Monday, February 26, 2024

The Messianic Secret

 Mark 8:31-38

The Fifth Station
Ang Kiukok

Lent 2

February 25, 2024


Do you know about the Messianic Secret?

Throughout  the Gospel of Mark

right after Jesus does something great,

he warns everyone sternly 

not to tell anyone about it.

Ann just asked me about this a couple of weeks ago.

Bible scholars called it “The Messianic Secret”.


When Jesus heals a leper, Jesus tells him

not to tell anyone, but go right to the priest.

Several times Jesus tells the unclean spirits

not to make his identity known to anyone.


After he heals Jairus daughter, it says

“he strictly ordered that no one should know about this.”

When he heals the man who is deaf,

he orders the people there not to say anything.

When he heals a blind man, he tells him to go straight home

and not to talk to anyone.


Later on in chapter 9, Jesus goes up to the mountain

he’s transfigured and he appears with Elijah and Moses,

he tells the three disciples that are there, not to tell anyone -

presumably not even the other disciples -

until after he had risen from the dead.


It’s a curious thing about the Gospel of Mark

it shows up a bit in the other gospels,

but not half as often as it does in Mark.

There are a lot of theories about it,

But there are still debates about what it means.

The Messianic Secret.


In today’s reading we have another instance.

Jesus asks the disciples “Who do you say that I am?”

And Peter shares the revelation that might have

surprised the other disciples.

Maybe Peter even surprises himself -

He says, “You are the Messiah.”

Which, of course, is Jesus’ true identity.

But again, Jesus warns them, sternly, “not to tell anyone about it.”


But juxtapose this with the rest of today’s gospel

where Jesus is talking about his suffering and death.

And about that, the gospel makes the point to say,

“All this he said quite openly.”


So, he works miracles,

he was transformed on the mountain,

he talks to ancient prophets.

The demons, who live in some bad part of

an other-worldly dimension are controlled by Jesus,

The sky has opened up several times

and God has claimed Jesus as God’s own son.

Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God.

About this stuff, Jesus says to keep it a secret.

Don’t tell anyone about it. For now at least.

But then when he talks about the fact that he

must suffer and be rejected and killed by the authorities.

(And after three days rise again.)

That stuff, Jesus says quite openly.


No wonder Peter rebukes him.

What are you doing, Jesus?


Jesus is just getting notoriety, he’s getting a good following,

maybe people who want to give financially to his mission,

and then he starts talking about the fact that he’s

going to die, and then he talks about crosses.


As we talked about in our Wednesday night discussion,

Crucifixion was a form of capital punishment reserved for

those who rebelled against the Roman Government,

It was a public display, people could walk around and witness it,

it was made to be extremely painful and humiliating.

And it was a public display so those suffering 

could be an example of what not to do. 

Lots of people had seen crucifixions.

They knew they were horrible.


So everyone would have been very aware of what the cross was

and it would have had a terrible stigma.

So Jesus was saying:

 I’m glad you like me, and what I do, and what I say.

Come follow me.

But just know I’m going to get the worst death penalty.

And you should too.  Jesus was a PR disaster.


Why would he do this?

Why does the gospel writer Mark do this?

Like I said there’s not complete agreement from scholars,

so that means I can choose my favorite one and tell you.


And what I think what both of them are trying to say is:

we cannot understand the glory of Jesus

without first understanding the suffering of Jesus.


Jesus knew that people would naturally gravitate

towards someone who could perform miracles,

someone who was special, who could heal others.

And he did get crowds of people who were impressed 

with him and they gathered around him as long as he

was doing these special things.


But that’s not what Jesus wanted,

Jesus didn’t just want people who would admire him,

Jesus wanted people who would follow him.

And Jesus wanted people who would sacrifice themselves

for the sake of others and the good of the world.

Jesus knew that his true glory was

not found in his power to do miracles.

Jesus glory is found in him giving his life away for others.

So  Jesus always wanted the great and glorious things

about him to be put in the context of the cross.

So he wanted all the miracles and healing to be revealed,

only AFTER his death and resurrection.


So now we do know the whole story.

We know about Jesus crucifixion, resurrection,

and all the miracles and healing, and parables.

But still, we try to avoid that cross.


I tell this story all the time,

In my first congregation, one year we just did Palm Sunday

on Palm Sunday.  We did not read passion story,

the story of Jesus crucifixion, during Palm Sunday worship.

I think the music person wanted to do it or something.

So after worship, a delightful, happy woman came up to 

me after the Palm Sunday worship in a big, floppy, yellow, 

Easter hat and said, “I’m so glad we didn’t read that terrible story 

of Jesus death. It’s so depressing. 

