“AN HONEST ANSWER”

MARK 8:31-38

MARCH 8, 2009

 

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            Sixteen pastors sat in a room.  These men and women believed in the bible, they had good ministries, many of them long, successful ministries.  They pastored large churches and small churches.  Some even had significant ministries overseas.  They were sitting down and discussing something you seldom hear pastors discuss.  In fact, as the conversation went on, you began to wonder if the topic was something pastors should discuss.

            They were discussing their doubts, their questions about Christianity, their questions about their faith, their ministries, their careers.

            One pastor said, “When I hear the story of Job, it ticks me off.  Oh sure, Job gets his money back, and he gets a new family, but when you lose a child, you never replace that child.  And the fact that Job lost his entire family because of some cosmic argument between God and Satan with Job being the pawn ... well, that makes me angry.”

            Another pastor said, “When I read the book of Jeremiah, I get depressed.  I get frustrated.  I get discouraged.  After all, here’s a man who gave years of his life to God, and from a human standard, there was no demonstration of success.”

            Another one said, “I was in a church for ten years.  The church was growing.  It was prospering.  Six months before I resigned, the chairperson of the board came to me and said, “I will give you credit for one thing.  You are a man of integrity.  You have always spoken the truth, and you could have split the church over what has happened in the last few months.  And if you had, you would have won.  But you didn’t because you were a man of integrity.”

            The pastor said, “That took place two years ago.  Since then I have sent out resumes, talked to churches about being their pastor, and not one church has invited me to candidate.  I’m angry because I’m out of work because I am a person of integrity.”

            A colleague said to him, “But isn’t it something to know that when we go through hardship, and when we go through trials, and when we go through difficulty, that somehow God thinks of us as a special person?”

            He responded, “That used to work for me, but it doesn’t anymore.  I’m tired of being that special person.  I’m tired of going through all that.”

            What goes through your mind when you listen to their conversation?  Disappointed?  Discouraged?  Saddened?  Shocked?  Maybe some of you thought, “No wonder the church is in the condition it’s in if that’s the way pastors are.”

            For some of us, however, these pastors were verbally expressing some of the thoughts we have had in private, thoughts we were afraid to share, thoughts we assumed good Christians do not have.  And for some of you this may be your experience in life.  We have been thinking, “God, I have served you.  I have committed myself to you.  I have lived for you.  I have done all the things Christians are supposed to do, and now after fifteen, twenty, thirty years, everything is turning to sand.  It’s happening in my relationships.  It’s happening in my career.  It’s happening with my security.  I really wonder if it’s worth it.”

            That’s an honest question, and today we are going to observe Jesus answer to it. As do, I want to ask him two questions.  I want to ask him, “What?” and “Why?”   Why do things like this happen to faithful, hard-working people, and what, if anything, can we do to hang in there when life blows up in our face?

            Let’s begin with the “why” and let me set the scene.  Peter has just recognized Jesus as the Messiah.  Jesus and the disciples had been spending a lot of time up north in Gentile territory, and finally Jesus says to them, “Hey guys, you have been around me for awhile.  You’ve watched me.  You’ve heard the conversations about me.  What are people saying about me?  Who do they think I am?”

            The disciples respond by saying, “Well, some people say you are this, and others say you are that.  Some say you are an Old Testament person come back from the dead.  There are all sorts of opinions about you.”

            Jesus nods his head a few times and then asks, “Who do you think I am?”

            Peter, the spokesperson for the group, says, “We’re convinced you are the Messiah.  You are the Christ.  You are the Anointed One of Israel.”

            Now imagine what it would have been like figuring out Jesus was not just another  rabbi, another teacher, but he was actually the Big Kahuna, the Messiah, himself.  Can you imagine what that must have been like?  For example, imagine you make a friend and that friend becomes your best friend.  During your first two years of college you share things together.  You do things together.  You care for one another and he or she will do anything for you, and vice versa, you will do anything for him or her.  But at the end of those two years, you realize that your friend has been living incognito at college and your friend is actually the daughter or son of the President of the United States.  That would be heady stuff, to think that this is not only your friend, but your friend belongs to the most powerful person in the world.  As a result, you are now looking forward to state dinners at the White House.  Sleep overs in the Lincoln bedroom.  Front row seats to sporting events.  I mean, you are connected.  You know the son or daughter of the President.

            As the disciples bask in this sort of glow, listen to what Jesus does.  He bursts their bubble.  Listen to what he does,

 

            Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  He said all this quite openly.   And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

 

            What, no front row seats?  No sleepovers in the Lincoln bedroom?  You mean, the religious establishment if going to treat you like Rush Limbaugh treats Barack Obama?  Peter says to Jesus, “Oh man, cut the doom and gloom.  You are depressing the guys.  It’s not going to be like that at all.  It’s going to be great.  You are the Messiah.  People are going to love you.  No suffering and dying for you.  And, of course, they’ll love us because we love you.”

