A sermon preached by
Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Text: Mark 8:31-38
A Contemporary Word Those Who Carry Anna Kamienska
Those who carry pianos
to the tenth floor wardrobes and coffins
an old man with a bundle of wood limps beyond the
a woman with a hump of nettles
a madwoman pushing a pram
full of vodka bottles
they will all be lifted
like a gull's feather like a dry leaf
like an eggshell a scrap of newspaper
Blessed are those who carry
for they shall be lifted.
You can find most anything you want on youtube. A couple of weeks I spoke of the transcending experience I had listening to tape after tape of majestic organ music on youtube while working on my sermon. Another night, out of curiosity piqued by a headline announcing, “Famous Opera Singer Dies,” I spent a couple of hours reveling in the glorious singing of South African dramatic soprano, Elizabeth Connell, a singer I had never heard before or even heard of. Other postings are curiouser and curiouser, musicians who think they are ready to be discovered but really aren’t, crazy and dangerous stunts, loony scenes worthy of America’s Favorite Home Videos, all kinds of folk looking for their few minutes of fame, if not instant viral celebrity.
Of course, the medium can also be used to teach an important lesson in a few minutes with a few deft images. I saw such a posting on youtube this week. It was both curious and instructive. The scene looked like Dolores Park in San Francisco on a sunny weekend afternoon. The rolling lawn was well populated and as the background music came up, the camera focused on a young man in shorts, barefoot and shirtless. Alone, to one side of the crowd, he was dancing. It was not a dance taught in any classroom. It wouldn’t make it on “Dancing with the Stars.” It was his own dance – the dance of one who moves to the beat of a different drummer. There were intricate gyrations and a touch of wildness to this dance. It seemed no one was paying him any mind. Such behavior, often drug-induced, is not uncommon in settings like Dolores Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
But then there began a narration. The commentator talked about the uniqueness of this dance and how hard it is to be a leader. Sometimes one who stands so thoroughly apart from the crowd is seen as suspect, maybe a little crazy. The crowd did not jump to its collective feet and join in. Clearly they weren’t feeling his beat or following his bliss. However, their response or lack of it didn’t seem to concern the young dancer at all. He had a dance to do; he continued his solo performance undeterred.
But, after a while, it became harder and harder to ignore the unselfconscious abandonment and sheer joy of his dance. You could see a few heads turn, some toes tapped and fingers drummed. Still, no one was going to risk the embarrassment of actually joining in the dance. Then from one corner of the frame you could see another young man moving cautiously into the scene. The dance had gotten to the point at which he could no longer stay still. He had to join in. His steps were timid at first, but grew steadily as he emulated the lead dancer. The narrator then pointed out the significance of the leader gaining his first follower, the first to break the risky plane of potential embarrassment and join the movement. It was not long after that a second and a third and then a number of the crowd were up and dancing, some trying to imitate the leader, some doing their own thing, inspired by the leader’s pioneering spirit and courage.
There was nothing special about this particular amateur video. It wasn’t great art either in its subject matter or production values. What struck me was the narrator’s commentary about the first follower. He said something to the effect that without the first follower there would never have been a movement at all. The leader would never have been a leader. He would have remained an odd and isolated dancer without a company. I think a main point of the video was the importance of the first follower to the creation of a movement. To follow is a crucial component in the formation of any group. It also suggests to me that it can be a good and noble thing to follow.
That’s how Jesus’ first disciples saw it. Whether he had laid the groundwork or called them out of the blue, when he said, “Follow,” they did. They left everything – livelihood, home, family, familiarity – to follow him. It was no small thing for them to say “yes,” yet they did. John says Andrew was the first follower in Christianity. It was he who shifted allegiance from John the Baptist and encouraged his brother, Simon, to come and meet the Messiah. It was Andrew who took the first risk, who stepped out in courage and faith. From him all the rest followed. A company was born, a movement started because he was drawn into the sacred dance.
We’ve already spent time exploring the first part of today’s text – Peter’s inspired recognition of Jesus as Messiah; his high expectations of the sort of Messiah Jesus would be, driving out the Roman oppressors, putting the corrupt religious authorities into their proper place, and lifting his followers to power and prestige; followed by his humiliating attempt to control the sort of Messiah Jesus would be. Jesus, as God incarnate, could not be contained by Peter’s expectations nor by ours. The reign of God is relentless in its coming. We need to be ready to follow where Christ leads, to join in the sacred dance, even when it is difficult and shakes up our view of how things ought to be.
What kind of Messiah was Jesus to be then? After rebuking Peter, he sat them down and said, “Friends, it’s like this. 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”
These are challenging words – difficult to grasp, harder to follow. They certainly didn’t fit with what the disciples had in mind when they left all to follow him. He’s offering them a great and challenging paradox. The gist of it is that if you are going to follow Jesus, you’re going to be headed for a different reality than you’ve ever known. All your expectations of life, all your careful creation of your role in this world, all that you valued that is not consistent with the reign of God must go. It sounds like a wild and crazy dance, this sacred dance to which he calls us. Sarah Henrich writes that “To lose one's life is to lose one's whole way of thinking about the world, to revalue the whole experience we know as life − trusting that our valuing of life may be the blindness from which we need to be healed so that we can fully see and know the life that God gives us in God's realm” (Sarah Henrich, “Commentary, Mark 8:31-38 (Lent 2, 2009),” WorkingPreacher.org.) To follow may be a good and noble thing but it is not easy.
What must you or I let go of in order to follow? What excess baggage do we carry? What have we stuffed into our trunks that is totally inappropriate for the journey on which we’ve been invited? This is part of our Lenten discipline – to jettison the unnecessary things that weigh us down, to travel lightly enough to be of real service to the reign of God.
David Wells asks “So why did they follow? Why do we?” Then he responds, “Because he told Nathanael, the Samaritan woman and others the truth about themselves. Because he fulfilled the longing of Israel. Because he brought healing and forgiveness that embodied the new regime of which he spoke. Because he practiced and pictured the character and possibility of all people, and breathed purpose and destiny into all creation. Because he opened out an everlasting communion with the Father that made the Romans, the conventional powers and authorities, all the destructive and craven impulses of the world, even death itself, seem paltry and pitiful. He formed around himself a community, and gave them the practices and gifts to be his body through pain and joy. His were the words and deeds of eternal life, and there have been none to match them before or since” (David F. Wells, “Holiness : Sacrifice,” The Christian Century, March 8, 2000, p. 271.)
The same Lenten discipline demands of us that we discern clearly what it means to follow? What are you willing to give of yourself and why? What cross are you willing to take up and why? Beyond our expectations, can we see the promise for those who do carry that they will be blessed and lifted up? Once again Jesus calls. The question is, on this day, in this place, who will step up to follow? Amen.
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he 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.32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.35For 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.36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?38Those 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.”