This is like having two Easter Sundays in a row!”

And in my true new pastor without an editor style,

I told her “And this is why we will never do this again.”

I still thank her for the moral clarity she provided.


But I’m not just talking about her. She was a nice woman.

I’m glad I didn’t say, “Get behind me, Satan!”

anywhere in our conversation.


As humans, our tendency is to avoid pain,

we usually avoid conflict and trials, we deny our sorrow and grief.

We tend to seek out comfort, fulfillment, joy

We look away from pain and sorrow,

We try to climb the ladder up the next rung

trying somehow escape anything that might lead to suffering.

And we equate power with leading an unchallenged life,

with ease, with cleanliness, with a full dose of regular happiness.

So we expect God to be found in these places,

So we  worship God in large, ornate cathedrals,

or state of the art buildings with expensive special effects.

Or at least with good air conditioning and heating.


But Jesus was not found in a comfortable palace,

or a cathedral, or even in a quiet, peaceful room most of the time.

Jesus was not found on the top of the ladder.

Jesus was outside, walking the hard road.

He was with the suffering, the poor, the lame,

the hungry, the sinners and the prostitutes.

Jesus was found with the people who weren’t able

to run up the ladder of happiness.

Who could not escape their own suffering,


And the Jesus we know best, was found on a cross.

As my Lutheran theology professor used to say,

This is how God wants to be seen:

on the cross with his arms stretched out,

not even able to scratch his own nose.”

In this absolutely powerless and vulnerable position,

we find Jesus true power, in giving himself for others.

And there’s no way the disciples

or anyone else would understand that until they saw it.


This is the way of Jesus.

Death to life. Self sacrifice and resurrection.

And it’s not just Jesus’ story,

Jesus means to take us with him too:

“Those who want to become my followers,

should deny themselves and take up their cross.”


We are called to suffer with other people,

to have compassion, to feel their pain and suffer with them,

To make compromises that we would rather not make.

To give up things that we want or need in order to provide

for our children and other vulnerable people.

We give our lives and time to our communities,

Our hearts break with compassion for people we don’t know.

We are drawn to places of poverty,

of loss, of sadness, grief, and illness.

We pray for people halfway around the world

We spend time in hospitals and hospices,

in addiction clinics, in homeless shelters, and food pantries,

we go to El Salvador, Haiti, Syria, Ukraine, Gaza.

We help other people carry their crosses.


This is the way of the Christian.

Not basking in Christ’s glory and power

and demanding it for ourselves.

But following the way of the cross.


This is the paradox that Jesus proclaims.

This is the meaning of the gospel.

In order to have our life, we give it away.

There is great power in giving ourselves away.


This is the Messianic Secret:

We never get to the true life of Jesus if we

keep trying to avoid the pain, the sacrifice,

the suffering, the cross.


We follow a crucified savior.

Walking with Jesus means letting our hearts be broken for others.

It means bearing the cross.

It means we save our life by losing it for others.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Temptation to Be Normal

 Mark 1:9-15   February 17, 2024  Lent 1


The Temptation of Christ
J. Kirk Richards

So Jesus’ baptism was lovely.

The heavens were torn apart 

and the spirit came down

and the voice of God said “you are my beloved. “

It was a beautiful thing I’m sure.

Everyone loves a baptism.


But Jesus had no time for a baptismal party.

No time for punch and sheet cake

and those little quarter-cut pimento cheese sandwiches.

Because the nice spirit who just descended lightly on Jesus

just picked Jesus up and threw him out into the wilderness.


And when we think of the wilderness today,

it usually conjures up lovely images:

A camping trip, a weekend getaway,

maybe a little fly fishing, respite from our normal life.

But in Jesus time, the wilderness was not

a place people ever really wanted to go.

It was desert.

There were no comforts, no resources, no springs or streams,

no plants for food, no shelter.

Besides the wild beasts mentioned,

There was also the real possibility of wild people

who were out to do others harm.


In the bible, the Wilderness represented dangerous,

unruly, risky places.

Places that most people would be avoiding.

We could consider the wilderness as

the opposite of “normal and respectable”.


Yet this is where the Spirit drives Jesus right after his baptism.

Right after the anointing of him and the beginning of ministry.

The Spirit sends Jesus into a place that people would try to avoid.


And not only is Jesus driven into this

uncomfortable place.

But it says he was there to be tempted by Satan.


Notice that in Mark’s gospel –

what most people think was the first gospel written down --

there is no explanation of what that temptation was,


This whole story is just one sentence:

13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan;

and he was with the wild beasts;

and the angels waited on him.

