"Following: Steps on the Journey"

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Mark 8:31-38

Rev. Dr. Heather G. Shortlidge

Bulletin      Listen Here

Sophie Sholl was a university student—just 21 years old,
when she decided to take on her government.
Earlier in her life, as a teenager,
Sophie had supported the administration,
believing that their leader would once again, help make her country great.

But with the help of her parents and some solid critical thinking skills,
Sophie began to realize that just the opposite was happening—
her beloved country was headed down a road of destruction.

So she did, what young people do so well—she began to resist.

“We fight with our words,” she proclaimed;
and together with an underground network of friends,
she produced a leaflet aimed at all the people who had closed their eyes
and refused to see the brutalities of their government.

These young people were risking their necks.
To most sane people, this kind of open dissent was unthinkable.
But a second leaflet soon followed,
and then a third, and a fourth, and a fifth,
landing in mailboxes, phone booths, and other public places—
telling the truth about a crime they called “unparalleled in all of history”:
the mass deportation and slaughter of Jews.
These kids were not backing down.

Each time they did it, however, their risk of discovery increased
as the government scrambled to investigate.
But to Sophie, it was a risk worth taking.
Her favorite Bible verse was from the first chapter of James:
“Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”
Raised Lutheran, she held deep convictions
about the stand Christians should take against injustice,
quoting Scripture, along with other prominent religious thinkers,
in every leaflet they produced.

One day, Sophie walked with her brother to the university,
each carrying a briefcase containing 2,000 copies of their latest handout.
While students were in class,
they deposited their call to action in the hallways
And seconds before the lecture hall doors opened,
they took the remaining leaflets and pushed them over the banister,
sending them fluttering down to the hall below.
Unfortunately, a janitor spotted them,
and they were arrested on the spot.

And although they tried to protect the others,
a piece of paper in her brother’s pocket
incriminated a good friend, who was also picked up by the police.

Four long days and nights of interrogation followed.
before the three young adults went before the German People’s Court,
When given a chance to speak,
Sophie, whose leg had been broken in several different places, said,
“Somebody had to do it.
What we wrote and said is believed by so many others.
They just don’t dare express it.”

75 years ago this week,
their steadfast, some would even call foolish resistance,
cost them their lives.
Sophie Sholl, her brother, and a good friend,
were all found guilty of treason
and executed by beheading later that day.[1]

In today’s story from Mark,
the Apostle Paul is doing everything in his power
to avoid such a beheading.

Although he’s the first one to really understand who Jesus is,
blurting out the correct answer
and then mysteriously silenced for it,
Peter starts freaking out when Jesus begins to unveil his long-range plan:
a plan that includes suffering, rejection, death, and a three day miracle made for the movies.

Sensing what a PR disaster this will be,
Peter decides that he, as the responsible one,
needs to nip this in the bud.
So he appoints himself as head of risk management
and begins to take Jesus to task—
strongly suggesting he choose his words a little more carefully next time—
toning down his rhetoric, so as not to scare anyone off.
This is not how you run a campaign, Peter sternly chides his teacher.

But Jesus is not in the mood to be handled.
And he’s not in the mood for sugar coating things.
Instead, Jesus whips himself around, and rather than quietly disagreeing with his student,
he takes their argument public,
shredding Peter in front of all their friends.

“You think you have all this figured out, Peter,
but you don’t.
You’re thinking like the world thinks.
I’m asking you to forget all that.
And if you can’t do that…if you won’t do that,
get the heck away from me.”

Jesus wasn’t looking for a public relations specialist.
He wasn’t looking for a well-meaning friend,
who was too squeamish to hear the truth.
Jesus was in search of followers,
friends who were all in—
who were not going to jump ship
when the going got tough.

Anyone who intends to come with me
has to let me lead, Jesus says.
I am in the driver’s seat—not you.
And you’ll need to get used to not running from suffering, because getting outside yourself is the only real way to save your life.[2]

It’s the clearest, most explicit definition
of what it means to follow Jesus in the New Testament.
And yet it’s not a definition
we parade around on t-shirts or Instagram posts.
Because no one really wants to talk about losing.

Losing is embarrassing. It’s shameful.
It’s not something to be elevated.
This week, I thought of Lindsey Vonn,
one of the best female Alpine skiers,
who has dedicated her entire life to the sport.
But she disqualified this week after missing a gate
in the slalom portion of the race,
which earned her third place, not first.
Vonn was clearly disappointed,
but tried to focus on the positive,
unlike the Olympic commentators who said
she was heading home from her last Olympic games
with a “measly bronze.”
It wasn’t the gold that was expected of her,
so she wasn’t really a winner.

We are obsessed with winning, with being at the top of the heap.
We are groomed our whole lives to be out in front and leading the way.

But this obsession with being first,
was not the agenda that Jesus endorsed.
Instead, he laid out a plan of service and suffering,
telling his disciples that it was the only real way
for a human being to be fully alive.

So laying down one’s personal agenda,
seems like a foolish and wasteful thing to do.
And suffering on behalf of others
appears to be pouring one’s life down the drain,
but not in God’s eyes. In God’s eyes, the cross of service and suffering,
is what makes a life holy.”[3]

Reformed theologian, Soren Kierkegaard,
helps make clear what Jesus was asking of his disciples that day
when Peter put on his risk management hat and took him to town.

Kierkegaard writes that Jesus never asked for admirers or adherents.
Instead, Jesus was looking for followers.[4]
An admirer keeps themselves at a safe distance, remaining coolly detached.
A follower, however, strives to be what he or she admires,
refusing to sit safe and calm at a distance.

If you simply want to admire me,
Jesus seemed to be saying,
if you want to play it safe,
then get behind me—far, far behind me.

Now few of us will be as daring or dramatic as Sophie Sholl and her friends.
And that’s okay. I think there are smaller,
but no less meaningful ways to be faithful followers of Jesus.
The great preacher, Fred Craddock, says sometimes
we follow God in tiny steps, in barely noticeable acts,
writing: We think giving over our all to the Lord
is like taking a $1000 bill and laying it on the table—
“Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.”
But the reality for most of us
is that God sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1000 for quarters.
We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there…
because giving our life to Christ is rarely glorious or dramatic.
Instead, it’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time.

Our challenge in this world,
that lifts up ambition, glory, and winning at any cost,
is to embody a different way of living.

And through this different way of living—
we gradually learn that it’s not all about us,
that letting someone else go before us might be okay; that setting aside one’s own dreams to help someone else live theirs
is not stupid, but precious;
that giving up one’s own time and money and effort not for what we want,
but so that others may live more fully,
is not ridiculous…it is what we call holy.

Sophie Sholl decided to be more than an admirer of Jesus. She was a follower. A doer of the Word.
Shaping her life and losing it for the sake of the Gospel. But Peter couldn’t quite get past his fear—
the fear of how much this was actually going to cost.

In a world full of fear-filled adults,
we need more young people like Sophie Sholl and her friends
to show us how to be followers, not just admirers


[2] Adapted from The Message Bible translation of Mark 8:34-37.

[3] Long, Tom. WBC: Matthew