Second Sunday in Lent

Second Sunday in Lent


The Holy Gospel according to Mark.
Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus] began to teach [the disciples] 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. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “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.”

The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.

Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer


The idea of losing is counter to what American culture defines as good. When you think of sport teams, contests, or any effort you make, the idea of losing is the opposite of what you expect or want. Winning is everything.

I remember the first time I played an organized sport. All of us had a lot to learn and were not proficient at scoring or keeping the other team from scoring. We were young and, honestly, did not care. 

We were happy to be with our friends and our coach was always smiling. He used to say all the time that showing up was winning.  It was not until I got to school sports teams that I learned about defeat. 

I often wonder what life would have been like if showing up as winning had been the posture of school sports. It’s hard to imagine that in a world so preoccupied with keeping score, measuring performance, and having the most—the most points, the most talents, the most money, the most beauty. I am truly grateful that early on I had a coach who was beyond scores and cared about the more important thing—showing up. Whether we struck out, hit a home run, or was in the outfield playing with flowers—he cheered us, encouraged us, and celebrated us for being there.


Jesus is now in his public ministry and he is showing up everywhere. He tells anyone who will listen about the suffering he must undergo. Jesus speaks of rejection and being martyred. He prophesies about his resurrection. I’m sure it was hard to hear. He insults the religious and governmental leaders. He seems to invite disdain and death. It gets so bad that one of his closest disciples, Peter, pulls him aside and demands he stops speaking this way. He wants Jesus to stop; Jesus is speaking of things Peter does not want to happen. He rebukes Jesus.

Jesus turns right around and rejects Peter’s words. The words of Jesus are hard, but they are the way to salvation. Even though Peter is his close friend, anything that is not part of God’s plan must be rejected. Jesus goes so far as to name the source of this rejection of God as Satan—because only Satan would reject the Word of God, even if it is hard. So, Jesus rebukes Peter.

Jesus then turns towards the crowd and explains the cost of following him. If the people there want to be comfortable and safe then this path is not for them. If they want to decide what gets shared and how it gets shared and with whom it gets shared—they are following the wrong one. 

They need to be willing to lose friends, status, family, and their very own lives for the sake of sharing God’s Word in truth, because that will restore the relationship with God. Jesus asks them to choose whom they will follow and lets them know one choice pleases God and the other does not. One choice follows God, and the other does not. If they want to follow God, they need to know that Jesus will not only have to say these hard things, but also follow this hard path, so that the world will be saved. 


In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus gives us fairly stark terms about what it means to be a Christian, and it’s worth thinking about, in our world where Christianity has become so distorted and used to justify so many questionable activities.

In my lifetime, many people came to see Christianity as just one more way to self-enlightenment or self-improvement. Many people combined Christian practices with Eastern practices, and most of them showed that they had precious little knowledge of either.

Or worse, people seemed to see Christianity as a path to riches. We see this in countless stories of pastors who took money from parishioners and, instead of building housing for homeless people, built mansions for themselves. We see this in the megachurch which is held up as an optimum model, the yardstick by which we smaller churches are measured and come up lacking. 

The bestseller lists are full of books which promise a Christian way to self-fulfillment or riches, while books of sturdy theology will never be known by most readers.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of a multitude of theologians who warns us against this kind of thinking, of what Christianity can do for us. He calls it cheap grace, this salvation that doesn’t require us to change our comfortable lives (or worse, tells us to expect more comfort). He says, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a person must knock” (A Testament to Freedom 308).

Jesus reminds us again and again that Christians are to strive NOT to put themselves at the center of their lives. Taking our Christian lives seriously is sure to put us on a collision course with the larger world. Christ warns us that we may even lose our lives. I suspect that he means this on several different levels, yet it is worth reminding ourselves of how many martyrs there have been, even in the late-20th century, people who were murdered because they dared to take Christianity seriously and called on corrupt governments to change their practices or went to places where the rest of us are afraid to go to help the poor of the world.

