Sermon September 16, 2012 Mark 8:27-38 “Setting Our Minds and Hearts on the Divine”
Back a number of years ago, there was a quote by priest-theologian, Edward Braxton, which caught my attention and has never really left me. It asks a question of me, of you, of any who profess Christ as Lord, Savior, God Incarnate. “If we could fully understand who Christ is and why Christ came to live among us, could we better understand who we are and how we should live our lives? Well, here’s the quote:
“His dangerous memory looms over western history. The young Jewish prophet from Nazareth was, by all accounts, a singularly gifted person. He was cut off in his prime for going against the drift of things. In spite of his fierce execution (an untimely death), all who have lived since he died are necessarily on pilgrimage. This pilgrimage takes us through the account of his wondrous words and deeds to the emotion filled upper room of his final meal, to the blood and sweat drenched garden of Gethsemane, to the cloud piercing totem of the Cross, and finally to the haunting silence of the empty tomb. The relentless question is ever the same. Is this dead man the intersection between time and timelessness? Does he yet live? Does he yet live? And if he does, how shall we, then live?” 
Mark’s message to us today could be described as a story about success and failure. Not success and failure as one person might describe it but how one might see success while another view the same event, mission or circumstance as failure. That’s how we operate as human beings…we do see events and people through a lens of our making. We view the same situation radically different from one another because it either meets our expectations or fails to do so; it either satisfies our agendas or falls short.
My own recent decision to drive to Virginia to be with my Mom rather than fly there brought out some fears and anxieties for those who love me. My brother wanted me to fly no matter what the cost. When I dismissed flying as an option, he added his voice to those of my cousins who suggested I take a train. But, I had another vision. I didn’t want to be in Virginia without transportation and I didn’t want to rent a car. I wanted my car filled with a trunk-ful of my stuff. I didn’t want to be on an airline schedule and have to come home because my ticket said I should. And I didn’t want to be in a train for 6 – 7 hours sharing space with a lot of people I didn’t know. My brother, my cousins all thought they knew what I should do, what I was capable of doing, but I had another vision. I was going to drive.
We have preconceptions about what the person before us, any person can do or should do and what they can’t or shouldn’t do. That’s how we are, so it’s understandable that when asked by Jesus how people saw him, the disciples would rattle off a variety of answers based largely on their own hopes and anxieties. You are John the Baptist…no, well, then, you are Elijah, and yet again, you are one of the prophets? It is no less surprising that Peter would have the right answer, “you are the Messiah” but for the wrong reasons. By his definition, a Messiah, the Messiah would be the one who would triumph over evil, destroy the oppressor, defeat the enemy and raise up the people of Israel to power. That was what he had been told by centuries of ancient writings, by hundreds of prophets, to watch for the Messiah who would come in glory and deliver the people of Israel from their chains.
But that wasn’t who Jesus was. He wasn’t the kind of Messiah who would storm the ramparts violently bringing down the walls of division. Jesus came to give his life, came to suffer and came to die for God’s people, to make a sacrifice, which would ultimately be the only sacrifice that could free us from our chains; the only sacrifice that would give us lives worth living. Jesus is the Messiah, but he had a different vision of what that meant, a different way to view the same set of events in order to remake them into something better.
His words to Peter “to get behind him” and the fact that he seemingly called Peter “Satan” seems particularly harsh to our ears. But, I can understand how that all happened. Jesus, after all was human. He shared our fears, our human tendency to give in to our uncertainty. Maybe, in that moment, with his own doubts working on him, doubts powered by a demonic voice or two, Christ heard the his own voice within saying, “you don’t want to die, do?” “You don’t want to give up your life, do you?”
It would be understandable; he was human, like us. So, it didn’t help much to have someone echoing his own inner struggle, naming his fears out loud. Yes I can understand because even before my brother and my cousins offered their well-intended solutions to my Virginia travel plans…plane or train…just don’t drive, I was already fighting my own fears about driving. I just didn’t want to hear from those fears uttered by others. And my response to them was less than patient…get behind me, Satan. I can do this. I must do this. I will do this in the way I’ve been called to do it. Step aside and let me get to it. Yeah, I can understand. I think most of us can, because we have had those moments of self-doubt and fear playing on our nerves too.
But, Christ pushed through to the only means by which salvation could happen. It had to be the cross for him, but what about us? Christ indicates that we, who follow him, must also expect similar abuse and suffering. Why?
Well, I began this morning with a quote from Edward Braxton who asks us to consider the questions “Does he live?” and if Christ does live how shall we, then, live?” Like Peter, like the early followers of Christ, we live out of the confession that Christ is Lord of our lives. There’s a responsibility attached to a confession of this magnitude. It requires our willingness to work here and now to bring about the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. We say it every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. Such a confession makes the assumption that we will be partners with God to bring God’s reign into existence by our convictions and through our actions. It requires our willingness to allow God the use of our hands to bring healing, the use of our voices to bear the Good News of God to all God’s people. Like Peter, it will be our faith that becomes the food, which fuels the journeys of others, our faith, which will encourage others to have faith, to grow in their spiritual lives closer to the God of being. It will be our faith, which will help others seek out ways to deepen the commitments we have as followers. There will be losses…“those who lose their life for [God’s] sake”…will find renewed lives as God’s children. Yes, there will be losses but then again, look at what we will gain…Life in Jesus Christ. Amen.
 Bishop Edward Braxton, Bishop of Lake Charles on February 21, 2001