Mind Yourself



Sermon Title “Mind Yourself” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  It is the second Sunday of Lent, and we are continuing on our pilgrim journey with other travelers on the road.  You may have noticed that there is another pair of boots on the chancel which joined my boots last week.  This is appropriate — these boots belong to my husband Tim, who has been a fellow-traveler for many of my journeys.  I didn’t twist his arm; he volunteered these shoes.  He is spending the weekend with his brothers at Lake Waubee, and that actually may be why he thought to give me these boots before he left.  He told me that there is not one particular story that goes with this pair of shoes, but that they represent the ups and downs of life.  These were the shoes he wore when we hiked in Scotland as part of my sabbatical in 2022; they were the shoes he wore when he accompanied his sister Joy to doctor’s appointments and cancer treatments; they were they pair of shoes he put on late on the night of June 17 when his brother Dave called to say our sister-in-law Renee had collapsed and was unresponsive.  Sometimes our journeys take us places we do not want to go and places we would never choose to go.  This relates to our text for this morning.

For these first weeks of our Lent travels, the gospel of Mark is our guide and providing markers along the way.  Although, as I noted last week, Mark is the shortest of the gospels, the entire gospel story is packed into those 16 chapters.  We started in chapter 1 last week, with Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, and this morning we have leapt to chapter 8.  There’s a reason for this, which I’ll reference in just a bit, but let’s review just a bit of what we skipped in the fly-over.

Again, I am indebted to Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm’s commentary Preaching the Gospel of Mark.  There is some pretty good stuff going on in the early chapters of Mark: as we heard at the end of last week’s text, Jesus begins his ministry of preaching the good news of God.  He calls disciples by the Sea of Galilee and embarks on a ministry which intertwines teaching, healing, and casting our demons.  For Mark, these are not really separate things — the good news which Jesus brings is holistic; it is ministry to mind, body and spirit.  If you have your Bible or want to look at it later, just a scan of the section headings gives you a sense of the dynamic nature of what Jesus is doing:  he heals Simon’s mother-in-law, Preaches in Galilee, cleanses a leper, heals a man with a withered hand, feeds a bunch of people, tells some parables, stills a storm, heals a man possessed by an unclean spirit.  At Mark’s breathless narrative pace, this has the sense of Jesus and his disciples running from one inspiring and miraculous event to the next.  It must have been an exhilarating time, especially for the disciples.  If you are familiar with the series The Chosen, it captures this energy at the end of Season Two, where the disciples run down the road whooping and hollering — they have met the Messiah, and he has amazing power and authority: he can heal people, and even the unclean spirits listen to him.  What can go wrong?

And chapter 8, about the mid-point of Mark’s gospel is where the other shoe drops.  It is where Jesus begins to share the other side of the story, and the disciples don’t like it one bit.  Because, you see, Jesus has a secret.  Unlike the other gospels, in Mark, Jesus never names himself as the Messiah.  He calls himself the Son of Man, but avoids the religious and politically charged title of Messiah, the Anointed One.  Of course, that expectation and that title are out there, but in his writing, Mark puts that declaration in the mouths of other people.  In verse 27 and 28 the disciples tell Jesus what the crowds are saying about his identity, and Jesus asks them, “But who do you say that I am?”  And Simon Peter gives a direct answer: “You are the Messiah.”  And then what happens?  Jesus sternly orders the disciples not to tell anyone about him

I believe the reason that this — kind of puzzling — exchange is the gospel reading for the second Sunday of Lent is because of what comes next, beginning in verse 31.  Lent is the season of preparation for Jesus’ journey to the cross, and for the miracle of resurrection which lies beyond the cross in the season of Easter.  Lent is a season when we reflect on our own journeys and the inescapable reality that life includes suffering and death.  This story and the structure of Mark’s gospel reminds us that teaching and miracles and divine power are not the whole story.  That if we commit to be disciples, or followers of Jesus, that is not going to guarantee smooth sailing from now on — in fact, just the opposite.  Understandably, Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him — hey, hey, hey — and Jesus rebukes Peter right back: Get behind me Satan.  Those are harsh words from Jesus, especially to the friend who just declared him to be the Messiah.  I believe this is an acknowledgment from Jesus that the temptation to avoid suffering is a real one, it is a human impulse, and not one which Jesus can afford to indulge in if he is to fulfill his mission as the Messiah.  If we are to be Jesus’ disciples, we need to see beyond our human situations and suffering and trust that God is at work in ways which are beyond what we can comprehend.

As part of Creekside’s ministry of pastoral care, and even in my own family, I walk alongside people who are suffering emotional, physical, or spiritual pain or some combination of those.  I try NOT to say, “I’m sure this is part of God’s plan,” or any version of what Jesus said to Peter, “You’re thinking about human things, you need to set your mind on divine things.”  I’d be liable to be told to Get lost — or some version of that.  There are not easy answers or quick fixes to offer when people are in the midst of pain and loss.

I don’t know what you would say has been the most difficult thing that you have gone through in your life — maybe it hasn’t happened yet.  What I do know from my own experience, and from people I have visited with, is that it is hard — maybe even impossible — to have perspective on what you’re going through when you are in the midst of it.  We may not have the maturity to understand, or may be so focused on what has to be done that there’s no opportunity for reflection.  I met with someone from Creekside this past week who told be about some of her childhood; her mother’s death, her father’s remarriage, and the ways she and her siblings were abused by their stepmother.  They were painful stories to hear, even though they had happened many years ago.  And this person shared some words which have given her encouragement: “I am proud of myself for the days I survived when I didn’t know I could.”  We had some conversation about that phrase, because my belief is that we do not survive difficult situations alone. We cannot survive, and certainly not thrive without other people who know and understand what we are going through.  Whether it is actual siblings or sisters and brothers we have chosen for ourselves in the form of friends or church family, we need other travelers on the road.  But we especially need the strength and encouragement of Christ.  Last week I talked about the assurance following Jesus’ baptism that he was acknowledged and loved by God; that assurance is something which each one of us needs to pack for the journey and remind ourselves of along the way.

In this passage and the verses which follow, Jesus is telling his disciples, his friends and earthly family, that whoever they say he is, whatever the crowds expect him to do, whatever power he has to heal and cast out demons, he is human, and that means he is going to experience suffering.  Not only that, but the folks listening right now, will have their own losses and their own crosses.  Following Jesus means walking through all those difficult experiences — the things we’d all avoid, if only we could.  In one sense, this is terrible news, and I can understand why Peter tried to shut down that line of talk from Jesus.  In human terms, this is the future that none of us wants to hear about.  Jesus was human, but he also had the mind of God.  As much as his human side would have been tempted to avoid the cross, he understood that there was life and hope beyond our human experience.  He understood that God has the power to act in even the most hopeless situations, even in the finality of death, What Jesus offers to his disciples, and to us, is the assurance that he will endured anything, he has experienced everything that we can go through.  That even when we cannot survive on our own strength, Jesus has gone before us and walks alongside us, or even carries us.  We have the assurance that with Christ’s help, we can survive the days we thought we couldn’t.

Sisters and brothers, there is a cross at the end of this road.  Jesus did not pretend otherwise.  He understood what it means to be human, because he was human.  But Jesus also had the mind of God, and he knew that suffering is not the end; God has divine plans for us.  That when we come out of those difficult times, in the company of are fellow travelers, and especially in the company of Christ, we are different people: when we follow where Jesus went, with God’s help we are stronger, more compassionate, and more faithful.  It is how we learn to survive the days we didn’t think we could; to shape our lives into the image of Christ.

When we sing to God in heaven, we will find such harmony born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony.    Amen