Mark 8:27-3827Jesus 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 human one 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.”
We started a series last week called, "Backyard Stumbling Blocks," or, what are the things in our lives, both individually and as a community of faith, that keep us from moving forward, or growing deeper in relationship- with God, and with each other. It's important for us to talk about in this phase of our journey together; our relationships have deepened, our backyard has grown, and more and more of us are deepening in discipleship, exploring God's call on our lives, and stepping out in faith. This is wonderful! Yet as we walk this path of discipleship, it's important to recognize some of the things we maybe encounter that serve to trip us up; stumbling blocks that keep us from living into all God has for us. Last week we spent some time talking about the perils of competition- how we can strive, not to stand over others, but alongside one another. That those who are granted power, and privilege, are tasked with the responsibility of providing access to all, to break down the systems that serve to keep some with, and other's without. The Jesus way is one where competition is about outdoing one another- in love. (Amen?)
The scene we have just heard from Mark's Gospel gives us a glimpse into a private conversation between Jesus and the disciples, and it brings to the forefront our next stumbling block- Security. At first glance, one might think, how can they even be having this conversation? It's a given, isn't it, that the disciples wouldn't be so concerned about security. They have indeed left everything to follow this charismatic figure simply because Jesus called them. "Follow me!" He had said... and they had done so. Traveling from town to town, preaching, healing, challenging, the disciples have watched and learned from Jesus.
But today, Jesus decides to give them a check in- a, 'how'r we doin' moment. He says, "Who do people say that I am?" And the disciples answer honestly, 'people have all kinds of beliefs on who you are- some think you are John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” And I expect Jesus thought about this for a while- maybe it was what he had expected to hear, maybe not- but it does register to Jesus that the people he is ministering to, don't have a common view of who he is- that part of his message, (had he wanted it to become public), had not come through. And so Jesus asked the disciples, "So who do you say that I am?”
No pause, no thinking about it, before anyone can answer, Peter blurts out the obvious, “You are the Messiah.” that is Peter's answer. He had left everything to follow this charismatic figure, remember? He had to be the Messiah, the anointed one, the chosen of God who would liberate theJewish people from oppression- Jesus was the one with the personality, drive and determination to rise socially and politically, who surely, though he had yet to disclose it, surely had a plan to overthrow those in power- to take power instead for the Jewish people- to provide access to all, to break down the systems that serve to keep some 'with' and some, 'without'... and (with Peter by his side, of course), he would become the Jewish Caesar!
After Peter's confession, Jesus "sternly orders" them not to tell anyone. Why? If the Messiah was who Jesus actually claimed himself to be, why would he not want that news be be shared? Why not lay out all of Jesus's intentions on the table? Perhaps it's because Jesus knew that the disciples, like Peter, were still under a misconception as to what "Messiah" actually meant.
But he doesn't belabor the point- Jesus simply uses the moment to reveal next steps, and in doing so, what, "Messiah" really means; "that the human one 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." and Mark takes the time to insert a comment- "He said all of this quite openly." In other words, he said it like it was, this was not a metaphor, or a parable- this would happen as he said- suffering, rejection, be killed, rise... and Peter hears these words echo in his mind, '...suffering, rejection, be killed, rise... suffering, rejection, be killed... what?' And he takes Jesus off to the side and puts his arm on the center of his back, "Hey buddy... kill the doom and gloom talk- look around you- this thing is growing- candidates for office shouldn't be talking about suffering and death.. we...er, you could be great- but, keep to the plan, man."
And Jesus turns to the other disciples-turns his back to Peter- "get behind me Satan!" Or literally translated form the greek, get behind me, you satan, you stumbling block!"
Let's stop here. Because this is where I could do a whole series of sermons on what the origins of satan are, and how we got to know a little guy in a red suit with a tail and horns and call him, the devil- but we're not going there today... Satan, today, is an adversary, a trip in the road, something that serves to derail, the voice that tries to tempt us into going another way, a stumbling block.
And I get where Peter is coming from. Who, when building a world-wide movement, says things like, follow me and you get to suffer! Follow me and be rejected by anyone who has any power. Follow me and potentially lose your life for the cause. Sign up here! Aren't our leadership candidates supposed to be offering things like prosperity, jobs, stability and security? We want people in power who can keep us safe! Self preservation is an instinct, no?
