Sermon for Second Sunday in Lent
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16 | Psalm 22:23–31 | Romans 4:13–25 | Mark 8:31–38
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a quote that has actually stuck in my mind. (Peter Drucker, a business, guru said it.) It also makes a person wonder: What IS this culture that is apparently at the top of the food chain? Part of the issue it that culture kind of hides in the background. It’s the “habitat” so to speak, in which a person or group (large or small) lives and moves. You might not really think too much about it—but it’s in what we eat and what we wear; how we treat people and what we consider right and wrong: Habitual thoughts and actions. Culture could look very different wherever you are in the world, but it’s universally good to take out our beliefs and values to get a good look. As Father Keating realized: “Most of us are sunk in our cultural conditioning—the way we think, the way we act is incredibly pre-conditioned and programmed: our plans, bright ideas, programs, pre-packaged value system.” Culture can be problematic, neutral or even healthy—in which case it includes things like: Good communication—especially the harder part of listening; Trust and competency; Consistency between words and actions; and an Atmosphere of respect and fairness. Strategy, then—or how we live into something better—has to first pay attention to culture.
I say this because I think what’s happening with Jesus here in Mark 8 is that he’s in line with God’s strategy for the world, but he’s running smack into culture.
First, a bit about God’s strategy: We learn a lot about this in the covenant stories from the Old Testament. Last week it was God’s promise to continue to be invested in creation after the Flood—including the problematic humans—by which God would remind Godself with a rainbow. This week we hear about Abraham and Sarah—though all hope seems gone due to their age—that God commits Godself to the proliferation of a certain group of people. The point is not just the people themselves, but as God said earlier (and repeats in various places) “I will make of you a great nation… I will bless you… so that you will be a blessing.” In ancient-speak, blessing is HUGE. It carries with it the sense of divine working that not only offers good life, but a life that is connected to God. It’s the gift of that “faith” that Paul talks about in Romans that brings freedom because we can trust in God’s Presence and Involvement. It is also not to be confused with authoritarianism. Or nationalism. God is not sanctioning mistreatment or exclusion of others. The point of blessing Abraham and Sarah is FOR THE SAKE OF ALL.
Finally, next week, we’ll hear about the part of God’s strategy that helps to do those things that build a healthy culture: God rescued you (Israel) from Egypt and has rescued you from fear and death (you all)— giving you all kinds of blessings. SO, put God first. Make no idols. Take time for letting this sink in—AKA Sabbath rest. Treat one another with respect: Don’t kill or steal or cheat or satisfy your desires at the expense of others. Build trust. That is, embody WHAT GOD IS. THINK and DO like God: That is, by what is right; keeping always in the background that God’s promises- covenants- are gifts that are underwritten by steadfast love and mercy. That is, God is a good and trustworthy leader. This is a good beginning to creating a good culture.
Of course, humans tend also to have their own ideas about what is good and evil. No surprise in the Garden of Eden! And no surprise to Jesus either. I think it’s why he speaks so harshly to his number one fan, Peter, here. “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus has just asked his disciples if they get who he is and Peter enthusiastically says, “You are the Messiah!” Peter has in mind his own culture for a Messiah, including political victory. Jesus has in mind God’s hope for culture—that is, the long-view of Blessing: As my Anchor Bible Dictionary defines it: “… the continual favorable working of God to bring about good in the world of nature, individuals, families and nations.” Jesus has already been down the road of testing about conforming to culture: In the wilderness, he doesn’t give in and use his power rid himself of human challenges for safety/ security; esteem/ affection or power/ control. He waits. He lets God satisfy his needs. The adversary’s (satan’s) ideas—now from Peter—won’t sway him into jumping back in… Jesus is on his own collision course and knows it, “undergoing great suffering, rejected… killed, rising again.” But Jesus is also FREE from culture to act on God’s strategy: Not trying to save his life, and giving for what he knows matters: Life given to us that brings thoughts, habits and actions that bless the whole world.
Again, many cultural aspects are simply part of who we are in this time and place. We can relish those. And many—especially those not examined—can be adversaries of the good news. Like Peter, followers of Christ don’t get to use denial (Peter) or a blank check for harmful behavior. What we get is “taking up your cross and following Jesus.” Let the Bible keep catching you off guard with God’s radical promises for you—and also for everybody else—and all the animals and plants, too. God in Jesus loves us too much to leave us alone and invites us to depth and widening: Think about the Sermon on the Mount and all the reasons he says that people are blessed: Being merciful and meek and single-minded and longing for righteousness and peace. Blessing is linked to the covenant in which it only makes sense to put God first, and think and act with respect for one another.
God’s strategy in culture, then, is not to “batten down the hatches.” It says—like to Sarah and Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house …” It’s says to Peter, “Get behind! You are thinking like someone who doesn’t know Jesus.” It’s a hard and beautiful process—this losing of life for Christ. And it’s the finding! As for Peter, we know that he hangs in there and eventually “gets it”by the grace of God and by faith—because how else can you live and believe this strange news?—as he is freed from his over-identification with non-gospel values, and spreads the good news of God’s steadfast love and mercy. Indeed, blessed is Peter. Blessed are you. Thanks be to God.