Trinity 15, 2021 – Sermon

(Modified 2021-09-12: Added recording of this sermon.)

St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Trinity 15, Sept. 12, 2021 Canon Claude Schroeder

Audio recording of this sermon

2021 is the year of Mark in our lectionary, where on Sunday mornings at St. Mary’s  we have been slowly working our way through  St. Mark ‘s Gospel. And so what have we heard and learned so far? Up to this point in the story, Mark has been describing for us the main features of Jesus’ public ministry, which consisted of essentially three things:  preaching, teaching, and miracles.

The preaching, the message, which Jesus proclaimed concerned the kingdom of God or the reign and rule of God here on this earth. Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Good News.” (Mark 1.15)

Here at St. Mary’s we seek to pass on this message, this good news that through the life, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus Christ and sending of the Holy Spirit God has established his reign and rule on this earth, having defeated the power of Satan, sin, and death. That’s the kingdom. And it’s here, and it’s now. 

In his teaching then Jesus sought to show the people, often in parables, but also in direct instruction,  what this kingdom looks like, and how it works, and what it means for us to live under God’s reign and rule. 

And finally by performing miracles Jesus demonstrated that the preaching and the teaching of the kingdom wasn’t just empty talk. It was the power of God to give, heal, restore,  and transform life, which is what Jesus did  when he healed the sick, cast out demons, made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, raised the dead, stilled storms, multiplied the loaves and fishes, and perhaps the most powerfully of all, forgave sins. As the scribes declared, “ Who can forgive sins but God alone? (Mark 2. 7)

In the midst of all of this preaching, teaching, and performing miracles, Jesus called his disciples whom then sent out  and authorized to preach, teach, and perform miracles.  And so here we are!

Today in Chapter 8 we are have arrived not only at the half point of Mark’s Gospel, but also the theological and spiritual turning point of the Gospel. Jesus has taken his disciples beyond the borders of Israel into the city of Caesaria Philippi, which was unusual place for a Jewish rabbi and his disciples to be, since it was built and named in honor of Caesar, whom the Romans, worshipped as a god. Caesaria Philippi was also the sight of a temple to the Greek nature god “Pan.” If you have ever seen a picture of pan he had a human torso and the legs, hindquarters , and horns of goat, and was renowned for his music abilities and sexual powers. So in Caesar Philippi we have the worship of power politics on the one hand, and the worship of  nature, music, sex on the other, and everything in between. What a mess! Religiously and spiritually, Caesaria Philippi  was henotheistic, which is the idea that there are many gods that you can worship, or as we say today, ‘spiritualities’  that you can pick and choose from depending on your personal preference, or tribal or family background, but it all amounts to the same thing.  Religion is religion. You have your gods and I have mine. Canadian society is not much different is it? 

It was against the background of this spiritual and theological smorgasbord where Jesus asks the disciples, “ Who do people say that I am?”

It comes as no surprise when the disciples  tell Jesus that public opinion held that he was either a re-incarnation of John the Baptist or Elijah, or one of the prophets of old. In others words, “we have seen it all before. There is nothing new here people, move along, along’ which again corresponds to what we find today. Who is Jesus? An inspired religious teacher, but just one among many. 

But Jesus turned to His disciples,  and said“ But who do you say that I am?”

That as they say is the million dollar question!

Never mind public opinion, “Who do you, and who do I, say that Jesus is?”

It was Peter who said, “You are the Messiah” which is to say that you are God’s Anointed King who has come to gather and unite all people everywhere under God’s saving and judging rule.

This is what has come to be known as the Great Confession. Peter confesses, Peter believes that Jesus was not simply one of the prophets, but the one to whom all the prophets pointed, the one who fulfilled, and brought to completion all which the prophets has said.

It is this confession of faith as to who Jesus is that makes us Christians, that is to say, “ little Christs.”

More on that in a minute.

But what is so very puzzling for us, is why does Jesus sternly tells Peter and the rest of the disciples, not to tell anyone about him? What’s the big secret here?  Besides, isn’t  telling people the good news about Jesus, what we call evangelism, something that belongs to being a Christian? In the Book of Common Prayer, one of the things that an Anglican is asked to consider making a part of his or her  Rule of Life is, and I quote, “ “The boldness of his/ or her spoken witness to his/her faith in Christ.” Yes, I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ!

So what gives here?  The answer comes in the teaching that Jesus immediately began to give them that “ the Son of Man 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. (Mark 8. 31).

How strange this teaching sounded to Peter’s ears!  What is this about a suffering Messiah? What is this about rejected Messiah? What is this about a crucified Messiah? And most mysteriously of all, what is this about a rising Messiah?

But suffering, rejection, and death and resurrection did not correspond to current expectations of what messiah would do, which was to throw out the Romans with a show of force.

But this was messiahship according to Jesus, a messiah who willingly shares in the suffering, rejection, and death of his people, and in doing raises them to gives them a share in His reign and rule over Satan, sin, and death.

