Sunday, February 25th, Second Sunday of Lent

God bless Peter! Poor Peter! In the South we’d say, “Bless his heart.” He tries so hard, and yet he still has the very human ability to put both his feet in his mouth. Peter, upon whom Christ would build his church. Peter, whose impulsiveness constantly gets him in trouble. Peter is at it again.
Take your cross and follow me

 May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always 

acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen. 

God bless Peter! Poor Peter! In the South we’d say, “Bless his heart.” He tries so hard, and yet he still has the very human ability to put both his feet in his mouth. Peter, upon whom Christ would build his church. Peter, whose impulsiveness constantly gets him in trouble. Peter is at it again. 

Immediately before this morning’s gospel passage, Jesus had asked the disciples what people were saying. Specifically, who did they think he was. When he turned the question on the disciples Peter blurted out You are the Messiah. 

Whether he was divinely inspired or simply guessing, Peter got the right answer to the big question. He must have been feeling pretty good- very optimistic. The guy Peter had spent the last couple of years following and working with was THE Son of Man, the MESSIAH. They had all thought so, or at least hoped it. And now they knew for certain. 

The Son of Man in the Jewish thought at the time would come on the clouds to deliver the righteous from the hands of their enemies. Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man fairly often, which many took as confirmation that he was the one who was to come and restore Israel. 

What else could it mean? He was the son of David after all, and David represented the good old days. The days when one could be proud to be an Israelite. Before that unpleasantness with Babylon, and then Persia, and now Rome. Since Jesus is the Messiah, surely he is about to change all that. You can almost hear Peter thinking, “Things are looking up!” 

Take up your cross. 

But then… Jesus starts talking about death. About how he would be rejected, and suffer and die. That was not THE PLAN. Peter tries to talk some sense into him. “Jesus, you can’t go talking like that! What will people think? You’re the man! With 


you we can really accomplish something. We’re going to shake things up! We’re going to get somewhere this time!” 

It sounds uncomfortably close to Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. “Jesus, just think of what you can do! You have the ability to make things happen for people. Wouldn’t it be great if…?” 

But for Jesus, freeing Israel from Rome is not the plan. That is not thinking big enough. Jesus is about his Father’s business, which is far more significant and far reaching than saving Israel from Rome. The way will not be easy, but what God has in mind will change, not just Israel, but the world. 

Crucifixion was a common occurrence in the Roman empire. It was less about justice than it was about terror, of keeping the population under control. Having the convicted carry the means of their own execution to the place of death before nailing or tying them to the cross was particularly effective. As was crucifying people at the gates of cities and along major travel routes so as many people as possible would see. 

So, when Jesus shares about his death with his disciples, particularly about the means of his death, Peter could not stand it. He thinks he is ready to die for Jesus. But the idea of Jesus dying? That was unthinkable. Peter voices what they are probably all thinking—that Jesus cannot possibly die, that such a death would ruin everything. And in response Jesus rebukes him. Rebukes him the way he would an unclean spirit. 

Take up your cross and follow. 

Peter is still learning, along with all of us, that following Jesus is about letting go. Peter has come a long way from the shores of the Sea of Galilea. He had to let go of his nets in order to follow. He had let go of the things that bound him to his old life in order to learn a new way. But he had not yet learned to let go of his expectations. Peter had some big plans for Jesus. He was so caught up in what Jesus the Messiah could accomplish, that he could not hear or accept this new teaching on what was to come. He had his mind set, not on heavenly things, but on earthly things. 

Letting go of expectations is difficult. We are programmed early to know where we are going. To have a plan. That if we aren’t moving fast enough, we are going to get run over in the fast-lane of life. To give up our expectations is to give up control. And that is terrifying when power and control are our cultural idols. 


To make it worse, everyone listening, the disciples and the crowds, are told if they want to be disciples of Jesus they must deny themselves and take up their own cross. They are confronted with the reality that there is a cost involved in following this itinerant teacher. That cost might well include their very lives. 

You can imagine the bewilderment from the people who had followed Jesus and witnessed his miracles. He had healed lepers, the blind and lame. He had cast out demons. He had even fed five thousand people with just five loaves and two fish. He was on a roll, and now—this… 

Take up your cross and follow me. 

My last summer in seminary I visited the concentration camp at Dachau in Germany. It was where Deitrick Bonhoeffer and many of the clergy and others who spoke out against what was happening to the Jews were sent to work and die. I hadn’t realized before then that those who spoke out against that government and what was happening faced the same fate as those they were attempting to stand up for. It was sobering. There had been so many. But, for every person who was sent to Dachau there were others who remained silent—and safe. 

It always makes me wonder, if I were alive then, where would I have been? Would I be willing, would I be able to deny myself to the point of imprisonment? Would I be willing to lose all for the sake of the gospel? Would I willingly surrender my life in witness to what I believe to be good and right and true? Could I? Would I? Would you? 

These are hard questions, and they haunt me still, especially during Lent. Especially when Jesus starts talking about the cross, and picking up our own. 

Being a Christian means seeking to live our lives with integrity. It means following Jesus’ example, even when there is a cost. It means working for justice, loving our neighbor, and being willing to stand up for what is just and good—when it would be easier, when it would be safer, not to. We are called to act as Jesus would have acted. In those times and places when the chips are down, I hope we have the character and courage to answer Jesus’ call. 

Take up your cross and follow me 

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