Readings, prayers and reflections are available below.
LENT II SUNDAY 28 FEBRUARY 2021
Today's sermon is available as an audio recording here. Press play to start.
Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth, that they may return to the way of righteousness: grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's religion that they may reject those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 4:13-end, Mark 8:31-end.
We pray for God's blessing at this Lenten time. May the Church be strengthened to follow the way of the Cross.
May those who hold authority and power so set their minds on the things that are divine that they may rule with mercy the things that are human.
Give us grace to know what is right in our way of life and what is a hindrance to our faith.
Bring comfort to those who suffer. We especially pray for the sick, for Mary Maxwell and Paul Evans.
And we pray for those who took up their crosses and carried them to the end and have laid them down in the repose of heaven.
Poor old Peter. In today’s Gospel he really does get a flea in his ear. To make things worse, moments before he’d shown amazing insight when he said to Jesus, “You are the Christ.” Yet now, Jesus turns round and calls him Satan, which is clearly not a compliment. What’s brought this about?
The fact is that Peter, in his usual, lumbering way, has got something wonderfully right, and then failed to understand the implications of what he’s seen. He’s spot-on when he says that Jesus is the Christ, the one sent to show us the face of God. But when he hears Jesus foretelling His future sufferings, Peter can’t cope with it. “No, horrible things like that can’t happen to You.”
Peter is voicing a feeling which is natural to us, that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. Jesus’s response is unsparing: bad things do happen to good people, and they’re going to happen to Him. Unless Jesus shares in that part of real life, He’s not fully one with us. Hence the force with which He responds to Peter’s misunderstanding. By telling Jesus that He should not experience pain and suffering, Peter is behaving like Satan, the evil spirit who draws people away from God’s message. Peter doesn’t see that because Jesus is the Christ, he will provoke hostility from those who hate goodness and holiness.
To make the point more emphatic, Jesus goes on to say that those who want to follow Him are not going to live in a protective shell. Being His disciples will not be a way to escape pain and suffering and grief. They must be His disciples in the real world, living with whatever life throws at them. Discipleship doesn’t mean dodging affliction, but following Christ in the midst of it.
This doesn’t sound exactly comfortable, but it’s something we need to hear, especially in Lent. The Christian way is a way of Joy and Hope, but we will find them while living in a world which is not all sweet and lovely.
Sometimes you’ll hear it said, “Oh, these Christians. They only believe because they need a support to cling to in life.” Well, when you hear someone saying that, you can be sure that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Christian discipleship, if it’s real, makes demands on us that we might well prefer to be without. As followers of Christ, we not only have to be faithful in the midst of life’s inevitable hardships; we may also find ourselves having to make hard choices because we’re His followers.
To give a stark example; in Germany in the 1920’s, most conventional Church people would have laughed at the idea of Christian martyrdom in such an advanced and liberal society. They wouldn’t be laughing ten years later. The Nazi regime meant that Christians faced frightening choices. What should they do when they realized that Christian discipleship was wholly incompatible with a murderous tyranny? Should they keep their heads down, go along with things and hope not to be noticed? Or should they act against the State, whatever the cost?
After World War 2 ended, a book was published called Dying We Live, and if ever you find a copy make sure to buy it. It’s a selection of letters written by Germans, mostly Christians, who were awaiting execution for their refusal to compromise with evil. It’s an inspiring but challenging book.
We may hope never to face such a dreadful reality as the Nazi state, but we’re in a world where it may be necessary for us to ask at what point our Christian faith makes it impossible for us to go along with some particular social programme or popular activity. For example, at what point does involvement with frequently poisonous social media become a challenge to Christian conscience?
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, 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 Christ’s followers, we’re called to be people who live according to a particular vision, the vision of God shown to us in Jesus; and that may mean that in some respects we will have to be out of step with those around us. We will each have to decide for ourselves where to draw particular lines, and we’re not meant to become unpleasant moralizers, constantly passing judgement on everybody else. But we do need to remember that we’re called to live according to a Christ-like vision of things, not a secular one.
The young German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was murdered by the Nazis, published a book called The Cost of Discipleship. When he wrote it, he could hardly have imagined the choices he would have to make, leading to his arrest and death. The title of that book reminds us that while the Christian path leads to freedom, forgiveness and hope, it may sometimes be a stony road.
It’s a chilling fact that more Christians died because of their faith during the twentieth century than at any other time in history. How right that the West front of Westminster Abbey has figures on it of some of the most notable contemporary martyrs. Our Christian brothers and sisters are still being persecuted and killed, and they need our prayers.
In the OT, King David said he would not offer to God that which cost him nothing. Our Lord Jesus Christ and His suffering servants remind us of that.