The Pas Proper / Ordinary 24 – Pentecost + 17 – Trinity + 16
16 September 2018
Wisdom of God,
from the street corners
and at the entrances to the city
you proclaim the way of life and of death.
Grant us wisdom to recognize your Messiah,
so that following in the way of the cross,
we may know the way of life and glory;
in the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Today’s gospel is one that is familiar to us. It is Jesus making conversation as he and the disciples travel along.
And we know the first part of today’s gospel well when Jesus asks “Who do people say I am?” (Mk 8:27b)
And, once the disciples have worn out all the obvious choices, he then asks: “29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”” (Mk 8:29)
And these are still important questions for us, especially how we feel to answer Christ’s question and live out that answer to the world around us.
So, today’s message, fo reach one of us, starts with Who Do you say that I am? But it doesn’t stop there. After all, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Jesus goes on to point out that how we answer his question will have great impact in how we reach out to the world, and how the world reaches back to each one of us.
Also, how such a reaction to our faith in God will cause us to question our decision, our lives, our very faith.
We, like Peter, don’t want to hear what’s coming next. We don’t want to contemplate that live is hard, that Christ needs to face opposition, be rejected, and killed. But this is God’s plan, not for the elders and the chief priests, who fulfill God’s will, but for each one of us. For those of us who live out the will of God, in our hearts, in our lives, in our declaration of “Who do we say that I am?”
“34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mk 8: 34-37)
This is often the part we want to gloss over. We want to look at Jesus words, Jesus declaration and stand up and say “Yes, this is my Lord and Saviour!”
At the same time, we want to walk around living our lives according to societys rules, with this declaration in our hearts, and we want to live our lives the way we want to live them, not as directed by anyone, least of all by God.
This part of today’s gospel has the ability, if we decide to listen to it, to make us squirm in our seats, to make us wonder if there is a package deal that doesn’t include this passage, in our bids for salvation, for a life of faith.
And such words may be difficult to hear. But when we can choose the easier option of how to live life, not rocking the boat, unless we feel personally threatened, then such words, are perhaps what we need to hear, what we need to absorb, and quite possibly help us to recalibrate how we respond to the need of God in and to the world.
What Jesus tells us isn’t in the language of a victor, but rather it’s in those marvelous opposites that he uses that have a habit of spinning around in our heads, causing us to wonder if we’re on the right path, ourselves.
He tells us: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Now, we know about crosses. People die on crosses. Jesus dies on the cross, for you and for me, and yet here he describes that we, in our lives, may be called upon to ascend a cross and pay such a penalty for being followers of Christ.
Harsh words, harsh realities.
And yet, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He tells us: “35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mk 8:35)
Now, from our perspective of hindsight of the passion, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, that Christ will face, we can see that Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven.
We can see that he’s talking about the cost of living out our lives of faith where people don’t agree with our theology, or with how we live the way we do, trusting in God for life, for everything, for salvation.
To get a deeper grasp of what Jesus is talking about maybe we need to look back at his reply to Peter. He says: “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mk 8:33c)
Now, although he’s talking to Peter, and rebuking him in the presence of the disciples, really, he’s speaking to each one of us.
At the same time, he’s speaking to Satan who, still today, seeks to direct our minds and our hearts in his ways instead of in God’s way.
And I admit, God’s way is difficult, if not impossible to us to know, but in that not knowing, we are still able to live within God’s love and God’s will for all of humanity.
So, when Christ rebukes Peter, he points out that our focus isn’t on God’s will, but rather our own desires to keep God, to keep Jesus with us and active in our lives.
We do this, wish this, so that we don’t have to pick up the reigns of responsibility, so that we don’t have to listen and discern and follow where God calls us to be active in the world.
So, then, if we actively follow where this reading is going, when we declare the divinity of Jesus, that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, then we have opened ourselves to listen to and for God’s will.
We are obligated, chosen, required to have to discern how to fulfill that will, not for our own glorification, but for the glory of God, in the world.
At the same time when we do that, when we acknowledge Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, then we will be given burdens, it is then that we need to put God’s concerns, God’s needs ahead of even care for our own lives.
I remember, when I was in seminary, we heard of a missionary to Central America.
He had opened a school but had also openly opposed the oppressive military style of government. He brought the love of God to the people, at the same time, weakening the oppressive position of the government.
One night, the military came into his school, destroyed the equipment, and killed the minister.
As a result of the military’s actions, the people came to the school. They cleaned up the mess, they buried the minister, and they continued to spread the love of God, continued to educate their children, and continued to stand up against practices of injustice.
In this one man, we are able to find the fulfillment of today’s gospel.
We find one man who found the strength to take up his cross, who laid down his life, who was not ashamed, when called up to proclaim the kingdom of God, the love of Christ for all of God’s people.
Now, admittedly this is a tough example to embrace, or to follow; almost as difficult to embrace as Christ’s words, today. To the message that we’d like to gloss over once we’ve declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.
But, that’s not the world in which we live.
Every day we still come across the influences of Satan who seeks that we put humanity’s needs, and humanities whims above the needs of God.
And this is where we stand with Peter, who mistakenly utters the words, seeking only to keep Christ with us, amongst us, so that we can continue to be in the presence of God, worshipping day and night, yet Christ, then is able to do ‘the heavy lifting’ of following the will of God in and for our lives.
But today, Christ tells us, plainly, that he will not be able to be physically amongst us, forever. He tells us that he will face the passion, the crucifixion and the resurrection.
He tells us that many hands make light work. And the tells us that the world will pull at our hearts and our lives, and that Satan will help to derail us, as often as possible.
To that end, then, we can look to Peter. We can look to the way in one breath, Peter proclaims the identity of the Messiah, and in the next proclaims rebukes the Christ for following the will of God, not for Christ, but for Peter and the rest of the disciples, for each of us, and for the crowds gathered around him.
To deny ourselves is not easy, but it’s what Christ asks of us, to do the work of God in the world.
To pick up ones cross and follow where Christ leads is equally difficult, but when that is the only way to spread the light of Christ, to ease the burdens of sin, is there a question of whether or not to do this?
To save our lives, only to know that they are in that process lost, though may be the point that troubles us most of all, and causes us to gloss over this part of todays gospel, and so becomes what we need to pay close attention to in our actions, in our lives lived out in faith as disciples of Christ.
Knowing that while Christ’s path leads to the cross, and through the cross, and we are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps.
He is the one who will bear our sins, our errors our faults to the cross, although he tells us to pick up our cross to be his disciple, its’ the willingness that God is looking for in our hearts and lives.
What Christ is looking for, in our hearts, in our lives, is to be willing to go where we are not comfortable, to do what is not in our personal best interest, but what fulfills God’s will in the world around us.
Peter, today, declares that Jesus is the Messiah, and that it is wisdom, herself, who informs him. At the same time, when he takes his eyes off of the Christ, he strives to put human interest ahead of God’s plan.
Our effort, every day, is to put God’s plan ahead of human interest, and to be worthy of the part of the gospel that makes us uncomfortable: to be able to deny ourselves, and to live for the gospel alone.
After all, Jesus continues to ask “29 “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”” (Mk 8:29)