Sunday, September 12, 2021

16th Pentecost, 2021-B: The path of truth

Lectionary: Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38 

I just love it when the Gospel ends on such a high note, don’t you? :)

So often, when we read this passage from Mark, we zip past the hard parts, like “Who do you say that I am?” or the part where Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” or that shame statement at the end. We aren’t ashamed of Jesus so we aren’t worried about him being ashamed of us. And we’d be able to answer Jesus’ question “Who do folks say that I am” with the certainty of 2000+ years of affirmation.

The niggling that happens in us, though, is that Peter answered correctly “You are the Messiah,” the one God anointed to bring salvation to the whole world. Then, somehow, he went way wrong.

Peter truly loved Jesus, of that there’s no doubt. His concern about Jesus being rejected by the Jewish leadership and undergoing great suffering is reasonable and loving, but Jesus rebukes him for it with a hard smack-down: “Get behind me Satan.”

Jesus knows time is getting short and he’s showing some frustration with his disciples, particularly Peter, for not getting it. What did Peter miss? What are we missing?

Let’s start with who we say Jesus is. Like Peter, we truly believe Jesus is the Messiah. The problem often is, how we understand “Messiah.”

Peter, along with the Jewish people, were anticipating a new King David to use military prowess to free them from Roman occupation and establish them as a world power once again. That, they believed, would enable them to live in peace and prosperity, as their forebears had during the reign of King David.

Jesus’ understanding of Messiah was different. He didn’t come to conquer but to serve. He didn’t come to save a single race of people but all people for all time, unifying everyone into one household – the household of God.. This is what he had been demonstrating in his ministry all along – eating with sinners, women, and tax collectors, healing Gentiles and Jews alike.

When Peter answers Jesus’ question, he’s speaking a truth he doesn’t fully understand. He knows that Jesus is the Messiah. He knows that the world is different and will never be the same because of Jesus, but his attempt to rebuke Jesus reveals Peter’s utter lack of wisdom.

As we heard in our Old Testament, wisdom isn’t about knowledge as much as the knowing that comes from being in relationship with God. I love the personification of Wisdom as a woman who shouts in the streets where ordinary people will hear. “She calls out to the ‘simple’ (who don’t know better), to the ‘scoffers’ (who take pleasure in cynicism) and to ‘fools’ (who despise knowledge) – all of whom reject her. (Source)

Peter knew better, but his reproach to Jesus revealed that he would set aside the grace of the knowing that came from being in relationship with Jesus in favor of knowledge given to him by people who didn’t have the kind of intimate relationship with God he had. In other words, he rejected Jesus who had, as Wisdom said, poured out his thoughts and made his words known to Peter.

We tend to hear Jesus’ smack-down of Peter with 21st-century ears, so let’s clarify why Jesus called Peter, the one upon whom he would build the church, “Satan.” First, I need to point out that the word, “Satan” is not a proper noun. It had a small “s” until later translations, As theologian Elaine Pagels teaches, “the satan” means “one who throws something across one’s path.”

In Jewish understanding, if the path is bad, the obstruction is good, thus “the satan” may have been sent by the Lord to protect a person from worse harm. (The Origin of Satan, Vintage, 1996, pp 39, 40) If the path is righteous, however, as was the case in today’s gospel, “the satan” is blocking the path of the will of God. This is what Jesus says Peter is doing: “Get behind me… for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Mark tells us that after rebuking Peter, Jesus calls the crowd and disciples together to pour out his thoughts and make them known to all of them. If you want to be my follower, Jesus says, then you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.

So I wonder… how do we do that today? How do we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus?

Last week we talked about prayer, that in prayer we give God the priority. That is the simplest, most do-able form of self-denial. Give God the priority.

The more we practice that the more quickly we recognize when we, like Peter, have become an obstacle in God’s path. And we all will, at some point, discover that we’re the obstacle. The good news is, that Peter wasn’t thrown out of the club, and neither will we be. Like Peter, we will be lovingly formed and reformed so that we can be sent out to share the good news we know.

When we take up our cross we are intentionally carrying in our hearts and consciousness the symbol of death, which for us is also the symbol for new life. Only to a follower of Jesus would that make sense because Jesus transformed death into the gateway to new life, resurrection life in him. Taking up our cross, then, is how we live continually in the new life he gave us.

Following Jesus means continually listening for the wisdom of God speaking in us, guiding us on how to respond and relate in our world. How do we respond to people or situations that frustrate or anger us? What picture do our responses on social media, in traffic, or the church parking lot paint of us?

It’s popular right now to be simple, or cynical, or to abhor facts. All you have to do is spend 10 minutes online to see how many people are choosing that path. It’s understandable, and sad when you think about it.

When someone chooses to be simple, to not know better, then they can avoid accountability. If they choose to be cynical, they don’t run the risk of relational responsibility. If they choose to abhor facts, they get to recreate reality into one they can cope with or feel like they can control.

As followers of Jesus, we know better and we tread a different path, a path of truth, which is the path of life. Any truth we learn brings us into deeper relationship with him, which leads us into deeper relationship with one another.

Loving God, being in intimate relationship with God, connects us to all our relations on earth and in heaven, past, present, and future, known and not yet known to us, and our church is our home base for that.

Today is Homecoming at Emmanuel. When I think of coming home, I think of being where love is, where we are accepted for who we are. At its best, home is where disagreements can happen without damaging the bond of love, because the love that holds us together, is Jesus.

Today is a great day to come home and celebrate the love of Christ embodied and lived at Emmanuel. We welcome those who live far off and those who are near, as we celebrate the grace that comes from being in relationship with one another, and with God who loves us and makes us one. Amen.

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