Divine Things Are Not Human Things

Kenora                  Lent 2

Year B

28 February 2021

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Psalm 22:22-30

Romans 4:13-25

Mark 8:31-38

Faithful God, may we set our minds and wills to yours, and take up our cross, following Christ with confidence for the glory you reveal in him; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Today the gospel, Jesus tells us: “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mk 8:33b)

When we look at the readings for today, this is a rather profound view, especially when we know Jesus is talking to the disciples in general and peter in particular.

What Jesus is telling us is that it’s a this or that type of dichotomy, and one that easily confounds each and every one of us especially when we try to figure out, from our own perspective, which is the human thing and which is the divine.

In fact, for me, it brought to mind a chance meeting, a chance conversation between Howard Stark and Tony Stark in the movie: “Avengers End Game.” (And no, Howard doesn’t know he’s speaking with his son.)

And really what it comes down to was Howard confessing his inability to separate his own interests, agenda from what is best for the nation. Howard says: “let’s just say the greater good has rarely outweighed my own self interests.” (1:43:39)

And if we think about it, this is a rather significant statement.

Overall, Howard has been portrayed as a brilliant, self-giving, philanthropic, playboy billionaire, who is heavily invested in weapons development and sales; shoes that Tony, early in his life, emulated.

But in this moment of self-confession, he admits how own self interests have been the underlying guiding principle more than the needs of humanity.

In today’s gospel, we’re told: “31 Then [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”” (Mk 8:31-33)

Jesus takes Peter to task because Peter is unable to see the larger picture. He, from our human perspective, is unable to see beyond the cross.

He, and the disciples, only sees the immediate benefits of Jesus’ work for the people. They see those who come injured, confused, burdened and they see them leave refreshed, lightened in heart and mind, and renewed in their relationship with God. They see the effects of Jesus’ teaching, and healing people physically, but God’s agenda is so much greater, wider, than what Peter is able to see because it includes the emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives, of the lives of the people, all around.

At the same time, Jesus points out that the work before them is so much more encompassing that just the one generation of the faithful with whom they’re working.

Jesus says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.” (Mk 8:34b-35)

Now, in this passage, Peter gets a whole lot of bad press but I think we can maybe see this more in the same light as the chance conversation between Howard and Tony. They’re talking about family, and about children. Tony has a daughter, at this point in the story, while Howard’s wife is expecting what will be their only child, Tony.

But it’s in terms of legacy, of the future of the world that we so often get things mixed up and confuse our goals and timelines with that of God.

Peter sees how things are going with Jesus at the helm. He see’s people coming to hear him teach. He sees people coming to be healed and to be fed.

Peter only sees himself, maybe as the booking agent, as the guy asking the Covid questions, or maybe as the guy who fetches the coffee. And from his perspective all is going so well that Jesus being persecuted will just destroy all of this good work, not enable the disciples to step into those shoes, after Pentecost, not encompass more than the teaching and healing that they’re seeing from Jesus, at the moment.

But God knows there’s more coming, and Jesus wants to prepare us, the disciples, for the traumatic events to come.

Like all of us, Peter is unable to see, to comprehend God’s plan of salvation, of which this had all been just one step in the divine plan.

“And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” (Mk8:32b)

And in Peter’s shoes, how many of us would have answered any differently?

And I ponder this, sometimes. The ‘what if’s’ that are able to dive through the depths of our imaginations.

So, for a moment, what would the world be like, today, if Jesus had not “[undergone] great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again”? (Mk 8:31b)

If Jesus had not been persecuted, if he had not gone to the cross bearing the weight of our sin, died, and rose again, then his earthly ministry, the preaching, the teaching and the healing would be all that we know of him, if we even know that much.

I mean, sure, he can walk on water, he can calm storms and feed thousands on just a few groceries, but what would our relationship with God be like if the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection had never taken place?

If that had not taken place, does not take place, then the burden of sin that weighs us down like waffles in a waffle iron, would still exist. Because Jesus ministry is among the peoples of Israel and those who live in the region, more than 2 millennia ago, we might not even be aware of him, today, if he had not followed the path laid out for him by God, the path we hear about in today’s gospel.

There would remain a great chasm between us and God, and our only relationship with God would be to beg for forgiveness as we offer sacrifice of more than just time and talent, and we might not know of the greatness of God’s love for each one of us, because we might not remember Jesus and all he gives, and all he does for you and for me, still today.

But this isn’t how Jesus lived out his ministry, his mission as the Messiah, as the Christ. Rather today he tells us what is going to happen, and at whose hands.

But it’s all about legacy. Its about tomorrow being better than today, and it’s how we’re able to help bring about that sense of better, using God’s definition.

And yet, legacy doesn’t just happen. Maybe in the past when children followed their parents into their trades, into their occupations, but that doesn’t happen so easily and seamlessly these days.

In today’s text we see Jesus trying to set up his legacy, but the disciples aren’t cluing in that they are the legacy that Jesus is establishing, and that Jesus death and resurrection are two vital pieces in the establishment of that legacy.

In today’s text, Peter doesn’t yet understand that he and the other disciples are Jesus’ legacy, that it’s through their actions that Christianity takes on form and life and grows beyond the boundaries of Israel, because of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

So, Jesus, being open and frank, and a little miffed that the disciples aren’t getting it, gives us the cross-bearing speech.

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.” (Mk 8:34-35)

It’s not a legacy that is bound to just the disciples. It’s not a legacy that is rooted in just one group of people, one ethnic background, one time, or one place. 

It’s not a legacy that you need special qualifications to fulfill. Rather it’s a legacy that calls each and every one of us to live the saving love of God to the whole world.

We continue to be called to heal those who are sick, bring peace of mind to those who are in need, offer the love of God to all who are unaware that it surrounds them, and wants to be a part of their lives as much as it’s a part of each of our lives.

That is the legacy, and it’s only possible because of Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Jesus points out to each one of us that when we focus on the earthly, on the here and now, that we’re looking too closely and we’re missing the big picture, the divine plan.

Yet, God’s plan is so much more than we can ask or imagine. It’s so much greater than a handful of people being returned to wholeness of mind, body, and spirit. So much more than the sharing of the gospel across the Roman Empire.

It’s a plan that’s still in motion today because Jesus was born, taught, loved, and fulfilled the need of God in removing the barriers between humanity and heaven placed there by sin, by error, by mistakes, and by each one of us.

So, here we are.

We’re able to see, to understand the actions of the disciples, of Jesus followers who really don’t want to see their beloved teacher suffer, be rejected, and be killed. And they really don’t understand how anyone would rise from the dead.

We’re able to see and understand Jesus actions as well, but only because we’re coming at this text from many generations of love, of faith, and of hindsight.

Jesus tells us as plainly as he is able that when we focus on the comfort factor of this life, then that is where our heart, our goal, our focus resides.

On the other hand, when we look at where God asks us, encourages us to look we see those who need to be lifted up so that we are all able to walk side by side in the light of God’s love, honouring the sacrifice of God through Jesus Christ, and living that love in our lives and in our hearts, in our actions and in our words, every day.

Amen

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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