Do you know what this is?
It is a Cow Tales candy. “Chewy caramel with a cream center.”
It is pure sugar, and it saved my life.
This has been a hard couple of years for me. Three years ago this month I received a phone call from Pastor Kris Capel. I had met her at a conference and we hit it off right away. She called to ask me to consider moving South of the River to work with her at Easter.
We had all kinds of plans for how we could combine our gifts and do some amazing things.
My wife and I sold our house, moved away from my parents, settled in Apple Valley, and things were really exciting for the first six months at Easter.
Little did any of us know that within my first year here, Pastor Kris would get sick, be gone for three months, then have to resign in order to get healthy.
This turn of events completely upended my plan. I am a future-thinking, task-oriented leader and when things get put on hold indefinitely, I struggle.
Last year I came up with a plan to create a new website for Confirmation and worked really hard on it and got people excited about it and it worked really well all summer. Then in September the website crashed and burned.
It was like watching my house burn to the ground.
I have been wrestling with discouragement this year. I have good days and I have bad days. I try to put on a good face, but some days it’s really hard.
I wonder if you’ve ever felt that way.
Have you ever noticed that when God calls you to do something, life actually gets harder?
That’s not really a good selling point for being a disciple of Jesus.
That is what our story is about today from the Gospel of Mark.
I invite you to open your Bibles to Mark chapter 8:27.
We’ve been walking through Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark since Christmas. Today we hit a turning point in the story. It is like a roller coaster. Everything that has happened up to this point has been a dramatic building up. Jesus has been roaming the Galilean countryside, healing the sick, casting out demons, an proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
His popularity is sky rocketing.
He’s a rock star and the crowds flock around him.
Everything has built up to this point. Look at verse 27
Mark 8:27 (NRSV)
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi;
Let’s pause here, because the location of this story is very important.
Jesus takes his disciples farther north, farther away from Jerusalem, which is the capital city of Israel.
This place is called Caesarea Philippi.
It is named after Caesar, the ruler of the Roman Empire, the most powerful human being in their known world. The man who invaded their homeland and has been suppressing them for generations.
It is also named after Philip the Tetrarch. He is the son of Herod the Great, the puppet King who had the babies slaughtered in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus.
This region is also called Panea, after the Greek god Pan.
This place represents all the political and religious power structures of the Empire.
Here Jesus asks this question to his disciples: “Who do people say that I am?”
That’s a fair question. There’s a huge buzz about Jesus. People are talking.
The disciples said, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still other, one of the prophets.”
People know Jesus is important, but they just aren’t clear on who he is.
Then Jesus asks them the most important question. He asks this question of us, too.
“Who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
In other words: you are the one we’ve been waiting for. You are the one who will lead our people out from under the oppression of the Romans. You are the one who will reestablish Israel as a great Kingdom.
This is about expectations.
They had huge expectations for what Jesus would do and how their life would be when his Kingdom arrives.
Big expectations about what God was going to do. Sound familiar?
Then Jesus punches them right in the gut. Let me read the next section straight through.
Mark 8:31–9:1 (NRSV)
31 Then 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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But 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.” 34 He 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. 35 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. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 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.” 1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
This was not what the disciples had signed up for.
When you decide to follow someone who is bringing in a Kingdom, you do not want him to be defeated. You do not want him to be tortured and hung up on a cross like a common criminal, left to die naked and ridiculed by the crowd.
That is shameful.
That is weak.
You do not want your lead pastor to get sick and resign.
You do not want to spin your wheels for two years and have your projects blow up in your face.
That is not part of the plan.
And yet, it is.
Here is the most difficult part of the Gospel to grasp:
Power does not come through strength, or intelligence, or wealth.
Victory does not come through defeating your enemy in battle.
The power of the Gospel is weakness.
The victory of the Gospel is love and forgiveness and reconciliation.
If you want to gain your life, you need to see life for what it is and not hold on to power, status, wealth, control. All the things that our society tells us makes us great. That stuff just leads to deeper lines of division and hatred and violence and destruction.
To follow Jesus is dangerous and costly, but it is the only way to actually saved the planet.
Check your body right now.
How do you feel?
Can you imagine how the disciples felt?
They needed a cow tale.
Look what happens next.
Mark 9:2–8 (NRSV)
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
Jesus took them to this mountain to give them a little glimpse. To give them a little shot of encouragement, because he was about to lead them to Jerusalem and into a life of sacrificial love.
Had they not had this glimpse of the deeper truth
that Jesus is connected to Moses and Elijah.
That the very voice that spoke to Moses and Elijah to encourage them to keep going when everything seemed lost i
s now speaking to them, and saying, “This is my son. Listen to him!”
Everything will be OK.
It was a cow tale.
You see, this fall, I have been discouraged. Things haven’t worked out like I expected them to work out. I spend much of my teaching energy speaking to Middle School students. Middle Schoolers are wonderful, but let’s be honest, they don’t really want to be there. Seriously? Come to church and listen to this old dude talk?
Some weeks I just feel like I’m banging my head against the wall.
Then it happened. A few weeks ago I was standing in the lobby on Wednesday night as people were coming in for the WELL. A family walked up to me and one of our Confirmation students held up a package of Cow Tales and said, “Pastor Steve, we were in Wisconsin and I saw these Cow Tales, and when we were at Camp Wapo you said you liked them, so I got them for you.”
I can’t tell you how badly I needed to hear that on that day.
It was a little glimpse of God’s love, shining through the eyes of a Middle School student and a chewy caramel with a cream center.
This has been a long journey, and it hasn’t always been easy.
My prayer is that you will have a glimpse of God’s love that will remind you that the journey of the cross is worth it.