Sermon – September 13, 2015 The Rev. Michael Phillips
In the gospel we just heard things are heating up for Jesus. He has just fed thousands of people – twice in fact, then healed a blind man and a Gentile woman’s daughter. Now still in Gentile territory he asks his disciples what people are saying about him. Some say he’s John the Baptist come back from the dead, others say ‘Elijah’ and still others say ‘one of the prophets’……pretty good company by the way. Then he gets personal, “How about you? Who do you say that I am?” And Peter, always the impetuous one, blurts out, “You are the Messiah.”
Then Jesus tells them what’s going to happen: I will suffer. I will be rejected. I will be killed by the authorities, and then God will raise me up.
Peter cries out,” No, no! That can’t happen. You’re too valuable. You’re too important. We’ll protect you. We’ll defend you.”
And Jesus responds, “Why you little Satan, you. You are thinking in human terms, not divine.”
We can read this story and be very impressed with Jesus’ ability to foresee the future. Not only can he perform miracles of healing and feeding, but he also has the superpower to know what’s going to happen before it does! He might not be able to fly like Superman, or have x-ray vision, but wow!! he has his own set of powers and superhuman abilities. I can guarantee you this in NOT what Mark had in mind when he wrote this story.
Instead, Mark drops clues to help us understand his intentions, clues that emerge when we look at the Greek text rather than the English translation we just heard. Let me explain: we heard, ”who do you say that I am?” and Peter replies, “You are the Messiah.” But if we read that same sequence in the Greek text Peter says, “You are the Christos.” In Greek, the word “christos” means “oiled” and in the ancient world, oil was used to anoint. So let me make a fuller translation of what Peter says, “You are the One Chosen by God.”
At the time Mark wrote his gospel the Romans had just destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and there was deep, deep anxiety and fear. Every Jew worried what would happen next, especially the Christian Jews who were already outlawed and persecuted. But Christian Jews were also baptized. After a 2-3 year period of training and preparation during which the candidates would reorder their lifestyle so that it was in alignment with the gospel, they would be fully immersed in water, ritually drowning them, and then the bishop would raise them up and they would be reborn into a new way of living. He would then take the holy oil and anoint them with the sign of the cross. The baptized were also chosen by God to be part of this faith community that would transform the world.
So Mark is not just telling us what is going to happen to Jesus personally, but also what every baptized Christian can expect; suffering? – check; rejection? – check; killed? – check; and raised to a new life? –double check. God does not want us to live the lives we have now. God wants us to live the new life of grace, a life that only comes after the suffering that occurs when the old life is intentionally rejected and put to death. Only the Evil One would want to sabotage us living into the full life of grace: “Get behind me, Satan.”
Even though Mark wrote two thousand years ago he still speaks to us, to us who are baptized, to us who are anointed and chosen by God to participate in this community of praise and thanksgiving. God wants us to live the resurrected life and the only thing standing in the way of that is the life we currently own – the comfortable, cozy, reassuring life we have built for ourselves to protect us from suffering, rejection, and death. And Satan smiles.
To reach the promised life we must be open to spiritual suicide: putting the protected self to death, and trusting that God will raise us, as He raised Jesus, to a fuller, richer, and more fulfilling life of grace.
Let me conclude with a story that always inspires me. I may have told it to some of you before, but it bears repeating. A number of years ago I had a parishioner who came down with a severe and devastating auto-immune disease. It was painful. It sapped her energy. It altered the shape of her body in most unflattering ways. She was married with two teen-aged children. She didn’t need this. In addition to the strong medications, every six weeks she had to check into the outpatient clinic at the local hospital and sit for eight hours while a machine removed the impurities from her blood and then recirculated it back into her veins. She could have done other things with that time, but it helped. She felt better and had energy for a week or two until her illness would start catching up with her again. Oh, there was one other element – there was no cure, only treatment. She would never be rid of this illness as far as she knew – no hope of getting better.
After a year and a half of treatments I met with her and asked how everyone in the family was adjusting. We talked for a while and then she said this, “If I could turn back the clock and make it so I never had this illness I would do it in an instant. However, I’ve discovered there is another side to it. Because of the illness, this suffering, I have been able to have conversations and make connections with people that were deeper and more honest than ever before and would never have occurred if I had stayed healthy. People I barely knew and become close and trusted companions. People who I always thought were nice enough but never shared much of themselves have opened up to me about their own suffering, trials, an heartaches. My life on one level has been diminished by this disease, and on another level it has been completely transformed and I feel blessed.”
This resurrected life comes with a cost. The price painfully exchanges one life for another, but our faith tells us that the suffering, the rejection and the death leads us to blessing.
In God’s name, Amen.