Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our annual journey through Lent. Marked with ashes and sealed by the cross we now make our way with Jesus to Jerusalem and eventually to the cross. Throughout this season we will discover what kind of Messiah Jesus is and what it will mean for us to follow. For the season we will again be forming Pilgrim Groups to dive deeper into each story in the Gospel of Mark. We will also be posting each sermon here and on our podcast so that we can make the journey together as one body.
Below is the text from Pastor Andy's sermon on Ash Wednesday, titled "Following Jesus". The Scripture passage is Mark 9:30-37.
Today marks the beginning of our journey through the season of Lent, the beginning of our journey again alongside Jesus as he heads to Jerusalem, and eventually to the cross.
My church and, I think, Abundant Life as well, have been walking through the Gospel of Mark since Christmas as a way of taking this journey with Jesus, walking through the whole story of his life, death, and resurrection as Mark tells it. The Gospel of Mark is often split up into two halves. The first half deals with the mystery of who this Jesus is, who is this who shows up on the scene proclaiming Good News, who heals the sick, casts out demons, commands wind and waves, calls disciples, who is this? That first section came to a close this past Sunday as Jesus asked his disciples point blank: Who do you say that I am? It was Peter who offered the correct answer: You are the Messiah, the Christ. It’s only a few days later that Peter, James and John are on the mountaintop with Jesus and he is transfigured before them, shining in his full glory, and the cloud of God’s presence overshadows them and proclaims: “This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him!”
Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the King sent by God to set the people free and make all things well. With the first mystery answered, the second half of the Gospel begins and Jesus seeks to teach his Disciples what this will mean, what kind of Messiah Jesus will be. And we find again and again and again that the disciples just don’t get it. They are expecting a Messiah with great military might, with political power, with wealth and celebrity, with status and prestige. Jesus tells them, “I am King, but the King going to the cross. The passage we’ll hear now is the second time Jesus tries to explain what sort of Messiah he is, and it’s a perfect passage for us as we begin this season of Lent marked with ashes, sealed by the cross, and following this King. So do whatever you need to do, if that’s close your eyes, if that’s sit up a little straighter, if that’s follow along in a Bible—do whatever you need to do to listen well to these words from the Book that we love:
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
The Word of the Lord, Thanks be to God, Amen.
Jesus is Messiah, is the Christ, is the Anointed One, is the King sent by God to set the people free and make all things well, but as we follow Jesus and listen to his teaching it becomes clear that this is not going to look like what we thought! The Disciples don’t get it again and again and again. Here Jesus is telling them that he is going to be betrayed and killed, that he is going to lay down his life in selfless love for all of humanity, and they’re off arguing about which of them is greatest. Here Jesus is emptying himself completely, and they’re arguing over who gets to stand on top.
And isn’t that our way? Few among us are immune to this search for status. We are infatuated with celebrity, with how many followers we have, with how we rank next to our co-workers, neighbors, family members. Who is greatest? Most popular? Famous? Important? How can I get on top? I was writing this sermon, preparing for tonight and found myself thinking that I need to make sure that I impress you, make sure you know that I’m a great preacher, maybe even the best one here.
What is it in us that is so concerned with being on top? With impressing? With being first?
I think it goes back to Genesis 3, to the Fall, to that first temptation: that we could be like Gods! That we could shed this mortality, this creaturehood, this dependence, but that we could be like God! That we could be worshipped, immortal. And from that day on we have not stopped trying to be like gods, to be on top, to be greatest.
But then here’s Jesus who says that he’s King, the Son of God, the Messiah! But that this means he’s going to be betrayed and killed… and then he says to us that if we would follow him, we too must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him! That to be first, we must be last of all and servant of all. That we must give up our quests to be best, to be greatest, to stand on top.
And tonight, as we’re being invited join Jesus on this journey, to follow him as he makes his way to the cross, we’re also being invited to hear this as good news.
We stand now at the beginning of this journey marked with ashes, to remember what Adam and Eve forgot: that we are mortal, creatures, dependent, that we are dust and to dust we will return. And what if tonight we could hear that as good news? What if we could hear it tonight as an invitation to see ourselves as we are: dust, shaped by God’s own hands, and alive only because of God’s breath in our lungs. That we are dependent, but dependent on a God who created us and promises to sustain and provide for us. And hearing this, what if we could finally surrender, finally give up all of our projects for self-salvation, all of our pursuits to be God ourselves, what if we could surrender our anxiety, our shame, our exhaustion from striving.
What if, marked with the sign of the cross, joined to Jesus who gave himself for us in the first true act of selfless love the world had ever seen, what if, filled with God’s love, we were able to give up our striving for status in our own eyes and in others?
Maybe then we could finally take our place as servant of all, caring for the least of these, for the vulnerable, for the left out and left behind. Maybe then we could finally taste of the abundant life Jesus offers us.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return. So come and drink deeply, eat heartily, for God knows what you need, and has done everything necessary. Friends, let’s come to the table.