Right now, we are in the midst of one of my favorite times. It is the 18 days that make up the Olympic Games. In the Buegler household, we don’t watch a whole lot of TV, but during Olympic season, we watch. We watch: figure skating, downhill skiing, figure skating, snowboarding, figure skating, speed skating, figure skating, ice dancing… (can anyone explain the difference between figure skating and ice dancing to me? Anyone?) and maybe some figure skating.
I love the competition, I love the hard work, I love following the stories of the athletes…so in our family, the Olympics are kind of a big deal.
I was doing some reading about the Olympics and I found some information you might find interesting:
- If you are an Olympian, you are a obviously a part of an elite group. From all of the nations of the world, only 137,000 athletes have participated in modern Olympics. Of that, around 100,000 have competed in only one Olympics and 37,000 have repeated. The record for repeat Olympic competitions is held by Canada’s Ian Millar, who over 40 years competed in 10 Olympic competitions. His sport? Equestrian Show Jumping. (I did not even know that was a thing!)
- 136 Olympic athletes have competed in both the summer and winter Olympic games. Only one, the United States’ Eddie Eagan, won gold in both: boxing and the four-man bobsled.
- And lest you think you’re too old to compete, the American archer, Thomas Scott competed in the 1904 Olympics, at the age of 71. (So you’re saying…there’s a chance…)
- You have to work hard to be an Olympic athlete. A study of athletes done for the 2012 London Olympics showed that those who compete at Olympic levels, have typically put in over 10,000 hours of training. That’s six hours a day, six days a week, 12 months a year.
- Olympic athletes frequently move, leaving their homes and families to perfect their sport. Some move to the Olympic training center in Colorado. Others will move themselves or their whole families across country to study under a particular coach.
To be the best in the world; Olympic athletes will literally give themselves to their sport. They will leave everything behind, friends, families, schools, just for the opportunity to be on the team; to have a chance for a medal. They let go…sometimes of things they love…to focus. And anything that might distract them from their training needs to be rejected out-of-hand. They are focused; intensely focused, on their goal.
Today’s Gospel is all about focus. Jesus is showing us what it is to focus on mission and meaning, instead of distraction and fear.
Jesus is teaching, as he often does. But today, his teaching takes on a different flavor. He begins talking about how he must undergo suffering, and rejection by the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and that he must) be killed and rise again in 3 days. After Jesus says these things Mark, Gospel writer, adds this little line; seemingly insignificant, but actually very important. He writes in verse 32: “Jesus said all this quite openly.” Jesus said this openly. In other words, this wasn’t a secret. Jesus was going public. And now, it was out there, for all to hear.
Well Peter, immediately interrupts Jesus: “Hey, Jesus, can I talk to you in private for a moment.” They step away, and scripture tells us that Peter rebuked Jesus.
Now, we don’t actually know what Peter said, but I can imagine it was something like “Jesus…shhhh…you can’t say that! You can’t tell them you’re going to die and rise again! They will arrest you for heresy… that’s serious trouble! Shhh…now go over there and walk it back…retract it. Tell them you misspoke…”
And Jesus’ response to Peter is even more startling…even shocking…he looked at the disciples, and then he looked at Peter, and he said “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
That’s pretty harsh. He called Peter, Satan! Peter, who had been one of his most loyal disciples. Peter, who would later try to defend Jesus with a sword. Peter, who Jesus would later call the “rock on which I will build my church.”
But there is an interesting translation issue here. The word “Satan” that Jesus uses to describe Peter, is not the word “Satan” as we have come to know it…the proper name of the devil…a name synonymous with evil. Rather, Satan is translated from the Hebrew word, “ha-satan.” Ha-satan means means “the accuser,” or perhaps even more accurately, “the adversary.” Jesus isn’t saying that Peter is evil incarnate. Jesus is telling Peter to not act like an adversary. Peter is standing between Jesus and God’s plan. So, Jesus tells him, “Get behind me. Don’t distract me and don’t oppose me. I am in the zone. I am focused.”
