Sermon: Mis-speaking UP

Then [Jesus] began to teach 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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
He 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. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:31-38

My sermon from First Sunday in Lent (February 28, 2021) on Mark 8:31-38.


One of the easiest ways to cause a problem in your relationship is to speak up in a very public setting. For example, let’s say you’re out with friends and everyone was having fun. One of your friends made a light hearted comment and then you, without thinking, turned that comment into a joke at their expense. Or maybe your coworker was telling a story but left out something that’s a little embarrassing. That little detail had no bearing on the outcome of the story but you couldn’t help to speak up and reveal what they didn’t want you to share. Or maybe you and your loved one were having an argument. It was simmering for a while and it wasn’t resolved. You were starting to feel a little bit resentful and while staying up way too late scrolling through social media, you made a post, turning your private conflict into one that’s now very public. Not everything in our relationships is designed for public consumption. And I know, personally, how easy it is to create drama by inadvertently crossing that line. We don’t always mean to call attention to our friends in a way that makes them defensive. But it’s sometimes easier doing that than telling them, “we need to talk.” What we need to do is own up to the truth that these kinds of one-on-one conversations are really hard. They aren’t always easy but they can be the one thing we’re supposed to do. So I wonder if Peter, in our reading today from the gospel according to Mark, was trying to do a hard thing. I know he usually gets a bad wrap when we read this passage because it takes a certain amount of gumption to messiah-splain to the Son of God. Yet if Peter really wanted to call out Jesus in an unintentional or difficult way, I imagine he would have done so in front of all the disciples. Instead Peter waited for an opportunity to pull Jesus aside and say, “hey, we need to talk.” Peter did the hard thing – and Jesus responded by doing everything you’re not supposed to do when tending to a relationship. 

Now before we go too deep into Jesus’ actions, it’s important to set the stage of what’s happening in our reading. Jesus and his followers were approaching the city of Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea was founded by Herod the Great’s son – Herod Philip – and his kingdom included parts of Galilee, Syria, and Jordan. Caesarea Philippi became the administrative center of his little empire which is why he named it after himself. But Herod Philip also decided to use the name of the city to flatter the person who gave him his power. Caesarea was named after Caesar – aka the Roman Emperor. Herod Philip ruled the area because the Roman Empire, which controlled the region, let him rule. Without their authority and power, Herod was nothing. So he filled the city with Roman imagery, Roman statues, and they even built a temple honoring the Roman Emperors outside the city. As Jesus and his disciples neared this very Roman looking city, Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter’s confession was more than just a theological or spiritual statement. It was also a political one – because if Jesus is Lord – that means the Emperor – and those who supported him – were not. By saying Jesus was the Messiah, Peter was proclaiming that the structure of power in our world was about to change. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t only only about taking care of people’s souls; he was also going to take care of their bodies, their ideologies, and the ways they live with one another. Jesus’ good news for the poor was literally that – good news for the marginalized; the pushed aside; and those without power. But any good news for them was also anything but for those who enjoyed power in the here and now. Peter couldn’t wait to see God’s compassion for the marginalized realized in his lifetime. But when Jesus started talking about suffering, pain, and this…thing used by the Roman Empire to maintain their power and control – Peter felt compelled to say to Jesus: “hey, we need to talk.” Peter wasn’t being malicious but he couldn’t imagine God’s love bringing about a kind of conflict where the Empire, rather than Jesus, would win. 

Now, I don’t know what Peter expected when he pulled Jesus aside – but he probably didn’t plan for his private conversation to become very public. Not only did Jesus bring their conversation back to the disciples – he then included the entire crowd. In fact, we’re still reading about Jesus calling Peter “Satan” 2000 years later – which is usually not really a great way to keep a relationship with each other. Peter, after witnessing Jesus’ fame grow and after experiencing Jesus’ power, assumed Jesus would install himself into a position of authority that held power over others. Jesus would become a kind of benevolent emperor – a kinder version of the type of ruler they had all grown up with. But Jesus, as the Son of God, didn’t need to be installed in to power. He already had it. The difference, however, was that he wasn’t interested in what we imagine power to be all about. What he wanted – what he practiced – and what he taught – was a power with others and one that would heal the world. It’s why he ate meals with sinners and hung out with the poor rather than the rich. It’s why he healed people on the sabbath – not letting people suffer even one day more. And it’s why he wouldn’t allow the maintaining of the status quo interfere with the giving – and sharing – of life. In the words of Ira Digger, “Mark is saying that the Son of God will not dial down his ministry to spare his own life, or even to ease his suffering. His commitment to the healing of humanity literally knows no limits.” The power Jesus lived out was a power meant to help others – regardless of their social status, their identities, their genders, their ages, or their wealth – to thrive. His mission in the world was, by default, going to disrupt the world. And so that’s why the world’s response to that kind of disruption – is always the Cross. 

Now it’s a bit strange to talk about Jesus’ ministry of healing in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. I know too many people who’ve been infected by COVID-19 in just the last few weeks. If there’s anything I want right now, it’s Jesus’ healing of the world. But I’m also mindful of how I want that healing to just be a return to how things were. We all want this disruption to end but that doesn’t mean we’re always open to the kind of disruption Jesus’ healing actually brings. We want a return to normal but Jesus was never in the business of letting things remain the same. God always comes to us in love and that’s why we try to resist it. We want Jesus to move in our world but only on our terms. We are fine with God’s love as long as we don’t have to give up our ideas of freedom, of power, of position, or our points of view. We’re okay with Jesus as long as Jesus doesn’t ask us and our  communities to change too much. And we assume that good news can only be good if it caters to us. Yet God won’t let us get in the way of a love and a hope and a way of being in the world that lets God be God and lets let’s life, not the Cross, be what we share with all. There is a cost to being a disciple of Jesus – and that means we are called to give up ways we resist what God is doing in our world. We need to give up limiting who deserves love and who doesn’t; we need to give up limiting our attention to only people who are like us; we need to give up the ways our social status and power requires others to make adjustments for us; and we need to lean into relationships with all people instead of only a chosen few. We need – in a way – to be like Peter and Jesus. We need to refuse to give up on one another. Because even when Peter thought Jesus got it wrong and when Jesus called out Peter for all time – they doubled down their commitment to each other. Even when we get our relationship wrong; even when we say something we shouldn’t; and even when something private becomes way too public; we can commit ourselves to being Jesus’ good news in our world. And this is something we can do because in your baptism, in your faith, and in this very moment – Jesus has already made the promise to never give up on you.