First Congregational Church
September 16, 2018
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A lovely little boy was holding two apples with both hands. His mother came in and asked her little boy if she could have one of the apples. The little boy looked up at his mom for a minute, then suddenly took a quick bite from one apple and then from the other. The mother tried hard not to reveal her disappointment. (Pause) Then the little boy handed one of the bitten apples to his mother and said,”Mommy here you are. This is the sweeter one.” As the great Paul Harvey once said, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
Some of you may remember the Chicken Soup for the Soul era. There were versions of sentimental, true stories for regular people, women, men, new mothers, teenagers, cancer survivors and baseball fans. There were Second and Third and Sixth bowls, servings and courses of CSftS. They even made Chicken Soup for the Soul dog food - which I think it totally bogus, because what about the cats out there? To date, there are 227 different titles of Soup for the Soul books. Naturally, the next illustration comes from A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul, back in 1998.
At age ninety-two, Grandma Fritz still lived in her old two-story farmhouse, made homemade noodles, and did her laundry in her wringer-washer in the basement. She maintained her vegetable garden, big enough to feed all of Benton County, with just a hoe and spade. Her seventy-year-old children lovingly protested when she insisted on mowing her huge lawn with her ancient push mower.
"I only work outside in the cool, early mornings and in the evenings," Grandma explained, "and I always wear my sunbonnet.” Still, her children were understandably relieved when they heard she was attending the noon lunches at the local senior citizens' center. “Yes,” Grandma admitted, as her daughter nodded approvingly. "I cook for them. Those old people appreciate it so much!”
So last week, we heard about the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter and a deaf/mute man being healed. For whatever reason, the people who make up the Bible lectionary lists decided to skip the events that followed those healings - the feeding of 4,000 people with bread and fish, followed by an oddly placed story about Jesus warning the disciples - what seemed at first to be about pharisees, but turned out to be about Jesus’ overflowing grace. And then, the story line changes again, and we find our selves with days’s passage, at an ancient Roman city at the base of Mount Hermon, which is 20 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. Today Caesarea Philippi is called Banias, a village of some 50 houses with many interesting ruins, the main one being an old temple dedicated to the Greek god, Pan - of pipes fame.
Mark 8:27-38 (NIV)
Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah
27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Jesus Predicts His Death
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
The Way of the Cross
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? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Thank you, Kathy. Apparently there is a little book called Non Campus Mentis, a little anthology that has compiled mistakes, bloopers and creative interpretations of history from university students around the country.
For instance: "Judyism was the first monolithic religion. It had one big God named “Yahoo.” Moses was told by Jesus Christ to lead the people out of Egypt into the Sahaira Desert. The Book of Exodus describes this trip and the amazing things that happened on it, including the Ten Commandments, various special effects, and the building of the Suez Canal. Forty centuries later they arrived in Canada. This was the promise land of milk and chocolate.”
There were some other snippets I came across this week that seemed relevant to this passage. One of those snippets begins Steve Garnass-Holmes poem on Thursday, “Jesus is God’s best selfie.” Another comes from the hand of recently retired Methodist Bishop, William Willimon, “All of the church’s educational and formational ministries are our way of enabling people to respond to Jesus’s penetrating question, “Who do you say that I am?”” Think about that. “All of the church’s educational and formational ministries are our way of enabling people to respond to Jesus’s penetrating question, “Who do you say that I am?””
That’s an interesting thought - because isn’t it really true? Isn’t pretty much everything we do in and around church a reflection of our answer to that question of Jesus’ identity? That question, of who Jesus is, is pretty much at the heart of every time I sit down to work on a sermon, listen to someone in my office or even when I’m sitting in the chair at the beauty salon. Whether you - we - recognize it every single moment of the day - or not - wherever we are, whatever we are doing, with whomever we are, we are living out the answer of the question Jesus asks us, “Who do you say I am?”
