Sermon for Lent II, Year B

Based on Mk. 8:31-38

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

"Ashamed of Jesus?"

In a Charlie Brown cartoon, Lucy meets a new girl in school. The new girl comes up to Lucy and asks her: "Boy is that guy over there ever a loser, do you know him Lucy?" Lucy, turning all the colours of the rainbow, shamefully hangs her head, and confesses: "Yes, unfortunately I do." The loser whom she was referring to turned out to be none other than Charlie Brown.

No doubt all of us have felt ashamed of ourselves or others on occasion. We've had times of feeling dishonoured or disgusted with what we or others have done or said ~ or failed to do or say. Times when our pride was threatened or we were afraid of being ridiculed for something. Moments like Lucy's in this cartoon.

For example, maybe you've had to admit that you know someone whom you'd rather not know. Or maybe your well respected friends, neighbours or relatives have seen you with an unpopular person. Or maybe you're ashamed to pray a table grace in a restaurant. Or maybe you're ashamed to talk about The G Word (God) with others. Or maybe you feel inadequate to share your Christian faith with someone for fear that they'll reject you or think lesser of you for doing so or feel like your trying to convert them to some sort of fanatical cause.

Jesus says in our gospel today: "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." What does it mean for us to be ashamed of Jesus? Can we even dare admit that we're guilty of such a thing?

Being ashamed of Jesus or the gospel is a very subtle thing. It creeps into the lives of confident believers, such as Peter, you and me, maybe even without knowing it has happened. Isn't that the nature of evil ~ to deceive us into believing that evil is good? We, like Peter, may sincerely believe that our expressions of concern reflect the best interests of others ~ yet, for others on the receiving end of our expressions, it may be that we're dead wrong, even to the extent that we unwittingly afflict others with evil.

A decade or so ago, some of you may have watched the CBC Journal program on the Serbian lawyer, Mr. Cruel. Mr. Cruel was born in Yugoslavia and immigrated to Canada, settling into a Serbian community in Ontario and practicing law there. His fellow immigrant Serbs regarded him as a trustworthy and respectable member of their community. He was a member of the community's Serbian Orthodox Church. The church's pastor had trusted Cruel to look after some of his legal matters. Moreover the pastor had advised his parishioners that they too could trust Mr. Cruel with their legal matters. Many of them did just that.

One of them was a woman who sold her Serbian restaurant and wanted Mr. Cruel to look after the legal details of the deal. What the woman didn't know was that Cruel had lied to her about the deal. The woman was left with next to nothing and no trust in Cruel or the legal profession. In the meantime, Cruel had fled from Canada, his whereabouts unknown ~ leaving behind him many victim-clients of the Serbian community, as well as the shame of the pastor of the church, along with the shame of his own wife and family, all of whom continued to live in the community.

In the case of the pastor and Cruel's wife and family, they had to suffer a lot of shame in their community because of Cruel's criminal, fraudulent activities. They all suffered the consequences of what Cruel had done because of their close relationship with him. Jesus also suffers the consequences of what we do because of his close relationship with us. He doesn't want us to be ashamed of him and the gospel. When we're ashamed of him and the gospel, he's ashamed of us; because of our close relationship with him, what we do affects him as well as ourselves. Whether realize it or like it or not, we represent Jesus and his message to the world.

It's important for us to see and understand how and why we're ashamed of Jesus and the gospel, in order that we might become more faithful disciples. We're ashamed of Jesus and the gospel when we fail to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. Our shame is the result of our failure to bear our cross.

Cross-bearing is not very easy or nice. Cross-bearing means we have to die, and who wants to die?! By worldly standards, cross-bearing certainly isn't very popular or successful. The way of the cross stands in total contradiction to our worldly, secular wisdom and our human nature. Worldly secular wisdom teaches people to look out for nobody but one's self. The way of the cross teaches people to deny the self and be servants of one anther.

Our human nature teaches us to seek after a life of comfort and ease ~ to protect ourselves from the pain and hardships of life. The way of the cross teaches us that life is anything but comfortable and easy, we can therefore expect to live with the pain and hardships of life; trusting that Jesus is with us by providing the necessary resources of his loving grace to endure, to be faithful, and to learn and grow as persons through it all. We never know how Christ is able to speak to others and touch their lives through our faithful cross-bearing.

Worldly, secular wisdom and human nature teach people to expect health, wealth, fame, recognition and happiness. The way of the cross promises people none of these things, look what happened to Jesus himself! He died the death of a criminal, was despised, rejected, humiliated ~ even his closest friends denied and betrayed him. Can we as loyal followers of this Christ expect anything different?

Everyday we must fight the constant battle ~ especially in the mass-media. Do we say yes to the ways of the world and no to bearing our cross? Or do we say yes to our cross-bearing, and no to the ways of the world? If we say yes to our cross-bearing, it doesn't mean we leave the world behind. Our cross-bearing is not an escape from the world. Our cross takes us into the world and the world becomes our testing ground. It's the place that we're either faithful to or ashamed of Jesus and the gospel. Moreover, if anything, it opens us up to a loving, active engagement with the world, realizing that Christ himself loves it so much.

Our cross-bearing does make a difference to our Lord, ourselves and the world. It's in bearing our crosses that we share in the power, glory and victory of Christ's cross. It's in bearing our crosses that we are drawn into a closer, more meaningful relationship with Jesus. It's in bearing our crosses that we point the world to Jesus Christ. Over against the powers of death and destruction, Jesus the Christ is the world's true source of hope, life and salvation.

Therefore, don't be ashamed of Jesus Christ and the gospel. Bear your crosses and remember that in your cross-bearing Jesus is with you, leading you, sustaining you, opening you up to new, challenging growth and changes, providing you with the gift of life in all of its magnificent fullness.

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