Self-denial or dying to self are common themes among martyrs honored by the Church. In fact, our Gospel reading today has been used for The Martyrs of Japan, Blandina and Her Companions, John Coleridge Patteson and his Companions, and, Saint George, dragon slayer. In what way could these examples of suffering and pain, stories of self-denial, cross bearing, and loss of worldly life teach us more about the way of Jesus? Well, I’m inspired, especially, by the stories of Saint George and Blandina, because they show us two helpful ways of understanding Jesus’ words, and two ways of dealing with the fear we might feel in response to Jesus’ call. First, we’ll look at Saint George.
Saint George was a compassionate and loving Christian, known especially for being a warrior of unmatched courage who gave his life for his faith. He’s typically portrayed as the patron saint of soldiers, and although many Christians today might not be soldiers, we still have a spiritual battle to fight. We can remember the words of Saint Paul when he writes that “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
From a contemplative point of view these rulers or cosmic powers of darkness are the demons lurking within us, hard at work convincing us that we’re separate from God, from others, and our own True Selves. This spiritual battle is deceptively simple, because although it comes down to making a single choice, making the right choice can seem very difficult.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” With those words we begin the season of Lent; a season that the prayer book describes as one of ‘penitence and fasting.’ It is traditional for people to give up something during Lent; something that is a part of the daily fabric of their lives, perhaps something that is a treat or is looked forward to regularly for comfort. For instance, many people give up drinking their favorite soda, or eating chocolate. Others may give up watching a favorite TV show or spending time on social media. Whatever it is, when we are triggered by habit or desire for this creature comfort, its absence ultimately serves to remind us of our ‘poverty.’
Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22: 22-30; Romans 4: 13-25; Mark 8: 31-38
Those of you who were here when I last preached will remember that I began by telling you how much fun I was having listening to, and preaching from the Gospel of Mark. Mark is fun because he is so breathless. He races us through one scene and then plunges us headlong into the next before we have time to catch our breath or ponder the significance of what has just happened. It’s like being doused with a pail of cod water, and before we have time to cry out in outrage we are doused with a second pail of even colder water. Today is no different. We have just been doused with cold water and almost before we have had time to register our shock, a second and third pail of equally cold and equally icy water hits us.
Genesis 22: 1-14 Psalm 16
Romans 8: 31-39 Mark 8: 31-38
Peter is the Everyman of the Gospels. He also serves other purposes. In last week’s Gospel Satan tried to tempt Jesus off his path. This week Peter is Satan. We, like Peter, become Satan when we set our minds on earthly things and ignore divine things.