Jesus doesn’t take us to Neverland where we never have to grow up………

Mark 8:31-38

My mother always had a theme for our birthday parties. There was always a theme. We didn’t have a party store in those days. So, my mother would hand make the themed invitations, the decorations, the cake and our costumes. Everyone invited to the party was expected to dress in costumes as well. Remembering themed Birthday parties reminded me of a picture I discovered at home one day. It was a picture of my two sisters and my oldest brother Haden who was in a costume with a felt hat, tunic and stockings. The odd thing was that Haden was standing on crutches with a cast on his leg.

I must warn you that this is the time that, if you listen closely, you will hear the bus coming down the road as I am about to throw Haden “under the bus”. Since I had not been born yet, I had to ask my mother about story behind the picture. Haden was seven years old at the time. He climbed up on the carport roof to retrieve an errant ball. When it came time to come down, Haden thought he could just make a running start and simply glide off of the roof. As Haden put it to me later, he was not conversant on the law of gravity nor had his two frontal lobes developed enough to know better than to try such a stunt.

The year was 1953. Haden had been recently dazzled by the movie Peter Pan, where little children flew to Neverland. When Haden hit the ground and began to wail, his friend Hank hoisted him up on his back and carried him inside to my mother. My mother asked Haden how it happened and he replied, “I guess I didn’t have enough pixie dust!” The good news for my mother was that she no longer had to search for a theme for my brother’s upcoming birthday and she went about designing Haden’s Peter Pan costume. The bad news for my brother was that he believed he could fly just like Peter Pan.

My brother believed he could fly because Peter Pan could fly. With a little pixie dust all sorts of good things could happen. In a fleeting moment, Peter Pan, the boy who was determined to never grow up, had taken my brother to Neverland, where children fly and never grow up. But my brother learned the hard way that a place where flying and never growing up simply does not exist; when we jump off the roof of our house, gravity will take us to the ground. I am just glad that my dear brother wasn’t hurt worse, even though now he can add to his accident list his experience of being run over by a bus……..

Jesus begins to share glimpses of his future suffering, death and resurrection, preparing his disciples and followers for his ultimate earthly demise. But Peter and the disciples want to stay in their own version of Neverland where Jesus heals and teaches and performs pixie dust type miracles, where things always have a happy ending, where one never has to grow up to face things like suffering and death. Jesus’ followers believe that Neverland should continue forever. They want to jump off their roofs and fly with Jesus, denying having to face the possible death of this friend whom they are coming to believe is the true Messiah. And Jesus’ foretelling of rising on the third day falls on the denying and deafened ears of Neverland type dreams.

Most of us have experienced the impending death of a friend or loved one. None of us likes or wants to deal with the emotions of the anticipated loss of someone with whom we have come to know and love. We understand what the disciples and Jesus’ followers are going through. We can identify with Peter’s outright rebuking of Jesus. But because we know the final outcome for Jesus, we often shade the disillusionment of suffering and death with a little resurrection pixie dust and think the disciples should understand this by now.

We think Peter and the others should “get it”, that it is OK to hear Jesus predict his future suffering and death because we know that in the end, Jesus has an even greater miracle in store, the victory over death. That isn’t the hardest part of this story for us today. The hard part comes when Jesus tells us that our life will be the same. When Jesus says, “if you want to become my followers, you must deny yourself, take up your 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life”, we hear Jesus placing an expectation of us to be more than just people sitting on the sidelines, hoping to never have to grow up.

Jesus tells us that we must keep our feet on the ground, that we will also suffer and die, and our suffering might be even worse since we follow him. Jesus doesn’t promise a Neverland future where we won’t have to grow up; as his followers, we must actually grow up and face the challenges of following him. On this second Sunday in Lent, we hear the predicted message of suffering and sacrifice from the lips of our loving friend Jesus. Jesus will reach out to us again and again with this message, desiring for us to understand his suffering and death and rising on the third day as the way to peace about our own future.

It is too early in Lent to talk about resurrection and yet we cannot deny that Jesus rises again on the third day; this is the basis of our faith in him. There is hope after our own suffering and death because Jesus’ resurrection is for us as well. The theme of this party is the promise of eternal life.

If my mother were planning a theme for this party, the special invitation would read “Please join us on the road to Jerusalem, where we will learn to grow up, deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus.” The party setting would be a dry dusty road, the decorations left to our imagination. The lame whom are healed, the deaf who can hear and the blind who can now see will be joining us. We will likely meet the proverbial Captain Hooks, Lost Boys, Smees, Wendys and Peter Pans of our life along the way. The experience will feature a soul-searching adventure that, in the end, will provide a realization that the party with Jesus never ends. The pictures taken will memorialize the greatest story ever told and will eternally imprint them on our hearts and in our souls. This is better than Neverland or any themed birthday party we could ever envision.

The longer we follow Jesus as he teaches us to do, the more we come to comprehend that even though suffering and death is inevitable, it is not the final ending of our existence. Jesus shares this message again and again in order for us to fully receive his heartfelt desire for our eternal future with him. Jesus doesn’t take us to Neverland where we never have to grow up. Jesus teaches us to keep our feet on the ground and follow him. Jesus does not call us to sit on the sidelines, he calls us to participate in his life and ministry and to experience it as our own.

As we walk arm in arm with our Lord Jesus to Jerusalem, we are assured that, as we deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow him, we are likely to suffer and we will also discover his loving peace now and into eternity along the way. And no version of Neverland can ever promise that.

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