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Advent Meditation on Joseph

The reading for Sunday, December 17, 2017: Matthew 1:18-25 This Sunday we read about an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream. We've no...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

SERMON on Mark 8:27-38
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.31Then he 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. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But 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."34He 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. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

It begins simply enough, doesn’t it? Jesus inviting the disciples to offer what they have been hearing on the street. What’s the buzz – what’s the word – who do people say that I am? Sounds like he is curious, doesn’t it. Wants some feedback. Checking to see how people are understanding the one who is delivering the message, performing the miracles. “Who do people say that I am?” he asks. “Who do people say that I am?

The report, sad to say, isn’t very good, is it? “O” for three. Jesus doesn’t baptize anyone so how could they possibly think he was John the Baptizer? And Elijah has been dead for centuries – over eight of them - though some folks thought that he would come back from the dead someday – at the end of the days - so there’s that possibility. Remote, but still in play. Choice number three - One of the prophets – pick one – anyone will do - they spoke God’s word to the people – did some outrageous things, powerful things. Broadly speaking Jesus is like that in a vaguish sort of way.
But in truth – their darts land far from center. Jesus is so much more. They just can’t perceive it.

Now we might think that they are only half paying attention to Jesus – figure that they would TIVO him and catch the parts of the message that they missed later. “Hey – Jones - Jesus do anything worth watching tonight? Or should I just tape over him with re-runs of last year’s American Idol final?” Perhaps they have an earbud from their IPOD in one ear and are listening to Jesus with the other, lost somewhere in the music half the time.
No. Not likely.

Now, it is at this point that they story begins to get interesting. We move from perhaps idle curiosity to the real deal: “He asked them, [meaning the disciples] But who do you say that I am?" Now we’re bringing it close to home. We figure eleven of them are saying to themselves “No one told us that there was going to be a quiz! Anyone have the notes from class last week – who did Jesus say that he was?” Anybody? anybody? Peter realizing that Jesus has in fact never said who he was exactly, suddenly finds the answer on the tip of his tongue. No idea how it got there. But there it is. "You are the Messiah." And 11 heads turn to face Peter in wonder and bewilderment. Thinking “How on earth did he think of that?” But it wasn’t of earth, now was it? The Holy Spirit fills him in.

And Jesus’ response? Not a gold star for Peter or student of the week or a letter of commendation, but a warning and a stern one at that: Don’t tell anyone about me. No one. Zip. Nada. No one. Jesus already knows what the buzz is on the streets. Everyone out there except Peter has gotten it wrong. And the more people out there get it wrong, the harder it will be to fix, won’t it? At least for now. More will understand later.

Now that Peter has instructed the disciples on who Jesus is – not a carpenter’s apprentice , Mary’s boy or just another teacher or even a prophet, but the Messiah, Jesus begins to explain to them the rules of life for the Messiah, the Son of Man: 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.

And twelve jaws collectively drop upon the ground. Say what! Rejection? Suffering? Death? I don’t think they got past the whole death thing and onto rising on the third day. I don’t think so. Death was just not a part of their idea of what following Jesus was all about. Victory perhaps. Revolution, perhaps. Some tangible benefits for their personal sacrifice perhaps. Even Peter had found the word “Messiah” right there on the tip of his tongue, so he uttered it, he had no clue. No clue how Jesus would take the popular myth that the Messiah was going to come at the end of the age to defeat the Romans and re-establish the throne of David and turn that image upside down and inside out all at the same time: 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.

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. Those disciples must have suffering from some serious cognitive dissonance. Messiah as military victor and Messiah as suffering sacrifice don’t hold together well, do they. Peter finds his tongue first: taking Jesus aside and rebuking him. Rebuking Jesus. Can you imagine that? Seriously. Rebuking the Messiah? “Jesus you got it all wrong. Listen to me. You are supposed to kick the Roman’s butts clear across the Mediterranean Sea and then sit yourself down on a nice throne and let us be your court.” Or something like that, perhaps.
So Jesus calls Peter Satan. The teller of lies, the divider and deceiver.

Jesus then explains to everyone what it means – the big picture of the in-breaking Kingdom of God that the Messiah is bringing with him:
"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

So let’s ask the good Lutheran question: What does it mean this idea of denying one’s self, taking up one’s cross and following Jesus

In Isaiah 55 we learn 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Denying ourselves is a recognition that our own thoughts apart from God can lead us into trouble. When we send humility packing and relegate the Holy Spirit into some far off corner of our mind and take up our own thoughts we can wander far off from the will of God, can’t we? Don’t we? There was a congregation that had a Sunday school and one of the teachers would serve breakfast for the kids – this was an urban church mind you, and the neighborhood kids figured out that if they wanted to eat breakfast that this church was the pace to go because at their own homes breakfast turned into a luxury most days. But some folks in the congregation got it in their heads that having and feeding a bunch of kids from the neighborhood for breakfast , kids from broken homes or the street or worse, was not what they wanted. Who knew what these kids were into or up to. Let them eat and find Jesus somewhere else they thought. Didn’t matter that the food was donated. It wasn’t a money thing. I was much worse than that. And their will prevailed. And years later that scar still hurts that Sunday school teacher who just wanted to share Christ with these kids and feeding them helped – all the better.
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"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
And so we ask ourselves - Where is the borderland where I leave myself behind and enter into the presence of Christ completely, fully, with total surrender? Where are the clean waters where my gentle shepherd bids me rest, the quiet waters where the tumult of my life gives way to the peace of Christ, the peace that passers all understanding – and allows Christ to rule in my life? The Messiah to reign in my soul. That place begins at the cross – where we must confront our own limitations and find instead the power of the grace of God in and through Jesus Christ. That is where the Messiah comes for you and for me and for all, ready for us to follow in his steps. Amen

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