And so when we say that we believe Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed King, we need to qualify this statement somewhat. Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed, Crucified and Risen King!

This isn’t quite what Peter had in mind for Jesus when he confessed Him to be the Messiah. It’s why Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. “This must never happen!“ But turning, and looking at the disciples, and seeing how they all nodded in agreement, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but human things.” (Mark 8.31-33)

It is satanic thinking to believe that with the right person in a position of power, and with the right policies, we can solve and fix all our political, social, and economic problems. The kingdom never comes way by some kind of fix from the outside. Jesus is not that kind of Messiah, and then the application of power  and the practice of politics is not the way it seems God  in Christ has chosen to operate. 

His is the way of co-suffering love.  IN the Incarnation, God not only became a man in Jesus, He took upon Himself our human nature. In other words, in Christ, God became what I am: a vulnerable, broken human being subject to sin, failure, sickness, and death. In taking upon himself our human nature, in becoming what I am , Christ entered into my experience of life, and the experience of those we love,  both the  joys and the sorrows and difficulties. So whatever it is you may be going through right now by way of pain and difficulty in your life, that actually an experience of Jesus Christ.

Now why did Christ do this?  Did Christ undergo great suffering, rejection, and death  in order to eliminate  and do away with our experience suffering, rejection, and death? Of course, we wish that He did! But it obviously hasn’t worked out that way. These things remain. Jesus Christ underwent great suffering, rejection, and death not to eliminate or do away with our experience, suffering, and death,but rather to fill these things with Himself. So  that in the even in dark and difficult experiences of life, we might find Him there, who is our God.

Now if you take a look at the icon on the front cover of the bulletin, you will see Christ carrying His Cross, and in and around the halo on his head some letters from the Greek alphabet. IC XC which are the first and last letters of the Jesus Christ in Greek. Then we have Alpha and Omega which are the first  and last letters of the Greek Alphabet, which tells us that Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end of human history. And then you have the letter eta, which is the first letter of the Greek word “I am,” which is the name by which God revealed himself to Moses in the burning Bush in the Book of Exodus. God is the Great I am, who is Jesus Christ, and it is this Jesus, who suffered, died , and rose again out of love for us, whom we worship and adore.

So, it was that Jesus 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!” 

“Do I want to become a follower Jesus Christ?”

That we might say is the 2 million dollar question!

IN baptism we were marked out as followers of Jesus Christ when the priest signed our foreheads with the sign of the Cross.

But do I want to become that the Church has declared me to be, and that is, “follower of Jesus Christ?”

It’s a question that confronts us really on a daily basis.  How am I going to live my life?  Who am I going to follow?

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

interesting how Jesus said to his disciples and the crowd, “let them take up their cross.” In other words, the disciples aren’t the only ones who have a cross. All those in the crowd also have a cross.  Everybody has a Cross to carry.  Why is that?  It’s because having a Cross is the definition of a human being. Life is a crucifixion.

Question is then, “ What do I with my Cross?” 

Here you basically have three options

  1. You can just try and ignore it, and pretend it isn’t there.
  2. You can suck it up and drag it around behind you, and complain about it to others.

Or, you can do what Jesus did, and lift it up off the ground, and hold it up, and embrace it, and kiss it, much like an athletic lifts up and kisses the trophy they won, and in so doing, become a Christian, that is a little Christ. For just as Christ willingly took up His Cross that He might share our life, so it is that when we willingly take up our Cross, that we come to share in His life. And it is this  which gives meaning not only suffering, but also to our death. It is a participation in the life of Christ.

It seems to me that we live in a time and place that has lost all sense of the meaning of suffering and death as a participation in the life of Christ. Might this loss of Christian faith explain, in part, why people are choosing to call the doctor to help them kill themselves, because what’s the point? There is none. So, let’s put an end to it.  

But Jesus said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, says Jesus ,and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

This is the paradox of the Christian life. It’s  in losing our lives, in giving  then  away, that we save our lives, and not through a struggle for survival.

Following Jesus by taking up our Cross will have a profound effect on our relationship both to suffering and to prayer. Instead of running away from our sufferings, we will embrace them, because it is in the suffering that we find Christ.  And instead of always trying to  “ pray away” the difficulties,  “Lord, please take this away!” we will, in prayer, simply seek to empty ourselves, praying Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer, “not my will be done, but thine be done,” so that He might fill us with Himself. This of course quite challenging because we want things to go our way.

Taking up the Cross leads to a very different way of life and a different way of praying.

What it comes down to I think is love. If Christ out of love for us embraced the negativity of life, then we out of love for Him, must do the same. 

Here is how St. Paul put it, “ I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2,20)

The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me. It’s what we have come today to church to affirm, and to fall in love with Him who loved us and gave Himself for us all over again, even as we feed on His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion, that we might then take up our Cross and follow Him,  we by sharing in His sufferings we might also be partakers of His Resurrection. Amen.