St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for September 16, 2018

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
September 16, 2018
Proper 19 B
Mark 8: 27-38
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     "But who do YOU say that I am?" In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus asks that very pointed question to the disciples, He has just asked them who other people say that he is. Some say John the Baptist, raised from the dead. Others say Elijah, which would give hope to the Jews who thought that Elijah would return before the Messiah appeared. Some said Jesus was one of the prophets, which would reassure them that God had not abandoned them, even though they were still occupied by the Romans.
     "But who do YOU say that I am?" Jesus asks. And Peter responds, "You are the Messiah." Peter, who has messed up so many times before and who will later deny that he even knows Jesus - Peter hits the nail on the head. From what Peter has come to know about Jesus, from what he has heard Jesus say and do, Peter knows that he is the Messiah. The wait is over. The long awaited Messiah has come. Although Peter may have the title right - Jesus IS the Messiah - he still does not fully understand what that means.
     When Jesus goes on to say that he must undergo great suffering, be rejected and killed, Peter rebukes him. In Peter's mind, that is not the way this is supposed to work. The Messiah that Peter envisioned will ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, riding on an impressive horse, followed by armies of people who will run the Romans out and free all who are oppressed. Then the people can live in peace and love under the reign of King Jesus. That's what Peter had in mind.
     So when Jesus says that he will suffer and die, Peter is caught off guard. "No, that's not the way it's supposed to work," we can imagine Peter telling Jesus. So Jesus rebukes Peter. "Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
     But if Jesus suffers and dies, who will preach and teach and heal? Who would spread the news of God's love for us? Who would lead them? What would they do if Jesus died? Obviously, Peter was so focused on Jesus saying that he would suffer and be killed that he didn't hear what Jesus said next - that after three days he would rise again. That would change everything, but Peter doesn't seem to hear that part or question it or ask Jesus to explain what he means.
     Peter does not want a Messiah who will suffer and die. He wants a Messiah who will establish God's rule with power and authority and bring his followers glory and reward. I think Peter objects to this depiction of Jesus' suffering and death out of fear. If this could happen to Jesus, it could happen to him or any one of the disciples. And that was not something Peter wanted to think about. Suffering and death were to be avoided at all costs, at least as far as he was concerned. That's not what Peter signed up for when he left his fishing net and followed Jesus.
     Jesus did not fill the expectations of Peter and the other disciples. He did not ride into Jerusalem on a white horse with an army behind him to right all the wrongs of the world and to offer his followers an easy life. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a humble beast of burden and submitted to the abuse of his captors. He gave up his earthly life for us and instructed us to follow God's commandments.
     But who do YOU say that I am? Who do we say that Jesus is? Is he a great prophet or he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God? Who is Jesus for us? Is he "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" or is he a radical man, turning things upside down, saying the last will be first and the first last, challenging people about who they believe God to be? Is he merely a carpenter from Nazareth who spoke boldly about what it means to live the life God wants us to live - loving God, and loving your neighbor as yourself? Who is Jesus for you?
     In order for Jesus to be the Messiah for us, we must give up our preconceived notions about who WE think Jesus should be. It is not up to us to give Jesus a job description and impose our own expectations. It's not up to us to make him the Savior that WE had in mind. We are not to make him into a Messiah who does what we want when we want it. That's what Peter did - envisioned a Messiah that he wanted.
     Who do we say that Jesus is? He is our Savior, our Redeemer, the one who died for us and rose again, our teacher, our friend. Our answer to this question may change as our faith grow and deepens and our relationship with God becomes stronger and more personal. We see many different sides of Jesus throughout the gospels. He is the "gentle Jesus" when he invites the children to come to him, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. We see the angry Jesus when he upsets the tables of the moneychangers and those selling things in the temple - this is a house of God and you have made it a den of thieves, he says. We see the compassionate Jesus in his feeding of the 5000 and his many healings of those who were sick or disabled. We see the prophetic Jesus as he teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. We see the sad Jesus as he weeps outside the tomb of Lazarus. We see the hurt Jesus as he is betrayed by a friend. We see the terrified Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane asking if this cup be taken from him; not my will, but yours be done, he says. We see the love of God in the crucified Jesus, dying for our sins and opening up the gates of heaven to all believers. We see the joyous, resurrected Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection.
At different times in our lives, we can connect with these various parts of Jesus.
     Who is Jesus for us? He is probably different for us at different times in our lives, depending on our circumstances and life situations. Jesus will not always fulfill our expectations, as he did not fulfill Peter's expectations. When that happens, when we are disappointed or angry or filled with self-pity that Jesus has not answered our prayers as WE want them answered, sometimes we want to abandon Jesus, abandon church, stop praying all together.
     But Jesus is not the Messiah to fulfill our wishes, our desires, our needs. Jesus is the Messiah who has promised to be with us always, to give us strength and courage to meet the challenges of this life. Jesus is the Messiah who helps us see the opportunities for service to God and others that are right in front of us. Jesus is the Messiah who calls us to love one another as God loves us. Jesus is the Messiah who lives deep within us to show us God's love for us and strengthen our faith.
     But who do YOU say that I am? The question is the same for us as it was for Peter. Who is Jesus for us today, tomorrow, next year? May we look beyond ourselves for that answer. Amen.
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