Is it too late to post last Sunday's sermon? My blog statistics tell me the sermons are the most read posts, so I hope not.
Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me - A Sermon For The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost Year B Lections: Isaiah 50:4-9a or Proverbs 1:20-33, Psalm 116:1-9, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38
Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB, 16 September, 2012
“Jesus asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8:29)
I always feel sorry for Peter, especially when reading this scene from Mark. Jesus asks “Who do you say I am?”. It's hard to think of a question that's more important for folks, like Peter, like you or men, who want to follow Jesus. It is, really, the big question, and Peter gets it right ... sort of. “You’re the Messiah!” he blurts, and this is a pivotal point in Mark’s gospel. Until now, Jesus has been guarding his identity, but now he invites his disciples to go deeper by sharing who he is and what his mission really is.
So full marks to Peter for getting it right, by saying that Jesus is the Messiah, which means the anointed one, a special person set aside by God to do great things for God’s chosen people, the Jews.
Hooray for Peter! We can imagine the big smile on his face, the other disciples slapping his back and approving of him for getting it right, perhaps for daring to say what they are thinking. But then it gets serious. Jesus has the disciples close in on him, his voice gets lower, and he starts telling them what he, the Messiah, is going to do for Israel. There, in the Roman built and named town of Caesarea Philippi, the embodiment of the rule of the godless over God’s people, Jesus says that he will not be the political and military saviour they were doubtless hoping for. In fact, Jesus says, he is going to experience shame, suffering, and death at the hands of the leaders of God’s people, and then, three days later, he will rise again (Mk 8.30-31).
I’m not sure Peter ever hears that last bit about Jesus rising again.
“Wait just a minute, Lord. Back up that bus! That isn’t going to happen to you! You’re the Messiah, for God’s sake!” Or words to that effect. I infer that Peter says something like this, based on Mark’s saying in verse 32, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”
I’ve always felt that Jesus is quite harsh in what he says in response. "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mk 8.34). That is quite a harsh thing to say to your star pupil. Jesus doesn’t explain it, but rather turns to the crowd and says a bunch of stuff about taking up crosses, laying down’s one life, giving up the world, and following him.
We are about to get a new sign for this chapel. I asked the sign shop to print the verse from Matthew where Jesus says “Come unto me all you who are weary, and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest”. That seemed like a comfortable and attractive invitation to passers by to join us here. What do you think now? Should I have put Mark 8:34, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”? Or Mark 8:35, “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”? What do you think?
Perhaps one way to answer this question is to think about why Jesus compares Peter to Satan. In another gospel, Matt 4:8-10, when Jesus is tempted in the desert, Satan offers him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will serve him. Jesus angrily sends Satan away. At the start of Mark’s gospel, we are only told that Jesus is tested in the desert, but maybe Mark is making a reference to the kind of temptation that Jesus rejected. Jesus must have known that his task was to show the world God’s love and forgiveness from the cross. He could not have done the same thing from a throne, from a seat of power as the world understood it.
Jesus comes to the world to show us that God’s love is not dependent on power as we understand it. God’s power is to be demonstrated in two ways, by the cross, and by the empty tomb. Jesus points to these things, but people at the time do not understand it. Do we?
I am sure that Peter was surprised by this answer, and probably didn’t understand what he was hearing. I wonder if the same is true of us. What expectations do we bring to our faith? What goals do we give to God to accomplish for us? If we want God to fix the world in a way that we would want, I think we are sure to be surprised and even disappointed.
If we interpret Jesus' words about dying to the world and taking up our cross as a call to embrace an ascetic life of suffering, I think we miss the point of Mark's gospel. Nowhere in his travels or interactions thus far does Jesus to anything to add to anyone's suffering. Jesus is the avowed enemy of suffering and misery. Really all he asks, at least all he asks in concrete language, is for us to follow him. But we have to understand that the person we follow is not powerful, prestigious, or capable as the world wants its leaders to be. Jesus knew, back in the desert, that his path could never be the sort of path that the world's would-be leaders want to tread. Now, his disciples get the first real glimpse of what path they are on. Now, we his followers are reminded of the path our LOrd takes in this world.
In a time when security, power, wealth, manipulation, persuasion, and hatred seem to be the only forces at work in the world, what surprises is God offering to us to discover? Can we follow Jesus and find a world where dialogue, forgiveness, and compassion are greater forces than the world thinks they are? This question may seem naïve and dangerous in a world where embassies are stormed in the name of God, and where killer drones are dispatched in the name of national security (and, sometimes, of God). The question may be naïve, but the question leads us, I think, to the Kingdom of God.