Matthew and Luke embellish this basic story in their gospels.


When traditional, US Christian preachers

talked about temptation, it has usually been about vices:

drinking, drugs, lust and sex, decadent dessert –

compulsions to do something, or consume something.

Habits or indiscretions that might enjoyable or

satisfying at the moment, but can get us into trouble.


And then as church people, we would pat ourselves on the back

because, for the most part we have avoided these temptations

or we have given the appearance that we have avoided these temptations, to excess anyway.

So then, temptation is only someone else’s problem.

But are those things out there really our greatest temptation?

Was that Jesus temptation?


There is a young and popular theologian

named Shane Claibourne.

He said in a seminar that he taught,

that normally, when we testify to Jesus power to transform lives,

we usually talk about Jesus transforming people who are in

the hold of one of these vices.


We talk about people who have given into these “temptations”

so much that they have fallen outside of our mainstream -

People who are not seen as “normal and respectable” –

like people who suffer from addictions, people who are

homeless or those who commit crimes.

And then they follow Jesus and they can come back

into the mainstream, they become “normal and respectable” again.

They, once again, fit in.

Those are the kind of stories that Christians seem to love,

and I know that I’ve told a few. And they are wonderful to hear.


But Shane said his own story with Jesus

was almost opposite from that.

He had a very “respectable” life, one others would aspire to.

He was destined for “normal and successful”.

He was homecoming king, had good grades, he was popular

was going to go to college, and would have had a lucrative career.

But then Jesus came in and messed everything up for him.


His faith journey moved him to go to India to work 

with Mother Theresa helping the poorest of the poor.

After he came back from there,

He started community with other Christians in

one of the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

He lived on the streets or in a group home.

He does not have what most people would call

a “normal and respectable life”

God called him outside a normal life to something different.


And I think that may be closer to Jesus journey.

Jesus temptation wasn’t drugs, or drinking,

or dancing, or lust or any number of vices

that we might think of as temptation.

His temptation wasn’t to steal, or murder,

or take advantage of people.


Don’t you think that his greatest temptation

was just to live a normal life?

To follow the path of everyone else around him?


At Jesus baptism, the heavens opened up and God spoke,

claimed Jesus as God’s beloved, set aside for a special call.

I guess Jesus could have opted for a normal, quiet life.

He could have chosen to get married

and have children, open up his carpentry business,

and just go to synagogue on Saturday night.

He could have just followed the call of the world, 

to be normal and respectable and not make any trouble for himself or others.


But instead Jesus chose to follow his own call.

God’s particular call for him – savior of the world.

And what if that is really our greatest temptation too?

To always go with the status quo, to not make any trouble,

To always follow the thoughts and actions

of the people around us.

To always follow the way of the world,

and do what is “normal and respectable”

and live up to those expectations.


Now I’m not saying that the Spirit is calling each one of us

to leave our jobs and family and drop out and live in

communes in poor neighborhoods.

That is not my call.

That may be the call for some of us,

but not all of us.


But I do think that God is calling us, as people

and as a congregation, to be different.

To be different than the dominant culture.

We are called:

-To trust God above our own abilities,

-To not put our trust in the market system

or the blind pursuit of wealth and security.

-To trust in God’s abundance. To share what we have.

-To not fall in step with the drums of war and violence.

- To forgive instead of holding grudges.

-To not fear those who are different from us.

-To care for other people’s families as much as we care for our own.

-To love and pray for our enemies, to turn the other cheek.

We are called to follow Jesus teaching.


Our temptation is to fall in line with the rest of the world.

But we are called to be different. Not mainstream.

And that might mean that we sometimes (often?)

have to choose what is not seen

by some as “normal and respectable”.

It means that sometimes we’re seen as trouble-makers.

Satan would love for us to be like the rest of the world.


Maybe our biggest Christian success stories are ones where

the “normal people” finally fell out of step with the status quo. 

Where we were seen as a problem for everyone else.

Where “normal people” were called out of our “normal lives”

for the sake of the gospel and the good of the world.


In our baptism, God chose us to do his ministry in the world.

We are called to walk with Jesus in our lives.

And sometimes that means making difficult choices.

Our baptismal call is not always easy.

Like Jesus’ road, our road won’t always be smooth and pleasant.

Our trust in the Holy Spirit can take us to the wilderness.


But God promises to be out there with us,

and that is the good news we’re asked to believe.

Monday, February 12, 2024

I've Been to the Mountaintop

 Matthew 9:1-9  
February 11, 2024

James K. Janknegt


Like most kids when I was young,

I hated going to the dentist.

