+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 8:27-38
Theme: Big Questions
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
What are the big questions in your life? Are the big questions in your life the big questions- of life? Are they related to meaning, purpose and eternity? Are they ordered by the perspective of the bigger picture and the final goal?
Today Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say I am?”1 Their response is reasonable, “‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you…who do you say I am?”2 Jesus wasn’t making ‘small talk’. He’s never driven by curiosity. He was pointing His disciples beyond the foreground to much greater horizons. The time was growing closer for His crucifixion and He needed to cultivate the faith of these disciples. Peter confesses that He is the Christ- the Messiah and Saviour promised of old.
Now Jesus seizes the moment as He so often does. Peter has just correctly identified Him as the Messiah. For this he is to be commended. But what does this mean to Peter? When Jesus begins to tell the disciples of His pending suffering and death Peter immediately rebukes Him. As far as Peter was concerned suffering, sacrifice and death weren’t in the cards. He had a different vision for his Messiah. Do we too make Christ into something He isn’t? Do we take Him and fit Him neatly into our outlook and agenda? Do we shape Him to meet our expectations instead of the other way around?
The challenges to Christ’s rule that are raised in the hearts of individuals are as formidable as the external threats marshaled by the world. It should not escape our notice that when Jesus poses these questions He is in a town called Caesarea, named for Caesar, the king. Caesar was worshipped as a god. His bloodline was considered to be divine. Any rival claims of deity were taken very seriously. Any threats to his rule or power were quickly addressed.
Sin makes people rebellious by nature. People may follow commands because they are convinced of their benefit or they fear punishment for transgression. But this is not the motivation for following that God is looking for. Despite the "Do Not Touch" signs placed prominently around, a popular museum was having no success in keeping patrons from touching--and soiling--priceless furniture and art. But the problem evaporated overnight when a clever museum employee replaced the signs with ones that read: "Caution: Wash Hands After Touching!"
It illustrates well the rebelliousness of human nature. We are happy to take the law into our own hands when we believe we can be spared from any painful consequences. At the core of sinfulness is our human desire to be a law unto ourselves. And if we can gain consent from others in society, especially in official ways, we are all the more emboldened in our sins. There is strength in numbers (or at least the illusion there is because God is not actually threatened should all the powers of earth and hell be marshaled against Him).
God’s will for our well-being is then brushed aside. The result is clear. Societies seek to legitimize all manner of unfaithfulness-sexual impurity, including homosexuality. No one bats an eye at adultery and divorce. The most vulnerable, the unborn and aged, are threatened by abortion and euthanasia and these practices are defended as progress for the betterment of humanity. Dishonesty is so common in business and personal affairs that the truth is lost sight of. Gossip is rampant and the litany goes on and on.
And what is the motivation? It’s not only arrogance or a rebellious disposition. It is the honest belief that we know what is best for us- no exceptions- not even the Almighty knows better. It is the conviction that we must serve our own desires first. Understandably this belief drives our activities. If you think such self-centredness is not a liability expressed in your life then you are blinded by your own prejudice. The Holy Spirit calls us to repentance.
Today Jesus’ asks the big questions. At what price would you sell your soul? Many seem to go quite cheaply. These big questions come into play from the very beginning. Christianity is not a pastime for adults with leisure time on their hands it is a way of life from day one. Who is God for a child? God for a child will be determined by the teaching and example of parents. Even before a child is born he or she starts to learn the faith- or lack of- of the parents. The lack of Christian nurture of children today is so widespread one wonders if the church will have to be reborn in a future generation. Only the Holy Spirit knows the answer. Meanwhile, we are called to faithfulness.
We have the command to teach and to baptize trusting that the Holy Spirit works powerfully and effectively through His word and sacraments. We have the promise of the forgiveness of sins for every person, at any age, in any condition. We hear the Good News proclaimed. We see the water poured. We taste the Saviour’s body and blood. We have the assurance and comfort of knowing we are justified before God by grace alone. We have the joy of knowing Satan is disarmed and hell is powerless over us. We have divine peace even in the face of death.
We are here in God’s house to celebrate these truths and grow deeper in our baptismal lives so we are better prepared to go back into the fray. Here we meet Christ and He supplies all that is lacking. Rituals have never gotten anyone into heaven. Neither have good works, self-righteousness, holy living, exceptional knowledge, privileged status, or good intentions. “What can a man give in exchange for his soul?”3 The answer is Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
Certain questions demand answers. Christ does not leave us in the dark. He is the Light of the world. He is the Resurrection and the Life. But we shouldn’t be so naïve or presumptuous to think that we should be privy to the answers for all the puzzling questions of life. God has revealed to us everything essential we need to know. Faith waits patiently and humbly for a level of understanding that now far exceeds our capacities. St. Paul says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.”4 A full and intimate knowledge and experience of God is part of the hope for which our faith waits. Meanwhile, we pray the Holy Spirit would continually give us eyes of faith.
It doesn’t mean we can’t ask “Why?” The Psalmist does this repeatedly. Life taxes and perplexes us. King David teaches us to pour out our complaints to the Lord. His language is poignant, passionate, and persistent. At times it seems demanding. It all reveals a true expression of our frail mortality as we yearn for resolution and release. Why God? Why me? Why this person? Why that family? Why this trial? Why? So that God’s power might be revealed in mercy! Even when we can’t yet see it.
Jesus Christ never forsakes those who call on His name. He said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”5 He said to Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you…that your faith may not fail.”6 He said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”7 His says to His faithful, His baptized, “Whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”8 God grant it in Christ’s name. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
16 September 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Mark 9:27
2 Mark 9:28-29
3 Mark 9:37
4 1 Corinthians 13:12
5 Matthew 9:2
6 Luke 22:31-32
7 Luke 23:43
8 John 5:24