17TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, 9-16-18
Pentecost 17 B 2018
Texts: Proverbs 1:20-33 | Psalm 19 | James 3:1-12 | Mark 8: 27-38
“Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Mark 8: 33
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
I don’t know about you, but I LOVED the Harry Potter series. LOVED IT! I loved Harry. I loved Ron. And I loved Hermione. I loved her exuberance for learning. I loved her cheekiness and self-confidence. I loved her raising her hand and waving it around with its, “I know! I know! I know! Oh please choose me! I know!” enthusiasm.
But let’s face it. A lot of Hermione’s friends, a lot of students of yesterday and today find that type of, “Oh! I know! I know!” behavior a little obnoxious. Can’t you just see Harry and Ron rolling their eyes at their friend?
Or perhaps you were in the classroom and your very own class Hermione would raise their hand and you would think to yourself, “Oh, not again! Of course she knows the answer!”
I have a confession to make. I was my class’s Hermione. I raised my hand and got all excited and wanted to be called on, not to prove how smart I was. Not to show off in any way. I just wanted to share something I found exciting with everyone else. It didn’t occur to me until much later and after catching quite a few eye rolls directed my way that some in the class didn’t find the material quite so exciting as I did. It never occurred to me that my knowing might actually be an impediment to someone else’s revelation and understanding.
When I picture this story from Mark’s gospel, I picture Peter and the disciples traveling with Jesus. Jesus has just cured a blind man in Bethsaida. Unlike most miracle stories that are reported, it took two times for Jesus to lay hands on the man for him to see clearly. After Jesus restores the man’s sight, Jesus and the disciples travel to Caesarea Philippi, an area controlled by Herod, the center of worship for the emperor and the Greek god, Pan, and Jesus asks his disciples who people think he is.
The disciples tell Jesus that some think he is John the Baptist come back to life. Some think he is Elijah and still others that he is one of Israel’s former prophets. And then the real question, the question that Jesus wants each of them to answer for themselves is asked. “But who do you say that I am?”
And this is where I think Peter has a Hermione moment. I can just see him shooting his hand in the air and saying, “Oh! I know! I know! You are the Messiah!”
In Mark’s gospel Jesus’ answer to Peter’s confession is that Jesus “sternly orders” the disciples not to tell anyone about him.
In Matthew’s gospel, when Peter asserts that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” he is told by Jesus “Blessed are you…For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven…You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” In this morning’s gospel there is no such affirmation, no such positive strokes from the teacher.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and scribes, and be killed and after three days rise again.” Peter just can’t get his head around that. Peter, in what is either a moment of great courage or great foolishness, rebukes Jesus. Surely being God’s anointed can’t mean being powerless, being tortured, mocked, rejected and killed. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “That’s just crazy talk!”
Can’t you just picture this scene? Peter takes Jesus aside and says, “Are you nuts? You are talking nonsense! No Messiah of God will suffer and die! No deliverer of the Jewish people could possibly do what you are suggesting! Just hush now! No more crazy talk, Ok?”
And in what might be the most stinging reply in all of scripture, Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Jesus might have well as slapped Peter across the face with a loud cracking snap, it was so surprising. Jesus calls Peter something he has never before or ever will again call anyone else…not Judas, not the Sanhedrin, not Pilate…it is Peter who is called Satan. Only Peter. That is how serious what Peter has said is to Jesus.
Peter has just showed that he might know the right answer, but he certainly doesn’t understand the question, let alone the depth of what he has just confessed. In one conversation he goes from getting the answer right to being called Satan, from being the disciple who supposedly “gets it” to being the disciple who very publicly gets it all wrong.
What did Peter do to earn such a stinging rebuke from Jesus? He lost sight of who was to lead and who was to follow. He put his perceptions of who Christ was and what Christ’s mission should be in his mind above God’s plan.
Peter tried to define what the mission was. It was inconceivable that the Messiah should be humiliated, tortured and put to death. What kind of king, what kind of God, could that happen to?
Peter thought he knew better. The coming of the Messiah was to be a great victory where the God of Israel would whoop the gods of the Romans. It would be a triumph the likes of which the world had never seen and would restore Israel to its rightful prominence.
Peter thought he knew what would and should happen. Peter put society’s definition of what a real God would do, what real success was, above how God wanted to define those things, and in so doing, Jesus brands him Satan which is literally translated, “an adversary.”
Peter tried to put God in a box. Peter acted as if God belonged to him rather than Peter belonging to God. Have you ever noticed that whenever Peter takes his eyes off Christ he flounders? Christ is walking on the water and bids Peter to come to him. Peter does fine until he looks away and then he begins to sink.
