This sermon was preached on the 25th of February 2024, the second Sunday in Lent.

Text: Mark 8:31-38

“Then Jesus 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…”

Perhaps that’s all that Saint Peter and the other disciples heard that day, of what Jesus had said to them. Jesus told them that he would be killed, and then I imagine a feeling of visceral shock came upon them, leaving them stunned, dazed, grieved, uncomprehending. As the declaration by Jesus sunk in, the disciples grieved that Jesus, their leader, their friend, would be killed. But more even than that… they grieved the loss of a future that would never come. They grieved the loss of a future of their own imagining.

It’s one of those human things, isn’t it – to picture the future in our minds. To have goals. To have hopes. To make plans that, we hope, will bring about our hopes and dreams. And so it was natural that in their time following Jesus, walking with Jesus, the disciples had come to have expectations, plans, hopes.

Jesus was the head of a movement that had sprung up around him in the countryside. The people who followed him were almost all poor – people from the margins, people who lived a precarious existence. These were people who had suffered in a very real way under Herod, and under the Romans.

And so it was natural that they pictured a future without that suffering. A future in which they, the impoverished, the marginal, the overlooked, would be lifted up.

Just moments before today’s Gospel reading, Saint Peter had declared his trust in that future, declaring Jesus to be the Messiah: God’s agent, God’s appointed King, the one who would bring about God’s rule. And through that short, bold utterance it was as if Peter had placed a seal upon his hopes, the hopes of all of the disciples. Peter had declared that this Messiah, this Jesus, would bring about the future that he himself imagined.

And yet, as we all know, that wasn’t to be the case.

No sooner had Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah, than Jesus spoke, and taught that he would soon be killed. And so the future of Peter’s imagining that had just seemed so certain… that future was smashed apart. It was smashed apart by Jesus himself.

The future of Peter’s earnest, heartfelt and unselfish hope: hope not for himself, but for his family, his friends, his people, the whole world: that future had been taken away.

And so… Peter got angry. He rebuked his Lord. We might judge Peter. It’s easy to do that – too easy. We know the whole of the story. We didn’t feel that same shock at the declaration by Jesus that he would soon suffer and die.

And yet, we aren’t so different. Death is still a part of our lives… including the death of a future of our imagining. Sometimes, I think our imagining of the future is really a wish to return to the past, to make our future a mirror of the past.

We all remember when the churches were fuller, when they were younger, when they felt more full of life and energy… when they changed, and we happy at that change. Now we are in another place, another time. And it’s worth saying it aloud: we aren’t ever going to go back to the church of the 80s and 90s. The church that I grew up in, the church that many of us mourn.

That’s a kind of death. I wasn’t here, in this place, in the 80s and 90s, but I was in other churches… I was a kid back then. I miss those days.

“Then Jesus 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.”

“… and after three days rise again.”

It’s staggering, isn’t it. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, took on suffering, and death. God took on the worst that we human beings can do to one another… and rose again.

As we walk through Lent, as we approach Holy Week, we become more and more alike to the disciples. We are not so different from Peter and the others. Entering into the experience of walking with Jesus in those last weeks, we almost become them.

When Jesus was arrested, when Jesus suffered, when Jesus was killed… they ran. Saint Mark tells us that the only exception to that was a handful of faithful women. We human beings often run in the face of death: maybe it’s an instinct. And yet, death and resurrection lies at the heart of our faith.

God took on the worst that we human beings can do to one another, and replied not with retribution, but with new life, new hope, a new covenant. Even though the disciples ran from death. Even though the disciples asked Jesus, the Son of God, to join with them in fleeing death.

I think in a way, Saint Peter tried to imagine a future without death: without that inherent limit upon our control of our destiny, of our fate. He had a good heart, and yet he was utterly wrong.

In this season of Lent, we remember that we are mortals; we will all die. We might want to imagine our way of that. But we cannot. And so we must die to ourselves, trusting that God will raise us up into new life. And we must allow the same to happen for the church. The past will never return.

The hard truth is that the church of three or four decades past is gone. And yet, God will reply to that loss with new life. The Good News of Jesus Christ will live on in the world; the Church, the Body of Christ, will continue to be sustained by the Spirit.

God, the God who Is, the God who Lives, is at work in the world. God calls us to take our part in building up the Kingdom. It’s striking that in today’s reading, Jesus rebukes Peter, and then calls to the disciples… and calls to the crowd, to those who are yet to follow him. God’s call through Jesus is to all of humanity: it is not limited by the walls of this church, or any other.

God’s Kingdom is not a kingdom of our imagining. It is so much greater than that. It is the Kingdom of God’s imagining.

We must have trust. We must have faith. We must give our allegiance to Jesus Christ, let go of our own imaginings, let go of our own control, and look for the fruit of new life to come, for the Church and for the World.