Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sermon - 4 March 2012 - 2nd in Lent

2ND SUNDAY IN LENT — 4 March 2012
St. Paul’s, Durant – 9:00 am

Genesis 17:1-7,15-16 | Psalm 22:22-30 |
Romans 4:13-25 | Mark 8:31-38

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Poor St. Peter! No matter what he does, he never seems to get it right! Just a couple of weeks ago we heard about how he shared in the vision of Jesus in glory, with the heroes of Israel, Moses and Elijah, and Peter didn’t know what he was saying; he wanted to stay and build shrines! Much more seriously, as we remember and will hear again in a few weeks, Peter promised Jesus that he would never abandon him, yet the very first time he was challenged about Jesus he chickened out.

Well, in today’s episode, we hear the verses that immediately follow this (which we heard in Matthew’s version last summer): “[Jesus] asked [his disciples], ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’” [Mark 8:29]

Peter got the right word, but he still didn’t know what he was saying.

We know what the word “Messiah” means. (Well, actually, we probably don’t know all that it really means, but we may be closer than Peter.) For us, the first image that comes to mind when we hear or read the word “Messiah” is Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ (which we usually remember is simply the Greek way, and subsequently the Latin way, and ultimately the English, Spanish, and so on way, of saying “Jesus the Messiah”). And for us that image probably includes Jesus as healer, and teacher, and ultimately the Crucified One. The symbol of the Christ, of the Messiah, is the Cross.

Well, not so for Peter, or probably for anyone else among first-century Jews in Judea or Galilee (or anywhere else). The Hebrew word mashiah (anglicized Messiah) is “The Anointed One,” and the Anointed One is the King, anointed by God, like David of old, and in the context of first-century Judaism, living under the rule, often the oppressive rule, of a series of foreign empires for most of the previous six hundred years. So the Messiah-King is the Liberator, the one whom God will send from heaven, or will call out from among the people, to free God’s chosen and (as even Jesus’ disciples keep on thinking) to “restore the Kingdom to Israel.” [Acts 1:6] Some who speculated about the Messiah envisioned a revolutionary leader who would raise the nation in armed military insurrection against the Roman overlords. Others hoped for a Messiah who was more of a heavenly figure who with a host of God’s angels would overthrow all other earthly kingdoms by divine intervention and raise Israel to be Top Kingdom in the world.

So somewhere in here is probably where Peter (and the other disciples) were. We can imagine that when Peter answers Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” he is only just realizing it himself when he says, wide-eyed, “It’s you! You are the Messiah!”

But you will remember that Jesus immediately says, “Okay, but now just keep that under your hats.” And then he goes on as we hear in the Gospel reading today: “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.” And this isn’t anything at all like the Messiah that Peter and the others had in mind. Their Messiah was a leader with power, even divine power! What is all this about suffering and rejection and death? And as for rising again, well, lots of Jews believed that everyone would be raised at the last day, but that doesn’t do us much good right now! So Peter cries, “NO! It can’t be! That’s not right! It’s not like that!” And Jesus says back to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” That is right. It is like that.

(As the prophet Isaiah says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” [Isaiah 55:8])

We are so sure that we know what God wants, what the will of God is, what the purposes of God are. We see this all around us. We see this in our national (and state and local) political life, which in this season has become particularly unsavory. (I won’t name names!) But we see it also in our religious or church life, between and among faith communities, between and among denominations, and within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. “I know what the will of God is. I know the truth! And anyone who disagrees with me or has a different perspective is somewhere between Grievously Misinformed and Mindless Pond Scum.”

Yeah, right.

We seem to think it is so important that we know everything about everything in advance, that we have all the answers. We don’t do at all well with uncertainty about anything. (In passing, I might note that last month I attended a series of lectures by a noted astrophysicist at the University, who pointed out that uncertainty and indeterminacy are the condition of being able to do modern physics at all. But I digress!) More to the point, our first reading from Genesis today, and the epistle reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans which comments on that first reading, remind us that Abraham didn’t know in advance where all this wandering around would lead him, but he trusted God.

Jesus said to Peter and the disciples, and Jesus says to us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.”

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