February 25: The Second Sunday in Lent

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for February 25, 2024 was preached in response to Mark 8:31-38 based on the manuscript below.

Peter has said that Jesus is the Christ,
and Jesus is giving the disciples warning and clarification.
He is the messiah,
and not one that they’re expecting.
Jesus is changing the rules and expectations
about who the Messiah is
and what he will do.
Rather than coming in military might,
Jesus the Messiah, 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.”
This is not the Messiah
Peter has signed up for!
He doesn’t change his mind
or deny Jesus,
but wait just a minute Jesus!
Jesus responds with rebuke.
A Satan, one might understand,
is not necessarily the personification of evil.
Peter here is a satan in that he’s a prosecutor:
he’s – not necessarily intentionally –
putting Jesus on trial.
Jesus is facing a test even now,
and directs himself
and redirects Peter
to God’s divine plane.
He then invites the crowd,
who have not been told
about the suffering, death, or resurrection
to hear what it takes
to follow him.
“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.

As we’re into Lent
and on the day of the Annual Meeting
what a great text for us to hear!
For my own edification,
and as we prepare to renew our baptismal vows
at the Great Vigil of Easter,
I’m currently reading James Turrell’s 2010 book
Celebrating the Rites of Initiation:
A Practical Ceremonial Guide for Clergy
and Other Liturgical Ministers.
He spends a lot of time on
who should be confirmed and when,
but that is above my paygrade.
What he makes clear, though,
is that the norm of our Prayer Book –
the expectation of how things will play out
even when the numbers don’t show it (yet) –
is that baptism is primarily conveyed to adults.
He doesn’t argue against infant baptism
by any means.
Rather he sees it as a pastoral exception
for those whose parents are steady and devout
like the infants baptized in the early church.
Confirmation, reaffirmation, and reception he suggests
are simply reaffirmations of baptismal vows
in the presence of and with the blessing of
a bishop.
Baptism is a commitment to discipleship,
and a bone-chilling collection of promises,
as we are buried into Christ’s death
and raised in Jesus’ resurrection.
The Baptismal Covenant Turrell argues,
is far more than something that makes us feel good
or a way to justify our favorite political causes.
The Baptismal Covenant
especially for adults living outside Christendom
is a radical way of life.
After we state our belief in the Triune God
candidates are asked questions
that work out the implications of Christian faith
in one’s daily life.
The Baptismal Covenant
is about denying ourselves,
taking up our crosses,
and following Jesus as disciples.
Turrell says,
“The inclusion of the baptismal covenant
emphasizes that baptism in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer
is primarily about discipleship.
It entails the taking on
of serious obligations
for Christian practice.
It is not a charming ceremony done to an infant,
nor is it simply the cleansing from sin.
Throughout the rite,
the theme of discipleship is emphasized.
In the welcoming of the baptized,
the assembly invited the neophytes to
‘confess the faith of Christ crucified,
proclaim his resurrection,

and share with us in his eternal priesthood.’”

As we think about how we follow Jesus
I want us to wonder how we have to lose our lives,
what we have to deny
to be in greater service to God and our neighbor.
As we look to the font and the resurrection,
where baptismal reaffirmation is mandated at the Vigil
if there aren’t candidates for baptism,
we’re called to wonder
about how we’re being Jesus’ disciples.
That’s why it’s good that we’re hearing this
on the day of the Annual Meeting,
even with its delay.
One thing we’ve sacrificed
is plans!
Thank you for your flexibility.
My asking us to wonder about discipleship
isn’t saying that we’re bad at it.
Instead, it’s an invitation to notice
how we do let ourselves get caught up
in God’s work in the Spirit here and now
but also wonder where we might face resistances.
Putting together the annual report –
as reports from so many ministries came in –
it’s clear to see that we’re not ashamed of Jesus
and strive to do the work
he has given us to do.

We’re going to hear about ups and downs
from this year.
We ran a capital campaign with a goal of $35,000.
We got about $50,000 in pledges!
We’re also giving up some of my time,
as to be good stewards of what’s been entrusted to us.
The Bishop’s Committee
did hard work
to make sacrifices.
There’s denying ourselves,
like Jesus calls us to do.
We’ve also gotten two new pledges
within the last few weeks.

Jesus tells the crowds,
“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.”
Following Jesus leads to one place:
the cross and a cruciform life.
The cross isn’t the end.
“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering…
and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
After the cross is the resurrection,
after the resurrection is the font,
after the font is discipleship.
This is the life to which we’ve been called.
Amen and amen.

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