Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
Annual Worship by the River, Picnic, and Fun Fair
September 16, 2018
Reading #1: Mark8:27-30
Let me set the scene for you. Our readings today come from about the mid-point of Mark’s gospel, and they are really a pivot-point in the whole story that Mark is telling us. Up until this point, Jesus has been traveling in the region that surrounds the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a large fresh-water lake. Sometimes he has ventured a bit further north, and he spent a bit of time on the east side of the lake, but for the most part he has stuck pretty close to home.
But after our reading today and continuing through the rest of Mark’s gospel, Jesus begins his journey south, heading towards Jerusalem. When he gets to Jerusalem, we have the events that we remember every year in Holy Week and Easter – Jesus’s triumphal Palm Sunday entry into the city, his arrest, his torture, his execution, and then his resurrection.
So today’s reading really marks a turning point, if you will forgive the pun, in Mark’s gospel. Jesus’ disciples – including the inner circle of twelve, but also likely including a larger band of women and men who had traveled with him – Jesus’ disciples had witnessed lots of things in their time with Jesus. They had seen Jesus heal people; they had seen Jesus feed large crowds with only a few loaves of bread and a few fish; they had seen Jesus perform miracles that defied the natural world like walking on water; they had heard Jesus preach powerful sermons about how the captives were going to be released and the poor were going to be empowered.
And then we get to this moment. Jesus asks his disciples, the ones who had been following him and who had witnessed all the things that he had done; Jesus asks them, “Who do people, who do the crowds, who do the villages say that I am?” And the disciples answer with some of the things that they have heard. Some people say that you are John the Baptist, even though we know that Herod has killed him. Other people say that you are Elijah, since he didn’t die but was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and promised to return. And other people don’t give you a name, but just say that you are a prophet, someone who sees the world through God’s eyes, and speaks truth to power.
Now Jesus, he listens to their answers, but then he asks them another question. “Who do you say that I am?” And this stumps the disciples. You can almost hear an awkward pause. They were willing to pass on the things that they had heard, but weren’t quite ready to offer an opinion. But then finally Peter speaks up. “You are the Christ. You are the Messiah. You are the anointed one.”
Now Jesus’ question, even more than Peter’s answer, is a question that is still relevant to us today. Who do we say that Jesus is? Why is this person who lived 2000 years ago on the other side of the world still so important to us today?
I want to invite you to turn to your neighbour, and in groups of 2 or 3 or 4, take a minute or so to try and answer this question. If Jesus asked you, “Who do you say that I am?” how would you answer him?
Is anyone willing to share your answer?
There are so many different ways that we can answer Jesus’ question. Both the bible and the teachings of the church are so full of images or metaphors to try and describe Jesus. And this is both challenging and powerful.
The thing about trying to talk about God is that we are human and we are not God. We are limited by human language to try and describe something that is so holy, and so beyond, and so much more. And so we tend to resort to images or metaphors. Metaphors that can describe a similarity, but then reach a point where they no longer work. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the Great Physician. Jesus is the Light of the World. Jesus is the Bread of Life. Jesus is.
And it is only when we take all of these images and metaphors together that we can get a better image, or a better answer to Jesus’ question. Who do you say that I am?
Reading #2: Mark 8:31-33
So we talked about Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Let’s take a look at Peter’s answer. Peter answered Jesus, “You are the Christ, you are the Messiah, you are God’s Anointed One.”
Now for his answer to make sense, we have to know that Christ isn’t Jesus’ last name. It’s a title. It literally means the Anointed one, the one who is anointed like kings of the Ancient Israelite people were anointed. Christ is the Greek form of the word, and Messiah is the Hebrew form of the same word.
But in the time when Jesus was asking his question and Peter was providing an answer, the title of Messiah had come to take on a different meaning. The people, who had been living under the oppression of the Roman Empire, had come to expect a powerful military leader or king who would lead them to freedom and self-rule.
So when Jesus starts saying that as the Christ, he was going to suffer and die, Peter protests. “No – that can’t be right! Stop saying this! You are the Messiah – if you are going to die, how will you lead us to freedom?”
Jesus means one thing when he says Messiah; but Peter means something quite different. It’s a bit like that moment in one of my favourite movies, The Princess Bride. “You keep using that word – I do not think it means what you think it means.”
And today. How often do we misunderstand the things that Jesus says. It’s sometimes easier to point our finger at other people and groups. We can see places and times when scripture has been interpreted and used to exclude certain groups of people; we can see places and times where scripture has been interpreted to justify wars and violence and abuse.
And yet sometimes it’s harder to look at ourselves. Are there any ways that we as the United Church, we as Two Rivers Pastoral Charge, we as individuals are mis-understanding what Jesus says? I think that this is always an important question to keep in our minds and ask ourselves.
Reading #3: Mark 8:34-38
So if Jesus didn’t intend to be some sort of military leader like Peter expected the Messiah to be, what did he mean?
There are hints in here that Jesus is referring to the end of his life, to that week that we remember every year from Palm Sunday through to Easter. Jesus talks about suffering and rejection; he talks about the cross; he talks about rising again on the third day.
Now I don’t think that Jesus wanted to die. I don’t think that God sent God’s “only begotten Son” for the sole purpose of dying. I don’t think that Jesus saw his death as his only purpose in life. But I do think that at this point in his ministry, he saw it as the likely outcome. He realized that his message of peace and justice threatened too many of the powerful people. He realized that by heading to Jerusalem, he was going to be heading right in to the middle of a hornets’ nest of tension. He realized that if he was perceived as a traitor, then he would likely end up on a cross.
And he warns his followers that they might face the same situation.
That phrase, “take up your cross” has been used so often to hurt people or keep people in unsafe situations. A woman might be told to stay in an abusive relationship because “that’s her cross to bear.” A child being bullied might be denied help. Families might be left in poverty because “we all have a cross to bear.” This is all harmful theology, and not true to what Jesus is saying here.
In this reading, Jesus is telling us that if we choose to stay true to his message of love and peace and justice, then we might face danger from the world around us that doesn’t want to hear this message. But Jesus is encouraging us to stay true to him and to his message despite these dangers. The world is not going to be all sunshine and rainbows and unicorns all the time for us just because we are followers of Jesus, because we are living in a broken world.
But the good news is that God is with us. God became human in Jesus Christ. God knows what it is like to be human – to live and love and laugh and suffer and cry. God knows what it’s like to be human through Jesus Christ. And by the Holy Spirit, we are being drawn in to the body of Christ; and through Christ, we are drawn into the life of God, the eternal dance of the Three-in-One.
God is with us. We are with God. This is the good news that we can cling to, even when we face challenges and difficulties. This is the good news that we can share with others.
I want to invite you to take another couple of minutes to share with your neighbours how you have seen God’s goodness in your life. How have you experienced God’s presence, God’s love, God’s peace. What is this good news of God, that keeps you going?
Let us pray:
God of love,
we thank you for you!
We thank you that you are always with us,
and we are never alone.
We thank you for Jesus Christ,
your Word made flesh,
who joins our humanity with you.
We thank you for this community of faith
who travel with us
as companions on the journey.
We thank you.
The view from the back of the congregation
Thank you to Shirley Myles for the picture!