We are trained from day one to learn to take care of ourselves, to keep ourselves out of harms way, to not only be able to provide for ourselves, but also for our families. We are taught to take on social and civic responsibilities, to serve others, to keep our children safe, to insure security for our communities. We elect people who we feel can keep our nation safe- we punish those who show themselves to be "threats to national security," and boost our military and our arms.
On a personal level, we minimize risk- we don't want to rock the boat- don't want to put ourselves out there to do anything that may cause us discomfort or risk our personal safety.
For some of us, the risk is more than just physical. For those who have been emotionally abused, been taught to stand in the shadows, or that you are less than, or been hurt before when trying to stand up for themselves or others, even the mention of the word risk can send shivers up our spine. For the spiritually battered, it can be even worse. Those wounds inflicted by our religious leaders have left scars on some that are so deep you can see them- being told you are spiritually inept, sinful, broken, unworthy, guilty- all make for a soul who wants nothing more than to stay safe and out of the threat of any more demeaning... please don't mess with my security, Jesus!
Yet Jesus says this is exactly how the world will change- “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For 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. "
These are tough words to hear, well, for me anyway. Part of the reason Peter's words resonate, is because he represents that little voice inside of me that whispers in my ear every time I take a step to follow God that will cause me to give up something I find comforting- any time I make a move toward doing something that will cause me dis-ease, or suffering... Peter whispers in my ear- don't risk it! Don't you want to stay safe? What about security? If you're not thinking of you, Linda, at least think of security for those around you- you're supposed to keep them safe too...
But the more we try to hang on to the things that we feel keep us safe, the more we have to give up things that help us grow. As a nation, we want to protect ourselves- and yes, we try to keep the peace diplomatically, but when diplomacy fails, which it so often does, our own young people are sent to put their lives on the line in war, fighting young people from other countries, also trying to keep themselves safe. We lose the very thing we are intent on protecting. In our communities, we want to insure jobs and wealth, and so we shake our heads yes when the corporations and banks want to 'better the community' and soon find ourselves being owned and loaned to by those same corporations- our communities get absorbed and lose the very identity we tried to preserve. Individually we want to stay safe- we buy security systems for our homes to keep out intruders, but we become leery of anyone who dares pass the front gate without an invitation. (Comedienne) We give up our freedom in order to stay safe.
On an emotional level, we keep our stuff in a vault so thick and so secure it would take an atom bomb to open it... we keep our "stuff" hidden, so that we can keep up a facade, or present ourselves as perfect, or at the very least, better than someone else. Risking letting people find out about the real "us" threatens our ego- they might not like me, they might not accept me, they might not understand... so we bottle things up, and keep things secure, but in so doing, lose the life we could share with others in rich full relationship.
Those who try to keep their lives, will lose them... ot in the words of Jesus "For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?"
For each of us, security means something different. What does it mean to you? When God speaks to your heart and says, follow me, what would you have to let go of, what security system would you have to disengage? What would it mean when payed out in our community of faith? In our backyard?
One thing I can tell you, especially if you have only recently started attending FBCM- this church has a long history of listening to God, following, even when it meant security at risk- talk to someone who was here during the vietnam war years, or when Jane Fonda spoke, and cherry bombs and tear gas were launched into the church. Talk to someone who was here when the church was standing up for LGB rights- and became a welcoming and affirming congregation, and lost the kinship of not just churches in town but in our own baptist region. Talk to someone who was here when we let go of a governance system that, secure as it was, was holding us back from allowing people to do ministry, or even those who listened to God as far as our worship. Talk to those who have found relationships here, and trust here, and have learned to open themselves up, maybe for the first time, to another person, or in some cases, the whole church.
And while all of that is wonderful God is still speaking in this place- calling individuals and our church as a whole to do this out there... Out there? Come on pastor, I'm just getting my bearings! I've just learned to feel secure in this room, give me a minute will you? Fair enough. Take a minute- take 5... enjoy what God has done in this place. This is the year to do it. And for those who haven't found that trust yet, give it some time... God works wonders. But here's the bottom line... We could try our best to protect what we have, to keep all of this backyard fun and growing and security to ourselves.... but we're called to spread this good news with the world.