The Rev'd Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Second Sunday in Lent
February 25, 2018

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I am going to start by sharing with you a somewhat embarrassing story about me. When I was in high school, I failed Chemistry. I didn’t just struggle through chemistry class or simply perform poorly on my exams. I failed, I got a big ole F on my report card.

So I’m always cautious to borrow chemistry terms when speaking on any matter. However, in reading today’s Gospel passage a chemistry term, that I’ve somehow managed to remember after all these years, came to mind -- synthesis reaction .

In a synthesis reaction, two or more simple substances combine to form a more complex substance.

Saint Mark’s gospel calls us to look inwardly at our own synthesis, at our new substance, not merely as human beings, but as disciples of Jesus and as members of the Body of Christ.

Please humor me as I tap into my failed inner chemist -- What today’s passage calls us to examine is how we humans, substance A, combine with the cross of Christ, substance B. In other words, what does it mean for us to be merged with the cross, following in the footsteps of Jesus. The Evangelist invites us to look at ourselves as a new substance, formed not only by our human reality but by the reality of the cross.

And in order to take up our cross and follow Jesus, we are first to deny ourselves. So what does it mean for us to deny ourselves?

Our Lord’s call for our own self denial does not mean that we need to relinquish the enjoyment of certain things, as though doing without them or enduring suffering will make us holy or a more faithful disciple of Jesus.[1]

Professor Eugene Boring comments, that the word translated as “deny” in today’s gospel is found elsewhere in Saint Mark’s gospel only in reference to Saint Peter's denial of Jesus. “Deny” is the opposite of “confess” or to “acknowledge”; the hearers of this message are called to deny themselves rather than deny Jesus, that is, no longer to make oneself the top priority and the center of one’s own universe.[2]

To deny ourselves is to confess and acknowledge Christ above all things. It means heeding the words of Jesus, and not being ashamed of him or his teachings. Not being shy to follow in the ways of Jesus, and more importantly, not being scared to stumble as followers of Christ or wrestle with certain aspects of the Christian life and our own personal life along the way.

To confess and acknowledge Christ is to affirm that our God is not ashamed to be our God. It is to affirm that even when we stray away we are constantly invited to return to God. God is not afraid to embrace our humanness, our imperfections, our sins, and shortcoming. Even if we deny Jesus, just as Saint Peter did on the night of our Lord’s capture, we are invited, again and again, to return to God.

The call to deny ourselves demands of us to elevate Jesus above all things, above all rulers, and all other powers of this world. It demands of us to elevate the love of God above all human systems that seek to destroy human life. It demands of us to elevate the working, and to grow in our trust, of the Spirit to guide our lives. As Christians, as disciples of Jesus, we are no longer mere mortals, through the waters of Baptism we have become members of the Body of Christ.

In becoming members of Body of Christ, we have been united with all Christians in a most powerful and universal way. You and I have at least one thing in common with 30% of the world’s population, 2.2 billion people.

So what does it mean to up our cross and follow Jesus?

Let’s be clear, “taking up once cross does not refer to the inconveniences, or even the suffering, that are a part of human life. Our pain and suffering are not “just the cross I have to bear.” Jesus is not commanding endurance of the pains of life, but the voluntary taking up of the cross, and sharing the suffering involved that is being a follower, a disciple of Jesus.”[3]

As a members of the Body of Christ, as disciples of Jesus, we are to look at our lives through the cross of Christ. To pick up our cross and follow Jesus is to follow in the path of Jesus -- the path to Calvary . And this path is not an easy one. The way of the cross admits that human suffering, and our human capacity to bring about suffering and pain to others, is a reality in our world. And the way of cross also admits to us that at the end of the road ahead there is not death but life, there is resurrection.

Our unity with the cross, our membership in the Body of Christ, our denial of self and our confession of Jesus above all things, gives us the language to interpret and speak about the world around us. The cross can and should become the symbol in which we look at our daily lives, and even the conflicts of this nation and the world. Dare I say, it gives us the authority to call out places where evil and death dwell, and it allows us to affirm and pray for resurrection to take place.

In denying ourselves and taking up our cross, we are affirming and confessing in the one holy and living God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] Eugene Boring. Mark: A Commentary (The New Testament Library). Westminster John Knox Press, 2006. P 244.

[2]  Eugene Boring. Mark: A Commentary (The New Testament Library). Westminster John Knox Press, 2006. P 244.

[3]  Eugene Boring. Mark: A Commentary (The New Testament Library). Westminster John Knox Press, 2006. P 244.