Jesus refined being “first” and being “great” in a world where the Roman Empire laid claim to both titles, delivering peace through brutal domination. The disciples in Mark had to die to the empire’s definitions of power and rise up to a new way of being human—embodying the Reign of God through resilient, restorative, preemptive love. When Peter tried to talk Jesus into practicing the empire’s version of being both “first” and “great” by rejecting Christ’s coming passion, Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:31-38)
I’m interested in Christians becoming more Christ-like again. For Lutherans, this means daily remembering our baptisms by “dying to an empire shaped” imagination and “rising to a Christ-shaped” imagination. We know that raced-based chattel slavery was demonic, benefiting plantation owners in the south and factory owners in the north. Then the unclean spirits continued to possess our land through Jim Crow laws throughout our federal system. It would be naive, given our understanding of sin, to think that the Lutheran church was not impacted.
Let us pray. Jesus our Exorcist, cast out the satanic imagination that possesses us. Create in us new hearts and renew a right Spirit within us. Amen.
Remember to visit lss-elca.org/about-us/justice-ministries for the newly updated web pages of our Lower Susquehanna Synod Justice Task Forces. They are updated regularly with informational, liturgy, preaching, and faith formation resources and contact information!
In his letter from the Birmingham jail, MLK Jr. wrote, “shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection….In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, ‘those are social issues with which the gospel has no real concern’…..So here we are…with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.”
In the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus, we see a God whose strength and power is on display in a flash of dazzling brightness. This baffling story shows us yet again that Jesus is not a keeper of the status quo. Jesus’s ministry was not static; his life was not suited to permanent dwellings. Jesus is at the forefront of a mighty struggle against the forces of evil and prevails.
Beloved God, kindle in us deep understanding, a passion to fight injustice, and the courage to lead others to higher levels of justice. Amen.
In these times of turbulence, it is hard to respond rather than react. We are wounded, afraid, angry, and overwhelmed. We feel (and usually are) justified in these emotions. We crave an avenging Savior. All around us, we see poor and dangerous behavior, including hateful actions towards marginalized members of our community. We think: Jesus overthrew those tables in the temple, didn’t he? Surely we should be destroying all that is wrong. But Jesus also ignored Satan’s temptations in the desert to choose a different path of response.
In this passage, Jesus is reminding his disciples that taking up the cross is not about being right. It is not about might or numbers. It is also not about silently ignoring injustice. Taking up the cross is about starting from a place that is grounded in Him, in the Gospel, instead of the high stakes game of escalation this world likes to play. Speaking the truth in love is different from venting in reactionary anger, even if there is truth tumbled up in that. Jesus is calling us to do the hard work and model a different way of being to the world.
Jesus, you are both the King of Kings and the Lamb of God. Help us, your people, to be faithful followers of your Way. When we are lost and afraid, support us and keep us safe. When we are in need of your voice and courage, speak through us. In these times of fear and division, flood us with your peace and wisdom and help us to be true examples of your saving love in this world. We put our trust in you, oh Lord. AMEN.