The divine and the human
17 Pentecost B 9 16 18
A couple of weeks ago we looked at Jesus' criticism of the religious authorities who knew the rules but didn't have God in their hearts. Jesus called them hypocrites. We all know the expression, "do as I say, not as I do," which openly invites the same label.
I found myself in a situation this week where I had to think about these things again. I've been appointed to a public board that has demanded much more time, energy and thought of me than I had planned. On Wednesday I was stuck in a meeting where it seemed to me everyone except me and one other member wanted to talk and talk and talk and talk about a project rather than just vote it up or down. I was furious. A couple of people had flip flopped and so the issue was tabled.
The next day, between rain storms, I was changing our sign on the corner. The new message says
"SET YOUR MIND ON THE DIVINE NOT ON THE HUMAN."
This, of course, is the message of today's Gospel. How fitting is it, do you think, for a pastor to be changing his church's sign message only to realize, "Ooops. Time to set my mind on the divine."
And so I did. I prayed for a change in my heart and I prayed for the people involved and I thanked God for the reminder. And, to tell you the truth, I need to thank God for the weather because if rain hadn't stopped me from changing the sign until Thursday, I might have changed the sign Monday, as I normally do, and not been able to connect the message of the sign with my spiritual confusion.
(OK. Now I've thanked God for the weather.)
This message comes to us after one of the most dramatic exchanges in the entire Bible. Jesus is asking his disciples who people say he is. He asks this as they are walking along a road. He then asks who the disciples themselves say he is. It is Peter who blurts out, "You are the Messiah."
Look at the dramatic action which followed that confession of faith by Peter:
Peter declares Jesus is the Messiah.
Jesus sternly orders them to keep it quiet.
Jesus details his grisly death.
Peter rebukes Jesus.
Jesus orders him, "Get behind me, Satan."
Jesus then goes on to speak with his followers in very specific terms about what it means to follow Jesus. It reminds me of a time when I was in the process of being considered for the priesthood by my diocese. A priest who was a friend and guide told me that what they wanted to know from me was that I could not imagine doing anything else with my life than becoming a priest, than following Jesus.
That idea surprised me. I have a pretty active imagination. When I heard this week that Health Quest and Marist were going to develop a medical school here in Poughkeepsie I thought, "Gee, maybe I'll go to medical school." I can imagine a lot of things.
I took to heart my friend's suggestion and reflected and prayed about it. I looked at my life up to that point and realized that more and more this was the way my life was headed. I deeply desired to draw nearer to God, to my faith, to be involved. I loved being involved in my church's outreach ministries and I thrilled to help out at the altar and as a lector in my role as a subdeacon.
But when I got serious and thought deeply about what I wanted to do with my life, and when I knew it wouldn't impact my family unduly, I had no hesitation admitting that the only thing that called to me was the call to be a priest. Fantasies abound. But this is the real deal.
There was a time, like Peter, when I would have argued with Jesus about his earthly end. I, too, could've been told to get behind Jesus, could have been called Satan.
I loved the idea in The Last Temptation of Christ in which Jesus toyed with the notion of getting down off the cross and going and having a nice life with Mary Magdalene. My human mind, my earthly mind, liked that idea much more than this perfect person, Jesus, dying as he died.
But in addition to being human and of the earth, Jesus was also fully holy, one of the three persons of God. He could not say no to God because of his Trinitarian identity.
We presume from this exchange Peter learned that God's will is not something we attempt to change.
We can let God know we're unhappy about it when God's will seems to involve something we dislike, like a friend getting sick and dying or a hurricane bearing down on family and friends. But these manifestations of God's will aren't subject to holy u-turns, whether inspired by human supplication or whim. Our task is to accept God's will and try to distinguish where and how we might comply.
The ever impulsive Peter once again has helped us see how it is we are to absorb the history of our faith, the earthly life and death of Jesus, in this instance. There are parts that are disturbing. There are parts that leave us incredulous. Yet it is our faith, we know its outline and its detail and its every twist and turn. And we accept is as our own faith, complete with its improbabilities and the discomforts it plants in us.
Jesus said, "
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".
We are challenged to put down our own ideas on how the world ought to operate, what principles ought to be followed, and consider Jesus. He was the exemplar of all time, giving of himself throughout his earthly ministrty, right up until his dying breath, with which he uttered that phrase, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
This is loving God and loving one's neighbor writ large. This is our heritage. Our call.
A sermon preached Sept. 2, 2018 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector