead for me. And for you also.”
Peter protests. Jesus reacts: “Get behind me, Satan.” Which is pretty rough on poor old Peter. He was just trying to be upbeat, positive. “Don’t talk crosses,” he says to Jesus. “You don’t have to suffer. You’re the Messiah.” And Jesus rebuked him. Because he knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
Everything that had happened up to this point had been wonderful. Jesus came on the scene casting out demons, healing all kinds of diseases, saying uplifting things. He announced a new way of living. He forgave people their sins, befriended the poor, welcomed children, even fed a huge crowd from a couple fish and a few hunks of bread. Just wonderful.
People wondered, maybe this is it, what we’ve been waiting for: the kingdom of God. The Messiah. Onward and upward. And suddenly, Jesus says. “It’s all going to be different from now on. I’m going to Jerusalem – to suffer, and die.” (Now, we see that there was something too about rising in three days. But that went right over their heads. What they heard was: “be killed.”
They are at the crossroads now. Galilee is behind them. Jerusalem is ahead. Jesus begins to teach them sobering things – all familiar, all similar, all disturbing – you know these teachings:
It’s the crossroads, the decision point between learning about discipleship and being a disciple, between talking the talk and walking the walk. No one goes to Jerusalem easily.
* * * *
I once led a group of church people to the Holy Land – it was in the mid-1990s – during the intifada. There were suicide bombings in Jerusalem. A few people who’d signed up decided not to go. We who did began in Galilee. And for four wonderful days, we visited he locations of Jesus’ initial ministry. We walked along the seashore, were out on the lake, went to Nazareth, Capernaum, Cana. We actually forgot about the conflict. But, on our last morning, before we got on the bus to Jerusalem, our guide got us together in an empty restaurant in the basement of our Tiberius hotel to talk about safety and security. It was sobering. We were heading to a city where convictions still clashed violently – to which , twenty centuries before, Jesus had led his followers, and put it on the line. The parallels were striking.
Do you know what Galilee is? Galilee is the land of retreats, seminars, inspiration and spiritual growth. Galilee is the land of small, intimate study groups, where you get personal support as you talk about the faith you share.
And there’s nothing wrong with Galilee. It’s just not Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where you are asked to give up the familiar and pleasant in order to be true to the highest you know. Jerusalem is where you have to carry a cross you didn’t ask for.
I’m sure Jesus loved Galilee. I don’t expect Jesus wanted to leave Galilee, all the adulation and encouragement, the crowds. It was wonderful. It would have been crazy for him to want to leave it. Which was Peter’s point.
He left Galilee, not because he wanted to, but because God wanted him to. Because it was time. God’s time. That’s why he left. He couldn’t get around it; he couldn’t avoid it. He gave up his life for something greater than his life, denied himself, took up his cross – and triumphed.
* * * *
I remember a cartoon, with somebody praying, “Can’t you use me, Lord, in some advisory capacity? But Jesus doesn’t ask for my advise. I may even have good advice. What Jesus asks me for is my life. We much prefer Galilee, where it is comfortable, and agreeable.
But once in a while, there is a crossroads. Something unavoidable emerges. Something that has risk in it, or fear in it, or grief in it. Something haunts you, confronts you. Something clearly beyond your known capacities. What will you do? We are all amateurs here.
And you’re almost afraid to ask, Which way would he go? Because we know which way he would go. He’d go to Jerusalem, and face the hardship, and do the thing that has to be done. So what he asks of us, when we are in that place, with a choice between the benefits of this world and following him – he asks that we follow him, no matter the cost. It’s that simple.
* * * *
This is nearly inconceivable to us. But there are normal, everyday people who have found themselves in situations where more is required of them than they know how to give – people who had every reason to say, “I can’t do this” – but they said Yes, and found that it’s true: you can lose your life, as you have known it, and gain a new one.
Georgene Johnson was 42 when she began to sense a mid-life crisis coming on. She decided to take up running. And she got good at it. She loved the way she was getting into shape. So she decided to try a little competition. She entered Cleveland, Ohio’s annual 10K, a six mile race.
She arrived early on the day of the race. She was nervous. Lots of people milling around, stretching. So she did it too, imitated them. The gun sounded and they were off. After four miles she wondered, When is the course going to double back? She asked an official, who told her she was running the marathon. Twenty-six miles. The 10K started a half hour later.
Some of us would have dropped out right there. Stopped and headed back to Galilee. To her credit, Georgene Johnson kept going, even though she complained to the officials all the way. But she kept running. And, to herself, she said this: “This isn’t the race I trained for, and this isn’t the race that I entered. But, for better or worse, this is the race I am in.”
Maybe, it will be something like that. One day, you discover, I’m on the road to Jerusalem. I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want it. This isn’t the race I entered. But I’m in it. Almost as if I was placed there, almost as if someone entered me in this.
And the word is, Keep going, don’t go back. Do your best. You may not have realized it, but this is the race you have been training for.
- With thanks to Carlyle Marney, Peter Miano and Mark Trotter
For me, the intersection of faith and life is full of insight and surprise. Browse here for sermons and other meditations and musings.