From Pastor Kenny's Desk
September 16, 2018
Then he and the disciples set out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way, Jesus asked the disciples this question: “Who do people say that I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptizer; others, Elijah; still others, one of the prophets.”
“And you,” he went on to ask, “who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah!” But Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.
Then Jesus began to teach them that the Promised One had to suffer much, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and religious scholars, be put to death, and rise again three days later. Jesus said these things quite openly.
Peter then took him aside and began to take issue with him. At this, Jesus turned around and, eyeing the disciples, reprimanded Peter: “Get out of my sight, you Satan! You are judging by human standards rather than by God’s!”
Jesus summoned the crowd and the disciples and said, “If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, take up your cross and follow in my footsteps. If you would save your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll save it. What would you gain if you were to win the whole world but lose your self in the process? What can you offer in exchange for your soul? Whoever in this faithless and corrupt generation is ashamed of me and my words will find, in turn, that the Promised One and the holy angles will be ashamed of that person, when all stand before our God in glory.”
~ Mark 7:27-38
This week's sacred text is in almost every way possible the center of Mark's story. It stands, literally, near the dead center of Mark's work. Also, it marks the major transition in the story from Jesus ministry of opposing all that oppresses God's people … by healing, feeding, casting out demons and the rest … to Jesus journey to the cross. But perhaps most importantly, it vividly and succinctly summarizes the essence of the kin-dom of God and why it can be hard for us to accept it.
Many know this story well enough to skim the details. Jesus and his disciples have been all over Galilee and now are on the fringes of the Roman town of Caesarea Philippi when he asks them two important questions: who do people say that I am? More to the point, who do you say that I am? They answer both, the first with comparisons to important biblical figures, the second with Peter's flash of insight that this is no everyday miracle worker or prophet but is indeed God's anointed One, the Messiah.
And then comes the turning point: Jesus begins to explain what it means to be the Messiah and no one … including Peter … can believe it. Why? Because the Jewish people, including Jesus’ Jewish disciples, were looking for a powerful leader … perhaps a military king like David … and so they were disappointed with Jesus pronouncement. And let's face it … absent 20/20 … hindsight, would we have reacted any differently? Probably not because … more often than not … we also look for God to come in strength and often miss God's coming to meet us in our weakness. So, while we may not get the God we want, in Jesus we discover the God we need, one who does not overwhelm us but meets us in our brokenness in order to heal, restore, and redeem us.
What stands out to me in the sacred text are the words that Jesus directs to his disciples and the larger crowds. These are familiar as well: words about denying oneself, about taking up your cross, and about saving and losing one's life. What sunk in this time around is how little thought I've put into the phrase losing your life and how important it seems to me to understand, not just Mark's story of Jesus, but the whole of Jesus ministry and mission as well as the kin-dom of God itself.
Notice how true these words turn out to be for Jesus as he does, in fact, lose his life and finds it, or really is given it back and more, in the resurrection. So, here's my question: might this also be true for us? That is, in what ways have we also experienced losing our life as the key to receiving it back again? For example, have you at times noticed, that when you give a gift to someone, you recognize how much you receive in return? Or have you discovered, on occasion, that only by loving another do you feel yourself to be loved? Have you ever gone without so that someone could have more and felt intensely richer as a result? Or that there's no better way to find a friend than first to be a friend, and that unexpected rewards come through sacrifice. Or have you ever felt depressed, lonely or discouraged and instead of isolating from others you forced yourself to do something kind for someone and found yourself feeling better when the other individual expressed gratitude or thanks? And so on. Each of these are perhaps small but still compelling glimpses of the inverted logic of the kin-dom.
I call it inverted logic because it is so dramatically different than the logic that runs the kin-dom of the world. This logic … one many of us, although not all … we are taught from a very early age … suggests that the only way to find security is through possessions or power. This logic attempts to persuade us that only by having more can we be happy, and that only by satisfying all our wants can we be content. This logic operates on a notion of absolute scarcity and therefore pits us against one another in a winner-takes-all competition for goods, meaning, and love. And it's all around us because it's the logic behind almost all advertising campaigns, political rhetoric, and commercial decisions.
And yet against all this Jesus comes urging us to give of ourselves, put others first, and take up burdens on behalf of another. No wonder he is not only disbelieved but also rejected: he isn't just an unusual king, he is the anti-king, almost the exact opposite of the kings of the world.
No wonder his kin-dom still has trouble attracting some people. He says here that in order to enter you need to be last, not first. Later he'll lift up the most vulnerable … children, the outcast, and the diseased … as models of exemplary citizens. Jesus is proclaiming an anti-kingdom, that is utterly opposite of what we imagine a kingdom should be.
Why, then, come… to church, to Jesus, to this kin-dom he proclaims? Because this logic that seems so opposite all we have encountered thus far invites us to discover our lives by receiving our identity as beloved children rather than trying to earn it through our accomplishments. It invites us to find our purpose in serving others rather than in accumulating goods and things. It invites us to imagine that our life … and the lives of those around us … have infinite worth … just the way they are … simply because God chooses to love us apart from anything we've done or not done.
Why do we come? Because this kin-dom is about life, not the pseudo-life we've been persuaded by advertisers or politicians it's the best we can expect … real, honest-to-goodness life. Can you imagine how powerful it would be for Richmond … and our world … to realize MCC Richmond is a place where people feel comfortable to be ALL of who they are … brokenness and all … where people can be seed for who they ARE and know they are valued and accepted … just the way they are? That's the challenge and invitation Jesus offers here. As a congregation we work hard at maintaining and ensuring MCC Richmond is a safe place for ALL … the meaning here is to continue to allow others to see and know us as our whole selves … and in-turn … they too … can know the joys and possibilities in the kin-dom of God.
All we have to do is trade what we've been led to believe is life for the real thing. It's incredibly hard because so much money and energy has gone into convincing us that the best we can expect is a quid-pro-quo world where you get what you deserve. But if you can let it go, even for a few moments, you'll discover that God still loves to create out of nothing, raises the dead to life, and gives each and every one of us so much more than we either deserve or can imagine. This is the gift of God’s inverted logic … in giving away God’s love, hope and grace to others we ourselves discover these gifts ever so much more profoundly.
Thanks be to God!