            Jesus responds,

 

            “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”

            He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?  Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

            When you came to know Christ, was anyone this honest with you?  Did anyone tell you it would be like this if you follow Jesus?  Unlikely.  More likely they stressed all the good stuff about following Christ.  How Christ gives us a reason for living, and how in Christ we inherit eternal life, and how the Holy Spirit prays for us to our Heavenly Father, but this stuff about the cross and losing your agenda, I doubt if anyone brought it up.

            Or maybe they told us and just like Peter we did not want to hear it.  Now to get a feel for Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ teaching, imagine I gave you a paper cup when you came into the sanctuary this morning.  Do you have the cup in your hand?  Now imagine my asking you to moisten your mouth with saliva, and after your mouth is full of saliva imaging me asking you to spit that saliva into the cup.  Next imagine me asking you to take the cup and sip the saliva back into your mouth.

            If you are anything like me, you are thinking, “Gross, I’m not going to do that.  That’s disgusting!”  From an early age we have been told that spitting is nasty, so the thought of sipping our own saliva revolts us.

            Now, that I’ve ruined your lunch plans, let me make my point.  That’s how Peter felt.  The thought of a suffering and dying Messiah, and the thought of the Messiah’s disciples also suffering and dying disgusted him.  He did not want to swallow that truth.  And neither do we.  We rather hear how Jesus will meet our needs.  We rather hear how Christ is going to conquer our personal Romes, not how we will be called upon to suffer and deny ourselves.  That’s why Lent is seldom anyone’s favorite time of the church calendar.  We hate to think about self-denial and suffering.

            To put it into today’s terms, Jesus is saying, “You want to follow me?  Well, here’s an electric chair.  Here’s a lethal injection.  Here’s pain.  Here’s disappointment.  Here’s a life that may blow up in your face.  Here comes thirty years of faithfulness only to have everything go down the tubes  Do you still want to follow me?”

            Yet, despite Jesus honesty about the Christian life, we keep being shocked by it.  We keep saying, “God, why did you let my child die?” or “God, why are my children giving me so many problems?” or “God, why is it after twenty years of marriage my spouse walks out on me?” or “Why is it so hard all the time?  It’s not supposed to work this way, God.”

            And what does Jesus say?  Borrowing the words of the country singer Lynn Anderson, he says, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.”

            When we begin to understand that our lives are as likely to meet with heartache, disappointment, and death, as well as peace, power and fulfillment, then Christianity may not look as good as the day we first embraced Christ.  I mean, we don’t mind having faith when it works, but what about faith when it fails?  When it hurts?  When it disappoints?

            That’s the “why.”  That’s why despite doing everything right, life still blows up in our face.  It happens because Jesus told us it would.  He is extremely honest about that.

            Now for the second question.  Now for the “what.”  What does it take to hang in there?  What do we do when we begin to doubt and wonder whether it’s all worth it?  I can answer that in one word.  Faith.  Faith.  In other words, we don’t follow Christ because it works, because it often doesn’t work like we thought it would.  Rather we follow Christ because it’s right.

            It’s sort of like driving a car.  When we go around a mountain curve in a car, we have faith that the tires will grip, that the suspension is well built, that the frame rides correctly on the tires, that the brakes are in good operating order.  Of course, it doesn’t take a lot of faith because we have driven around mountain curves thousands of time.  We know that sort of faith is generally successful.

            But then Jesus comes along and says, “I offer you a car, but some of the time when it goes around a mountain curve, it doesn’t work, and sometimes it rolls over and it crashes and burns.  If you want to save your life, drive that kind of car.”

            And we say, “Wait a minute.  That takes faith.”  And Jesus says, “Yeah, it does.

            We follow because it’s right, not because it works.  I’m sure you have driven to a friend’s house in an area you have never been before.  And you’ve been given directions over the phone, and your friend told you, “Now, look, when you get there, it’s going to seem as if it’s not the right place.  You’re going to think you are going north when you are really going south.”  I mean they live in an area like Fontenelle Hills where it’s easy to lose your bearings, and your friend says, “There are going to be some landmarks, and those landmarks aren’t going to look as you think they should, but just keep going.”

            So, you’re driving.  You drive, and you drive, and you drive, and the people with you in your car say, “Hey, don’t be stupid.  This isn’t the way.  Your friend wouldn’t live here.  This is not the kind of place where he or she would live.  This is not it.”

            Now at this point you have three options.  One option is to keep driving and run the risk of having the people in the car say, “I told you so.  I told you this wasn’t the correct way.”  The second option is to stop and call and maybe feel stupid when your friend says, “Yeah, this is the way.  I told you it was.”  Or the third option is to turn around and go back home.

            Whether you turn around and go back really depends on what you think of your friend.  It’s he’s a flake you say, “This isn’t it.”  But if you trust him, if you think his character is good, and if he’s pretty good at these kind of things, you either keep going or at least you call him and confirm the directions.

            This morning may be that kind of morning for you, where you need to stop and make a call and say, “Jesus, I look at my life, and it seems as though all I’ve done for you isn’t worth it.  The landmarks don’t seem right.  You say I’m going north, but it feels like I’m headed south.  I’ve made turns, and I’m not sure where those turns are leading me.  Will you help me?”

            Go ahead and be honest with him.  He’s been honest with you.  Make the call and see what he says.