I think we may sometimes wonder why Jesus so often told the disciples not to say who he was - to others - was because of misperceptions and inaccurate perspectives. Notice that when Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?”, and Peter said, “You are the Messiah.”, Jesus didn’t say he was wrong - or even right. His reply was not to tell anyone.
Incidentally, the writer of Mark so often used this command for Jesus’ followers to maintain silence about his identity as the Messiah, it has become known as the Markan Messianic Secret. There’s a lot more behind this Markan Messianic Secret, but if there’s nothing else to talk about at lunch today, you can bring up that phrase and sound pretty important.
Our perspective in this 21st century is so different from that of the 1st century. I’m generalizing that our modern understanding is that the term “messiah” means either Jesus or the One that God promised would come. But back in Jesus’ day, the term “messiah” was basically a code word for a political coup. There were many people of the day who hoped for some powerful general who would ride into town, raise an army, and finally throw the Romans out, and when this “Messiah” came, it would be the start of this take-over.
It’s taken more than a few years to realize that Jesus wasn’t about taking over a territory or government, but about being the leader and “over-taker” of our heart - so to speak. I want to be careful not to leave you with this idea of a dominator Jesus, but the Christ who will take us to places we never knew existed - when we allow God to deepen our faith into a more mature, robust faith - in ways that may seem upside down and backwards.
Taking that idea a little further, ‘To die to our “ego,” from a Christian point of view, is to awaken to our true selves, to be who we were really created to be, rather than who we thought we had become by our own efforts.” When we switch places - in spiritual perspective terms - we look at this proclamation of Messiah not as a matter of Peter’s having “gotten it.” It becomes a matter of the truth, Jesus, having gotten him. - us - you - your heart and soul and mind and strength.
Understanding - viewing - Christ as Messiah - as the winner of heart - is much different from Messiah as political overlord. And if we are sometimes a little mistaken, or have forgotten about certain perspective understandings of Christ, then we have this thing, called the Holy Spirit, that will lead us and guide us in the richer and fuller paths - if we dare to allow God such access to our hearts.
I have to say, that to embrace such a perspective of our hearts and the ownership of them is not an easy one to catch hold of - or even desire. It’s nice in our own little, safe, even if boring worlds of thinking we are “good with God.” But when we do a little work, take some moments to just stand still - or sit still - in awareness of God - we see God - in the thousand winds that blow, in the diamond glints on snow, the sunlight on ripened grain and the gentle autumn rain, in the morning’s hush or the swift, uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight, or the soft stars that shine at night. That’s when we begin to see with a different perspective - God’s perspective.
This perspective thing is a big deal, because when we go beyond just showing up at church on a Sunday morning or get together with church folks, we begin to see the real truth behind Jesus being God’s best selfie. That’s when we begin to see God’s vulnerability surviving among us and what it looks like when the Divine begins to burn in us and not only the world becomes bigger, but God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit become bigger, too.
When we take those moments of pause, to ‘look,’ we begin to appreciate Christ as teacher, healer, peace, and not mine. That’s when Jesus becomes our possibility and infinite mystery. That’s when Jesus shifts from being “that guy when” to always dying so we get the hang of it. And rising. Always one step ahead of us except when he’s disappeared into us. That’s when we begin to see Jesus as having heaven all over him like pollen on a bee’s legs, as light spilling out all over, especially through the holes in his hands. That’s when we understand that Jesus has a million questions, and most of them are the same one: “Do you know how much I love you?” That is when it seems like we can’t not pray.
Holy and Wondrous God, thank you for your invitation to walk through this part of our lives - in deeper relationship with you. Sometimes we get carried away with ourselves, God, but we are comforted in your understanding of our humanity. Give us ample opportunities this week, God, to see you in as many different perspectives as we can possibly imagine - and then some. Lover of our souls, coach us in the ways that can fill our hearts no matter what else may happen - in this world and the world to come. In gratitude for all with which you bless us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.