In that moment, Peter hears all he needs to know: that what Jesus must go through, is not going to be easy, and that Jesus is going to wind up betrayed, arrested, and crucified. But, that if Peter is going to distract Jesus from his mission: the cross, then he is an adversary.
Jesus’ words were not necessarily a condemnation of Peter, but rather a necessary reminder to him…and to us, of two things:
- Discipleship…following…is all about focus. And;
- Discipleship isn’t easy.
As humans, we are easily distracted. We chase the new and the shiny. And soon as we set our sights on someone or something other than the cross, we are misunderstanding what it means to be a disciple. We trade in the death and resurrection of Jesus for something easier. We are distracted from our focus. And focus, is everything.
The last couple of weeks have been interesting. The Owatonna High School theater department needed another guitar player in the pit orchestra for their production of “Aida” next weekend. They asked me to play. I asked, “is it because all the good guitar players are busy at “Hometown Sampler?” “Well…I wouldn’t actually say that…” Ok. That works for me.
So, I’ve been sitting in on some of their rehearsals. It’s going to be a great. These young people have so much talent. And it’s a huge production. There are probably around 40 students in the cast, plus another 15 in the crew, 5-6 on the tech crew and close to 20 in the pit orchestra.
So, I’m at the rehearsal, and before we start, it’s just chaos. Young people are running around everywhere…it’s noisy…people are trying on costumes…practicing parts…the instruments are tuning…kids are trying to slam down a quick dinner…playing games on their phone…snapchatting the person sitting next to them…doing homework between songs…I got hit in the head by a flying sock last week…it’s kind of nuts.
But then something happens. The director, Erik Eidtrom, yells out “places everyone” and instantly everything changes. It goes silent, and people scurry to their spots, they’ve got their game-faces on, and assume their poses to step into character for the next scene. And everything is silent…and everything is totally focused on the moment…and Erik says “go…” and they do.
I think there are parallels for us. Let me say it again:
- Discipleship is all about focus. And;
- Discipleship isn’t easy.
Discipleship means giving things up…setting things aside…it will sometimes mean a re-ordering of our priorities. And it means being focused, and “all in.”
Jesus says to us today “If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.” This is the moment in the Gospel story when Jesus says: “places everyone!” And we set aside what distracts us…our own personal wants…for the greater good and for the mission of God.
Denying ourselves is hard. And frankly, it’s counter-cultural. We live in a self-indulgent, immediate gratification world. It’s a world where so much comes at us, from so many different directions, that it’s hard to stay focused. And let’s be honest: I’m not an Olympic athlete, nor am I a stage-actor. That kind of single-focus intensity isn’t in my nature. And I know, that when I hold myself up against the standard of discipleship, I will often fall-short.
But here’s the thing: Yes, discipleship is focus, and yes, it is hard, and yes, it is the life to which Jesus calls us. But we are not alone in that. Remember Jesus’ important words to Peter. He said “You’re in my way…get behind me.” He did not say, “get away from me.” Jesus never abandons his children…Jesus never sends us away because we fail. In fact, Jesus draws us closer, and calls us to something more.
Later, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus looks at Peter, this same Peter, and makes a promise. He says: “You are the rock on which I will build my church.”
Are there days that you feel inadequate? Are there days when you feel like you might be the one who is the adversary? Like you are the one whose faith is inadequate to the task? And the finish line feels way, far away? Well, join the team. We are all inadequate. And yet, because Jesus let nothing stand in his way, because his love for each of you was so great, that nothing could stand between him and the cross, we are made whole. And it’s going to be ok.
Today, Jesus is reminding us today that as people of faith, it is time to be bold, and to focus. Today, Jesus looks at each of you and says “let go of the distractions. Focus. You are the rock, on which I will build my church.”
“Places everybody.” And….”go.”