When Peter focuses on Christ, he is open to the divine revelation of who Jesus is. When he focuses on what he wants Jesus to be he becomes a stumbling block, an adversary. His way of knowing becomes an impediment to others understanding of who Jesus is and becomes a stumbling block to God’s revelation in the world.
In the courtyard after Jesus is arrested Peter becomes very concerned with being identified as being a follower of Jesus, becomes very concerned with what others think of him and as a result he denies Jesus three times.
Knowing who Jesus Christ is, being open to divine revelation, is not about thinking. Knowing Jesus Christ is not a cognitive exercise, something we can reason our way into. Knowing the Christ, knowing the Son of the Living God, is something we discern. It is something we find out by perceiving with our whole being not just with our brain.
Thinking is setting our minds on human things, discerning is using all our senses, all of “ourselves, our souls, and bodies” to perceive divine things, to learn larger truths, to follow the true leader.
I tend to be very cognitive, just ask my husband. David will tell you that I think way too much and have a hard time turning my brain off. God gave me a good brain and I value using it, which is probably why I identify with Hermione. But this brain can get me into real trouble. I can really empathize with Peter, because like him I can and do confuse thinking with knowing, and knowing with truly understanding.
Like Peter, I can easily turn myself into a leader instead of a follower of Christ. I can try and put God into a box of my own construction; I can surround him with all of the good, deep theological training and thoughts that I’ve worked so hard to develop.
Now, that training is very important and valuable. The Episcopal Church prides itself on an educated clergy and laity and that we don’t have to leave our brains at the door. But when we put our whole emphasis on cognitive understanding rather than knowing from all of our senses we are not open to the continuing revelation of Christ in the world; we are not open to discerning the larger truths that God would reveal to us.
Peter never achieved anything close to Jesus’ affirmation of his confession until after he placed himself again at the feet of Jesus, until after he took his rightful place as a follower, as a disciple. And that did not happen again until after everything that Jesus forewarned the disciples about came to fruition.
Our culture deeply dislikes followers. We see ourselves as independent, pioneers. To have to follow is to be seen as dependent, to not be free to follow our own way or whims, to not think for ourselves. To have to follow is seen as a weakness. To be a follower means that our life is not our own.
To always lead, however, can result in arrogance, in thinking we know the only way; that the world is defined as only we see it. When we enter into this type of thinking and being we lose the chance to be open to the larger truths of the gospel. We miss the revelation of God in the world because we are so busy being sure that we know the right answer. We are so sure of the answer that we miss the real question.
The gospel is very counter-cultural. The gospel tells us that God’s way is not our way. Like Peter, we attempt to define God and what we want God to be and do, but this gospel tells us that when we do that, when we put God in a box of our own making, we act as Satan, the adversary. We become a stumbling block to the mission of Christ.
The gospel tells us that in gaining what the world says is success: wealth, power, and prestige, we may very well lose our spiritual life. The gospel tells us that in following Jesus Christ, in living a life based on God’s revelation to us and following God’s will for our lives, rather than being confined we will experience a freedom beyond our wildest imaginings.
And this gospel tells us that when we set our minds on heavenly things we may find ourselves picking up a cross. We may find ourselves doing things and being in places that were never on our radar screen to begin with.
Each and every one of us has to answer Jesus’ question, “But who do you say I am?” for ourselves. We also have to be aware that in giving our answer, like Peter, we may not truly understand what following the “Messiah” really entails.
In the months that I have been with you I have shared with you how scripture was given to communities to help them discern what God’s mission is and how they are to engage it together.
I have shared with you that being the church means being called out of our comfort zones and not in staying put. Being the church is answering together the question, “but who do we say Jesus is?” and then living that answer with action.
Will we, as a community of faith only think our way through our faith, or will we learn how to fully enter into it with all our senses and all of our being, so as to discern God’s will so we may be open to the larger truths and revelations of the Gospel?
St. Luke’s, I believe you are on the cusp of your greatest era. I believe you stand at a time of immense opportunity and incredible possibility. I believe you stand at a time of such participation in God’s miracle making that it is nothing less than breathtaking.
Without keeping our eyes on Jesus, without making an intentional decision to discern God’s will for St. Luke’s, we may think we are doing what we should be doing, but we will not truly know if that is the case.
Discernment is listening deeply for the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is grounding all decision making in the study of scripture and prayer and then it is taking intentional, God-directed action to further God’s mission in this community.
Discernment is keeping our eyes on Christ, because only when we keep our eyes on Christ, only when we follow, do we become true disciples. And when we discern and become true disciples we will not only know the answer we seek, we will come to an understanding of the question and of what is being asked of all of us.