If we don’t put ourselves at the center of our lives (and what a countercultural idea that is!), then who should be there? Many of us deny ourselves for the good of our children, for our charity work, for our bosses. Yet that’s not the right answer either. God requires that we put God at the center of our lives.

Frankly, many of us are much better at putting our children first or our students or our friends—but God? Many of us are mystified at how we even begin to do that.

A good place to start is with prayer. You don’t need a formal time to pray—just check in throughout the day. Go back to the practices that your parents probably tried to instill in you: say grace before meals, say your bedtime prayers, think about who could use God’s assistance, and use your prayer time to remind God of those people. If you feel awkward, go back to old standards, like saying the Lord’s Prayer or reading a Psalm. Make God a daily and a weekly priority: go to church services. Lent gives you the opportunity to experience different kinds of services. Take advantage of them.

Once God is at the center of your life, then you are more well-equipped to care for the world. We are not emotionally equipped to deal with the cares of the world, especially now that we have 24 hour reporting on every catastrophe that happens. But with God at our core, we can cope.


I’ve never heard the word “victory” used so much in one talk. Several years ago I visited a megachurch while vacationing in AZ to refresh my ecclesial palette after growing up in the Roman Catholic church, then attending and serving in Lutheran congregations. The repeated emphasis in the sermon that God would give those several hundred of us at the service “victory over our circumstances” stuck with me. I don’t usually think of my life in terms of victory or defeat. I just try to keep growing and learning how to love my spouse, my family and friends and my neighbors better. Are victory and triumph foreign to the Christian walk? 

By no means! The authors of Scripture insist that we think about victory in a strange—and holy—way.

In this week’s Gospel reading, Peter and Jesus have different ideas about what success (or victory) means. Jesus, ever faithful to his calling, spoke to his disciples about how he must suffer, be rejected by the religious elite and then murdered. Even the assurance that after three days he would rise again wasn’t sufficient comfort to prevent Peter from taking Jesus aside to talk sense into him. 

  • The Messiah is supposed to win! 
  • How could God’s chosen one suffer? 
  • How could he fail to win acclaim from the leaders of God’s people? 
  • Surely Jesus would eventually be welcomed into the temple as he had been welcomed into the synagogues of Galilee! He would sign a multi-scroll-deal and become the biggest religious influencer ever, right?

Well, partly…but first Jesus was mocked and rejected. He refused to fight against those who wanted to kill him—and who would eventually kill his disciples and their families. That doesn’t look or feel like victory.

Throughout the centuries since, some Christians have looked to the cross of Christ and heard “in this sign, conquer.” I don’t think it works that way at all. After conquering sin and death, Jesus doesn’t turn around and authorize his followers to wield sin and death to behave like those who killed his friends. Conquering humans is categorically off the menu for those who would follow Jesus.

Gaining the world necessarily leads to losing one’s soul. If we are ashamed of Jesus’ self-giving life, shameful death and victory over death, which didn’t save his followers and friends from being murdered as he was, then Jesus says he will be ashamed of us. That is the gospel, believe it or not. We don’t have to gain victory over empires. We don’t have to convince religious elites to agree with us. We don’t have to live a life free from suffering. In fact, when we suffer, Jesus draws close to us and says, “I’ve been there too.

This may not feel like the human kind of victory that Peter wanted, but it’s exactly the kind that Jesus has worked. Jesus frees us from the rat race, from the pressure to acquire or win, to simply be enough, to be a loved and accepted heir of the Great King who has achieved the only victory that matters: the victory over sin and death that separates us from God and each other.

That gifted preacher was right—God wants victory for us. But God isn’t interested in the kind of victory that is celebrated by the world: a military victory over enemies, a financial victory over a rival, or a popular victory over a competitor. Jesus’ ministry would have looked a lot different if those victories were how God measured success. Instead, the kind of victory that God wants is righteous lives of loving-kindness that testify to the triumph that Jesus has won over the forces of sin and death.