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Friday, March 2, 2012

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

"For those, like Peter, who are hoping for a knight on a white horse to sweep in at the last moment and save the day, the messianic expectation is bound to end in disappointment."
"Not a Super Hero, but an Authentic Human," Caspar Green, Scarlet Letter Bible, 2012.
Prayer

God of all goodness, you did not spare your only-begotten son but gave him up for the sake of us sinners.  Strengthen within us the gift of obedient faith, that, in all things, we may follow faithfully in Christ's footsteps, and, with him, be transfigured in the light of your glory.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Mark 8:27-38
There are several things going on in this passage: Jesus is recognized as Messiah and then prophesies his death and resurrection; and his instructions to the disciples about what is gained and lost in their decision to follow him.

A road leading to Ceasarea of Philippi
Here on the road to Philippi his followers take stabs at who he might be. These are certainly echoes of 6:14-15, a kind of popular notion of his ministry.  While they all contain within them some element of truth they are not the Truth.  Even if we were not theologically following this discourse we would see that a claim that they are lacking is evident in Jesus' follow up question: But who do you say that I am?

Some exegetes, trying to make sense of this, have disputed Peter's confession. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 612)  In fact his statement could be a Markan insertion of an ancient baptismal formula.  And, certainly the revelation of the exact nature of his messianic kingship is yet to be revealed. (Ibid, 613)  Nevertheless, what happens here is more than foreshadowing a future reality as you and I read the living word. It provides for us insight into the nature of the God we believe in, and the nature of the Son we seek to follow.

In these words of Jesus we receive several revelations. The first is that while these events that are to unfold are unexpected (perhaps in Paul's words "foolish") they are exactly God's will and desire.  God in Jesus has come to enfold humanity.  The cross, the great inevitability, will not stop either the proclamation of Good News nor will it keep salvation history from breaking into the cosmos.

The second revelation is that the scriptures of Israel, the Old Testament, reveal this march towards incarnation, crucifixion, and redemption.

Peter's reaction to this is normal, and in point of fact echoes our modern response to this notion. It doesn't make sense.  Typically, in the face of criticism the Christian either shuts down or retreats to a different understanding of God and Jesus.

Jesus then gathers the people towards him and tells them that there is a cost to following.The images here and the words used by our author are similar to a commander rallying his troops. They are summoned following the rebuke, gathered so they can be refocused on the work at hand.  The self sacrifice, the work, the difficult hardships to be endured as a follower of Jesus are manifest; some are as physical as martyrdom, some social, still others will be psychological.  Jesus encourages them to have the will, fortitude, and endurance to run this race.

This Sunday is an opportunity to preach the uniqueness of God in Christ Jesus, the cross, and salvation.  While I think many will like the disciples offer some turned phrase that will lesson the meaning of who Jesus is to one of the disciple's responses.  We are encouraged to pick up our cross and be apologists for our theology.

I recently read an article that appeared in The Christian Century, April 19, 1995, pp. 423-428, Robert Bellah, (emeritus professor of sociology and comparative studies at the University of California, Berkeley) described the tension between Christianity and pluralism. He wrote these words regarding our current challenge of proclaiming a gospel in our Western culture:

…[W]e are getting our wires crossed if we think we can jettison defining beliefs, loyalties and commitments because they are problematic in another context. Reform and re-appropriation are always on the agenda, but to believe that there is some neutral ground from which we can rearrange the defining symbols and commitments of a living community is simply a mistake-a common mistake of modern liberalism. Thus I do not see how Christians can fail to confess, with all the qualifications I have stated, but sincerely and wholeheartedly, that there is salvation in no other name but Jesus.
Bella, then offers a challenge to those who would teach Christianity today.  It is a challenge well worth our effort!

…Thus it would seem that a nonsuperficial Christianity must be based on something more than an individual decision for Christ, must be based on induction into the Christian cultural-linguistic system. Without such induction the individual decision may be not for the biblical Christ but for a henotheistic guardian spirit. And that is true not only for so-called new Christians, but for many of us in our own allegedly Christian society who do not understand what Paul would have required us as Christians to understand.
Therefore it seems to me of the utmost importance on this Sunday, with the witness of Peter given to us as the gospel, to make our cultural-linguistic case for the Gospel we Episcopalians believe.

We believe in the Episcopal Church that Jesus is the only perfect image of the Father, and that he reveals to us and illustrates for us the very true nature of God.

Jesus reveals to us what I have said, and moreover that God is love and that God’s creation is meant to glorify God.

We believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that by God's own act, his divine Son received our human nature from the Virgin Mary, his mother.

We believe, what is foolish to man, that God became in Jesus human that we might be adopted as children of God, and be made heirs in the family of Abraham and inherit God's kingdom.

We believe we did what humans do to prophets and we killed Jesus. God knew this and yet freely walked to the cross in the person of Jesus, that through his death, resurrection and ascension we would be given freedom from the power of sin and be reconciled to God.

While the ability to glorify God and live in a covenant community with God was given to us so too was the gift of eternal life.

We believe God in the form of the Son descended among the dead and that they receive the benefit of the faithful which is redemption and eternal life.

We say and claim that Jesus took our human nature into heaven where he now reigns with the Father and intercedes for us and that we share in this new relationship by means of baptism into this covenant community – wherein we become living members in Christ.

In our covenant community we have a language of faith which directs our conversations and gives meaning to our words; through which we understand we are invited to believe, trust, and keep God’s desire to be in relationship by keeping his commandments.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

We are to love one another as Christ loved us.

As preachers I encourage you to preach the Gospel that is in us.  Teach your people what the Episcopal Church believes of this foolish messiah, claim the cross as the symbol of our faith and Jesus as Messiah.

This is the good news of salvation we know in Jesus name.  So, take up your cross and preach. 


A Little Bit for Everyone




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.”

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