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2024-02-25 Lent 2

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

Twenty years ago there was a brew-ha-ha rolling around Hollywood and the whole world as a brand new movie was just hitting theatres in time for Lent. Everyone and their dog was talking about it. “Have you seen it yet?” “No but I’m going this Friday, how about you?!” The Passion of the Christ was the movie in question. It had a metric-tonne of critics. People thought it was too violent. People thought it was too graphic. People thought it was racist against the Jews. People thought the scourging and crucifixion scenes were intensely gory and way too long. People thought it was inappropriate for children and adults alike. For many people, this much hyped movies was just too darn offensive! It was too over the top. It was just too much. People were shocked at the brutality and the violence. People thought that any God that would require that kind of sacrifice to satisfy wrath must be some kind of a sadistic psychopath! Still others watched the movie and thought, “Jesus did all that, went through all that, suffered all that, for me?

And yet, the cross, is necessary. Our Gospel for today records our Lord Jesus’ prediction of His passion, smack dab between Peter’s confession of the Christ at Caesarea Philippi and our Lord’s incredible display of glory on the mount of Transfiguration. All of these things testify to Who the Christ is and what the Christ must do. The text on the Second Sunday in Lent starts out with the Rabbi teaching His disciples. And the lesson of the day? The rejection, suffering and killing of the Son of Man was necessary. It must happen this way. The way of glory was yet to come, but first must come the journey to the cross.

We see that Satan attacks Jesus through His friend Peter. Peter hears the words spoken from Jesus’ mouth about the Passion and instantly Peter recoils. He pulls Jesus aside, like He was some kind of out-of-line school kid pulled out of class in the hallway. This was Peter’s way though. He was rammy and impulsive. Right after confessing that Jesus was the “Son of the Living God” (MT 16:16), he then proceeds to berate the eternal Son of God! ‘You’re mistaken, Jesus! No suffering can possibly come to you! You’re the Messiah! You’re the One!’ But it was Peter who was mistaken. His version of the Messiah was all glory and no cross.

Jesus doesn’t shy away from Peter’s misunderstanding. He doesn’t give some politically correct, wokey-pokey answer! He drops the hammer of God on Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (MK 8:33). Wow! Peter gets both barrels from Son of God over this one. Jesus literally calls His right-hand man Satan! The fallen angel and deceiver of all mankind. Jesus diagnoses the issue without outstanding clarity. Peter isn’t speaking for Jesus, he was speaking for the devil. Get the crown, Jesus, without the appointed cross. Grasp the glory, skip the suffering.

But nobody likes suffering. Nobody wants to walk “Job’s road” as we heard about in the first reading this morning. We can all relate to the temptation to shortcut God’s plan and His perfect will when it tastes unsavoury to us. But look what Jesus does right after bursting Peter’s bubble. He calls the whole crowd in, along with the disciples and continues the teaching. He shows us just how necessary our crosses are as well. If you want to follow Jesus, if you want the glory of heaven forever more, then there is only one way. “Let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (MK 8:34).

Denying oneself isn’t just giving up pop or coffee or chocolate for 40 days before Easter. Taking up your own cross isn’t just having a can-do attitude. Bible Scholar Lenski says “The wicked have many sorrows but no crosses. The cross is that suffering alone which results from our faithful connection with Christ.” The devil offers the complete opposite. He offers us the easy way. Just compromise your values! Be flexible with your faith so that you look and sound and act just like everybody else. Then you won’t be mocked, laughed at or ridiculed! You’ll fit right in. But this isn’t following Jesus. This is following the world. This is walking the path of the devil.

One of the hot button topics of today that is exactly, exactly this is Canada’s MAiD program. Medical Assistance in Dying. I know you’ve heard of this because I know that the majority of you run the 24 hour news channel on your living room TV with the volume set at 92%! Of all the ludicrous programs the federal government has ever instituted, this is perhaps the most Satanic of all. It’s marketed to you as mercy. ‘Your quality of life is bad now, you have a terrible terminal disease, there is pain and suffering involved. Die with dignity. Let us help you end your life.’ Do you know what Jesus says to this program? He says “get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (MK 8:33). The 5th Commandment is crystal clear. Luther’s explanation nails it: “You shall not murder. We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbour in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” It doesn’t matter how the government and the fake news media spin and sugar coat this scenario. Euthanasia is wrong. Denying your own cross, taking the easy way out this is never God’s will. It’s not dignified. It’s sinful. And God will never bless sin. Ever. And the other insidious thing about this Satanic program is that the government doesn’t actually care about you, despite their marketing! The only reason they are pushing this is that the majority of you people are old. And old people start to draw more and more healthcare dollars. What if they didn’t have you and yours sucking money out of the healthcare system, think of how many billions and billions and billions of dollars could be saved! And I wouldn’t put it past this government to make this program mandatory either. 75 years old, that’s a good life, it’s good enough anyways. Go line up for your mandatory needle after you blow out the birthday candles! Think of all the money we’ll save on CPP and OAS too! The government never has your best interest in mind. Turn off the TV and open your Bible.

Thankfully, our Lord simplifies the whole situation for us. If we live our lives with worldly values, if we live our lives for this life, we lose it. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (MK 8:35). And losing our relationship with God has nothing but tragic consequences. Oppositely, picking up our own cross and following Jesus, is how we gain real eternal life. Nothing that this world can offer is worth losing our soul over. The wonderful cross, with all of its suffering and sorrow, is better than any easy crown or reward the world can provide. And just as Jesus’ cross was necessary for our salvation, so our crosses and burdens are necessary too as we live in the faith that He has placed in our hearts in Holy Baptism. That faith trusts that God will never abandon us when the hard times and suffering come. It is then that we lean on His promises and receive the strength we need for every day of our lives.

This is precisely what St. Paul is getting at when he writes “2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:2-5). Satan, Sin and the world put us to shame. Hope in Christ our Lord never puts us to shame. Cling to His promises through times of suffering. Pick up the cross. This is the life of the disciple who is not ashamed of Christ or of His word. We cling to our Savior who has given everything for us. We seek to please Him and do what He would have us do by faith. Instead of feeding the fire of sin and iniquity, we quench it through the water of our Baptism. We remember that we are God’s most treasured possession and His love for us changes our hearts and minds to follow Him and walk in His ways. Now and forever more. Amen!

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