I had lots of interesting things wrong

with my mouth and the visits usually didn’t go well.

But as I was in the dentist chair,

I was able to get through the whole thing

because I knew that after I was done,

I would get a trip to the treasure chest.


Oh, the treasure chest!

It was this giant  - well, it seemed giant at the time –

wooden treasure chest. Or maybe it was plastic.

And it was filled, filled with prizes:

little toys, bubble gum, candy, balloons, high bounce balls,

everything of my fantasies when I was a little kid.


Just knowing that the treasure chest was there

made it tolerable to have strange people

shove their hands in my mouth and cause me pain.


I could get through the pain and discomfort

because I knew that something good was coming up.

I had a vision of something better to come.


That’s what visions are for.

They get us out of our fear and pain,

out of the panic of right now,

and they give us a vision of a better future.


Visions can be powerful things.

Not only do they help us get through the bad times,

they drive us to create what we imagine and see.

A vision. Hope of what is to come.



This is Transfiguration Sunday,

We hear the story of how Jesus

brought his three closest disciples

onto the mountaintop to pray.

And when they get there, they see a vision.


Now they had been with him a while now.

We’re already in chapter 9 here Mark only has 16 chapters

The disciples had seen and heard some amazing things,

They had also seen and heard some scary things.


Immediately before this trip up the mountain,

Jesus tells his disciples that they would go to Jerusalem

and there he would undergo great suffering and be killed.

The disciples were surely anxious when they got

to this point in their journey with Jesus.

Peter, James, and John were probably

steeped in these concerns while they’re all up there praying.


Maybe they were wondering whether they did the wrong

thing, leaving their nets behind and following Jesus.

Maybe they should have just stayed home.


But then, as they were sitting up there praying,

they see their friend, Jesus –

The one whose ministry they were just doubting –

transformed, changed, dazzling white, glorified and perfect.

and standing with their two most beloved prophets:

Elijah and Moses.


This is not just a miracle for the sake of a miracle.

It is a vision. A vision of hope for the disciples to keep with them

in their back pockets as they go on their way and follow Jesus to the end.

I don’t mean to make it trite, but it’s the treasure chest

that they can remember when times get difficult for them.


We know that beyond this chapter,

the story is not so wonderful.

They don’t stay on top of the mountain in the glory of God,

they go back down the mountain.

They meet demons and evil spirits.

And then just two chapters later,

they do go to Jerusalem, and there they find

doubt, betrayal, denial, abandonment, great suffering, and death.


But the leaders of the disciples have this vision with them.

A vision of Jesus, Jesus resurrected.

A vision of hope for them to travel with.

Something that tells them that the trouble will all be worth it.

No matter how dark it gets, God’s will get the last word.


God has not left us alone in this world.

God gives us visions to help us on the journey.

As Christians, we don’t have visions of toys in a treasure box.

But we do get visions of justice done. We do see wars and conflicts end,

we do see people getting fed, we do see how far we’ve come

in terms of racism. How far we’ve come in terms of women’s rights,

and how LGBTQ people are treated today verses even 30 years ago.

There’s more to do, but we also get glimpses of what the world can be, 

the vision of God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven.


We have seen God’s glory here today.

Occasionally, just fleeting flashes. Never the full picture.

But those visions keep us going when times get tough.


Whenever I hear the story of Transfiguration,

and the disciples’ trip up to the mountain top,

I always remember this Martin Luther King Jr. speech.

It’s been called “I’ve been to the mountain top

He gave before striking sanitation workers in Memphis.


He says:

I don’t know what will happen now.  We’ve got some difficult days ahead.  But it doesn’t matter with me now.  Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.  And I don’t mind.  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.  And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over.  And I’ve seen the promised land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land.  And I’m happy tonight.  I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man.  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

 It was a moving speech. And it’s all the more poignant because

it was given on April 3rd, 1968.

The next day he was shot and killed.


Even though he knew there was still so much work to be done,

Even though he seemed to know he wouldn’t live much longer,

Martin Luther King had a vision, he knew that God would prevail.


Like James and Peter and John, he had been to the mountain top.

He had seen a vision of God’s glory.

That gave him confidence that his hopes would be reality one day.

Even in the face of death, it gave him the courage not to give up,

and he shared that vision with others.


God gives us visions. Visions of hope in our times of trial.

Visions of Easter in times of Lent.

Visions of peace in times of war.

Visions of life in times of death.

Even when all hope seems lost,

Our eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Link to see MLK's Speech, April 3, 1968