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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Confession I (Proper 16A)

A sermon preached by the Rev. Jason A. Fout
August 21, 2005 (Proper 16A)
at Church of the Mediator, Chicago, IL

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I still remember back in the summer of 1975, eagerly awaiting the birth of my younger brother. I felt like I had been an only child long enough, and that it was about time I had someone more my own age around. I wanted a companion, a friend -- and more. I would finally have someone to play with every day, someone who would do what I wanted him to do. He would be a patsy who would take orders from me, he’d do my dirty work. If need be, he could even take the rap for me. It would be great.

You can imagine my disappointment that October when he arrived and I realized he was more than just a clone, another me. He actually had a mind and will of his own, and wanted to do his own thing. And believe me friends – growing up together, he never took the rap for me. No, at the tender age of six, I was tempted to agree with the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: indeed, Hell is other people.

But seriously, as time wore on, it turned out I was right. Not that he would be my patsy, but that he would become a companion and friend. In fact, I didn’t know just how right I was. But before I could truly grasp this I had to realize the world didn’t revolve around me, and give up my cherished notions of how things worked.

In this way, it’s not so different from what Peter experienced in today’s gospel reading. Here, too, Peter’s right in what he says – in fact he doesn’t know how right he is. But the truth is so strange that to grasp it he will have to give up his cherished notions of how things work.

The story we heard from the gospel this morning is often called “the confession of Peter” because in it Simon Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah. Unfortunately, the way we have divided up the lessons, we really only hear half of it this week; we hear the rest next week. In that part of the story, Peter rebukes Jesus when Jesus says he must suffer and die in Jerusalem. We’ll look at that passage in more detail next week, but it’s good to keep it in mind while we consider this one.

There are a couple of odd features in our story this morning, one in particular which might be easy to miss: It takes place in the district of Caesarea Philippi. This is in the far north of Israel, about two days’ walk from the Sea of Galilee, where most of Jesus’ ministry had taken place up to that point. It would be as if we were doing some community organizing here in Beverly and Morgan Park and decided to have a working meeting in Evanston. It’s what you’d do if you were working on something sensitive. And, in a sense, Jesus was.

So they met in a remote location. The other odd thing about the story is at the end: Jesus swears the disciples to secrecy. You can imagine their confusion. Jesus admits that he is the long-awaited Messiah, and he tells them to keep a lid on it? This is the kind of news that should be shouted from the hills and rooftops! So what’s with all the secrecy?

In part, the secrecy has to do with the sensitive and dangerous nature of being the Messiah. Increasingly, historical scholarship is coming to see many of the Jewish movements of the first century as concerned with God’s deliverance of Israel from the clutches of the Roman Empire. Many of the people were waiting for God’s Messiah to come. He would be a true king, a mighty warrior who would throw off the Roman yoke of slavery, purify the Temple, and signal God’s return to his people Israel. So anyone popularly known as the Messiah would be expected to lead an open battle against the Romans, storming the ramparts, humiliating the enemy, and taking control of the land. When Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah, this is a good bit of what he had in mind. So was Peter wrong, then, after all?

It might be tempting to us, hearing this story, to shake our heads over Peter. Why was he so caught up in politics and the affairs of this world? Isn’t the Christian life about the soul and the spiritual world, about heaven and the hereafter?

Well, no. Peter was right, but he didn’t know just how right he was. Rather like me with my brother, Peter needed to give up his cherished notions of how things really worked. He couldn’t grasp all that it meant, in fact none of the disciples did until much later. And that is the other reason for Jesus’ secrecy about who he is: he couldn’t just tell the disciples, he had to show them. And in the event, he showed them by suffering and dying on the cross.

But Jesus’ kingdom is about real people with real lives in the real world. It isn’t only about life after death, although it has some important things to say about that as well. It isn’t just about there and then, but also about here and now. It’s not about escaping from a world gone awry, it’s about God redeeming and restoring that world which has gone out of whack. Peter actually understood this remarkably well.

What he missed is that Jesus is a surprising, unconventional Messiah. He missed that God’s power working through Jesus does not humiliate or kill the way the people expected. Jesus is a mighty king, but he allows himself to be humbled and killed. Jesus does bring God’s kingdom, certainly a very political term, but it is not about destruction and vengeance but about new life, restored relationships, and hope for the future. That’s the same kingdom that Jesus entrusts to Peter, and the same kingdom that is passed on to us today in the church.

As modern-day disciples of Jesus, we are entrusted not only with this kingdom, but with Peter’s confession, too. We are given the great good news that Jesus is the savior, the son of the living God. This proclamation of ours is right – although this is in no way an occasion for smugness or self-righteousness, but rather humility. And sometimes we might not know just how right we are, or fully grasp the life this calls us to. To really lay hold of this, we need to see it as those first disciples did, holding fast to Jesus Christ in Word, in sacrament, in prayer, and in the gathered community. In doing so, we may well find that have to give up some cherished notions of how things work. And certainly we will continue to embrace the cross and the life and love which are at the heart of the triune God. In this way, we will continue to be transformed into the image of Christ, which is important – because we can’t just tell others, we have to show them too. Amen.

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1 Comments:

Blogger nope said...

Hi,

I'm sorry for being intrusive in to your blog. But I am Melissa and I am a mother of two that is just trying to get out of an incredible financial debt. See my hubby is away in Iraq trying to protect this great country that we live in, and I am at home with our two kids telling bill collectors please be patiant. When my husband returns from war we will beable to catch up on our payments. We have already had are 2001 Ford repossessed from the bank, and are now down to a 83 buick that is rusted from front to back and the heater don't work, and tire tax is due in November.

I'm not asking for your pitty because we got our ownselfs into this mess but we would love you and thank you in our prayers if you would just keep this link on your blog for others to view.

God Bless You.

Melissa K. W.
To see my family view this page. My Family


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