Sermon offered September 16, 2012 at
Proper 19B: Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

As we take a look at today’s gospel reading, I invite you to just sit back and let your imagination pull you into the story. As you think about the story, you might ask: Is there some person, or some viewpoint, or some words in the story that jump out? – words or feelings or personalities that particularly grab your attention. Maybe there’s a particular person that you identify with?  Basically there are three roles in this story: Jesus, Peter, and the rest of the disciples.

Here’s how the story goes: We’re walking along a road, heading generally away from the region of Galilee toward Jerusalem. Jesus asks the question: “Who do people think I am?”  This makes for some lively conversation – some speculation about Jesus possibly being a prophet or some other Godly man — — even John the Baptist come back to life. Up to this point in their lives as followers of Jesus, the disciples have had front row seats to observe and experience – to soak up what Jesus’ has been doing: teaching, healing the sick – you know the stories. Jesus has been modeling the life of the coming kingdom of God.

All this discussion triggers a realization for Peter – and he becomes the star of the show when he declares that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. This is the first time in the story of this gospel — that Mark identifies Jesus as the Christ. Jesus seems to tacitly acknowledge this identity. And we can only imagine how all this left Peter  feeling – – – perhaps on a high – feeling secure, wise and in control . . .

But now Jesus begins to teach us what it means for him to be the Messiah – and it’s totally unimaginable to human ways of thinking. Jesus reveals that He will end up being rejected – he’ll undergo great suffering – He’ll be killed – – AND then after three days he’ll be raised up. This is the first time anyone has heard a prediction of the Passion story. And with the shock of the “suffer and die” part, I wonder if the disciples even hear the part about resurrection.

In any case, this teaching doesn’t sit well with Peter, and so he challenges this game plan. What Peter doesn’t realize is that he’s challenging God’s plan for human salvation. And — to put it mildly — Peter’s challenge doesn’t go over too well! . . . Jesus calls Peter an agent of Satan himself. This part of the story always leaves me feeling a little bit sorry for Peter – After all, it really must have sounded totally absurd to Peter that anything bad, anything demeaning would happen to Jesus the Messiah — let alone physical harm – DEATH!

But seen through Jesus’ eyes at this point – through the human eyes of Jesus – Peter’s challenge must vividly remind him of that direct encounter he had with Satan in the desert – – – when Satan tried to sidetrack Jesus with the 3 worldly temptations – the deep-seated human desires for security, power and esteem – — — the need to be in control –the attraction of fame and fortune. These are the things that the world extols – the very measuring sticks for worldly success. Yet the human need for security, power and esteem are the very things that we must deny . . we must let go of . . . in order to follow Jesus.

Jesus said: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” With this teaching Jesus’ makes it clear that His Way of humble service– – – suffering through self-denial death and the Way of the Cross – these are the destiny of his true followers as well. But why would anyone choose to follow a crucified Christ? Shouldn’t our religious faith protect us from suffering . . . bring us security and stability?

To promise suffering and self-denial and cross bearing – – this doesn’t seem to be a very effective way to attract followers. It doesn’t sound like a plan that will build up the church . . .

Doesn’t the world have enough suffering of its own without adding to it the suffering of Jesus Christ crucified? This image can be as objectionable to us as it was to Peter.On one hand we do worship the invincible God who protects us from our own vulnerability – who hides us under the shadow of his wing – the all-powerful God who shares his divine power with us.But on the other hand, Jesus, the Son of God, who is revealed in todays gospel teaches us about the power of the cross – the strength that comes from weakness. As the apostle Paul writes In his letter to the Corinthians: “God says, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’”

Because Jesus lives and suffers as one of us, he hears the cry of the poor — and he defends the weak among us — the orphans and widows. Jesus is crucified, dies and is buried. This message is profound: Jesus, the crucified Christ, lives in the middle of our vulnerability, our guilt, our alienation, our suffering, our death. He transforms our weakness into His strength! By following a crucified Christ, we are able to face our vulnerability, our imperfections — our sin. This is how the door opens to reconciliation – to reconnection with God and with each other. The shared world of suffering brings us into the sacred presence of the crucified Christ.

The gospel lesson today also teaches us an important lesson about life in Christian community – it provides a vital reflection of parish life. The interaction between Jesus and Peter surely causes pain and suffering for both of them – as their opposing views of truth and reality erupt in a harsh verbal exchange. For Peter it must have felt like a personal attack to be called an agent of Satan.

Likewise in our life together, we sometimes hurt each other with our words.

The reading we heard this morning from the letter of James talks about the power of words – the tongue as “restless evil . . . full of deadly poison.” James writes: “With the tongue we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we also curse those who are made in the likeness of God.

The Good News running through both the Gospel and epistle readings today is that the Way of the Cross is God’s plan for the healing and salvation of the world. When we share in the suffering of Jesus Christ — we are sharing each other’s pain as well. When we pray for the forgiveness of our sins — we are also set on the intention of forgiving those who sin against us.

Our Eucharistic prayer today is the remembrance that Christ suffered and died for us. At the same time our Eucharistic prayer reunites us into the one Body of Christ. We share God’s forgiveness in our relationships with each other.

This week I came across a prayer that speaks strongly to me – a prayer that I have been praying this week for our St. Nathaniel’s parish family. There are copies of this prayer on cards that are in the slots by the hymnals in the pew racks in front of you. Please take one of these prayer cards along with you when you leave — — and as you may be led by the Holy Spirit, please remember your parish family in your personal prayers in the coming weeks.

In closing would you take a card and join me in prayer?

Let us pray . . .

O God, make the door of our house wide enough to receive all who need your fellowship and ours . . . and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife.Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling-block to children nor to straying feet, but rugged and   strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power.  God, make the door of St. Nathaniel’s house the gateway to your eternal kingdom.  We ask this through our Saviour, Jesus Christ . . . AMEN.

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