Readings from the Scriptures (CEB) Mark 8:27-38
27 Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
28 They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.”
29 He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” 30 Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human Onemust suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” 32 He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. 33 Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.” 34 After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 35 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. 36 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? 37 What will people give in exchange for their lives? 38 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
What would you say?
If last week’s sermon focused on listening – and being aware of what sources shape our decision making – then this week is about speaking, and responding to the world, for Jesus asks his disciples who they believe him to be.
When it comes to Jesus, so many of us dwell on the negative – that he only really had 3 years of ministry, he was dogged everywhere he went by people confronting him, and you can see how in today’s Scripture that not even his disciples get it. It must have been pretty lonely. It must have been isolating. But in the face of adversity, Jesus says, this is the way. We are encouraged to walk the more difficult path.
For faith was never meant to make life easy – only to make things possible.
The possibility of faith is lost on the disciples. They don’t see what possible – only what is lost – just as the pandemic has made many focus on what they’ve missed out on, rather than the goodness that still manages to show up. For David’s (the child baptized today) family, right in the middle of this pandemic, the perfect present arrived right on time for Christmas last year, when many of us were bemoaning how this pandemic had changed our lives.
But not celebrating baptism in over a year (in fact it was David’s cousin Ayla who was our last baptism just before lockdown) has made me really look at the questions that we so casually ask baptismal families, because – and this is not about Robin or Mark (David’s parent’s) I wonder how many people think about what they’re actually answering. Because like the question asked of the disciples, when Jesus confronts them with who do you say that I am, these questions are tough stuff!
So I thought it might be interesting to look at our baptismal questions as if you and I had to answer…
Do you believe in our Creator God, Source of love;
in Jesus Christ, love incarnate;
and in the Holy Spirit, who works in us and others as love’s power.
We can answer yes, without having to explain ourselves. Believing is often the beginning and the end for people. Something like 60% of Canadians might believe in God, while only about 20% would show up to a church, or practice their faith. I’m certainly not going to equate going to church with belief – as I think there’s plenty of us in the pews (or behind the pulpit) who live with their doubts in conversation with their faith. As another story in scripture reminds us, Yes, I believe, help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24). Maybe that would be a better response than, I do, by the grace of God.
With the freedom to follow the way of Jesus Christ,
will you resist oppression and evil, seek justice,
and witness to God’s love for all creation?
We don’t waste any time getting to the tough stuff. There’s a vocal minority that would say they’re resisting oppression and evil by not wearing masks or taking the vaccine. The ones who threw rocks at Justin Trudeau last week in London, would say the same thing. But Jesus’ resistance is pretty clear. In the face of oppression, evil, injustice – pick up your cross. Walk towards places of pain and sorrow, rather than the other way. Risk even your life, if there’s a chance it brings life to others. Twenty years ago, people ran into the twin towers knowing they might not make it out alive. People on Flight 93 rose up in order that others may not suffer. It’s not about meeting violence with violence. That never works. Look at the wars that followed 9/11 and the two-steps-forward, two-steps-back that has transpired in Afghanistan and the recent return of the Taliban to power. Darkness cannot drive out darkness…only light can do that. (MLKjr) On this twentieth remembrance, the self-sacrifice of the first responders, those who opened their homes and hearts in Gander, NL, and the rest of us committing to learn about and love our neighbours, all of this is light in the face of darkness. Over the course of human history, those who picked up their cross, faced their fate with courage and witnessed to and bore creation shaping love. A lot to ask of parents – let alone the rest of us.
Will you turn to Jesus Christ, and follow his way?
Unfortunately, here’s where a whole bunch of Christians disagree. You’d think with passages like today’s, or the feeding of the four thousand story just a few verses before this moment with his disciples, the way of Jesus would be pretty clear. But we’ve spent the last two thousand years arguing about the way of Jesus. In a weird way, I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. There’s beauty in our diversity – each blade of grass is different from the next – just as each child grows into the unique culmination of love and patience and peace that has surrounded them in their lives. Following Jesus’ way is less about conformity and cookie-cutter-Christians, than it is ensuring that each are able to manifest their love for God, neighbour, and self that is unique to whom they were created to be. David will live into that faith different from his sisters, his parents, his grandparents.
Will you join with your brothers and sisters in this community of faith to celebrate God’s presence, live with respect in creation, and love and serve others?
Church is not for the fainthearted. I had the opportunity to explain church (and what I do) to someone recently that didn’t grow up with religion in their lives. It was fascinating watching their face turn from curiosity to horror as I explained church meetings, and the rich diversity of our backgrounds and beliefs…and all they could ask is …why? Community is never easy. It’s messy. We hurt each other. But we believe that life together, learning and growing together, stumbling and bumbling along the way is better than hiding away from the world. In community, we learn to practice forgiveness, and love. In community, we can offer compassion, and hope. In community we are reminded of the most powerful words of our creed, that we are not alone, be it God, or others, we have a responsibility to one another and this earth.
Will you pray for David, encourage them by your words and actions,
and walk with him in the way of Jesus?
Of course we will – just as we do for each and every person that crosses our paths.
I don’t do it every night, but at the end of some days, I think about all the people that I came across? Some days, especially those in pandemic, might be lonely, but the intersection of our lives are inevitable. Be it the spam phone call about getting your ducts cleaned – or the grocery store cashier – or the awkwardly timed knock on the door from a political canvasser, on those nights that I’m able to slow my thoughts enough, I spend time praying for strangers. It’s humbling. It reminds me that my life, my problems, my worries are not any more important that someone else’s.
We can pray for David, and his family – that one’s easy, but praying for strangers is more difficult, or take it one step further and pray and practice forgiveness for those who have wronged you. Or maybe more difficult, forgive yourself.
This church stuff isn’t easy. It’s not all adorably cute babies and little cups of juice and cubes of bread. Faith was never meant to make life easy…but together, we live believing that all things are possible for God who works in and through us.
Thanks be to God who believes enough in us, to have led us to this moment.