Saturday, September 15, 2018

17 Pentecost Proper 19 Yr B Sept 16 2018



Taking the August calendar page off the wall, I paid attention to the funny illustration on the page. There is a group of men in a boat, disciples I imagine, watching a character whom I assume is Jesus, walking on the water. The dialogue bubble over the guys in the boat says, "Sure, he can walk on water, but does he really fit our parish profile?"

The way of following Jesus is so very different from the way of getting ahead in this world.

The trouble in our text from Mark today is that people, Peter for example, are confused about who Jesus is. Peter calls Jesus Messiah, but when Peter uses that term for Jesus, he doesn’t mean the Jesus whom we have come to know in this gospel and the others, he means one who will come in power to sit on the throne and set up a new kingdom after sending the Romans running. You see, Peter seems to have mistaken Jesus for someone Jesus is not. And with that mistake, Peter may be putting God in box of expectation and limit. Jesus is saying, “you’ve got it wrong Peter, you are so very misguided.” Peter seems to have knowledge here, but no wisdom.  But Jesus goes on with wisdom Peter has not yet experienced, “to follow me, you must deny yourself,” and you must “lose your life to save it.”

We do like Peter does all the time, don't we? We look for the one who will save us, who will get us out of a mess. Or maybe the one who will make life easy for us, who will tell us what to do and how to do it so that we can be successful, or so that we can enjoy the accolades, so that we can enjoy the notoriety that comes along with showing off our wealth, or our talent, or whatever it is we have. But that’s not really the way it works, no matter how much we wish to be saved from the difficulty of the situation, life just doesn’t work that way.  We put God in a box that makes Jesus into a magician. We expect God to act in a particular way, a way of power, power that can stymie storms, hush hurricanes, ? We expect Jesus to act in a particular way, and the Jesus who gets angry and even curses, is not a Jesus we may be comfortable with.

But the truth of our lives speak about the path of pain and suffering, you and I both know that. The truth of our lives speak about the path of poor decisions, misplaced trust, so called "love" gone horribly wrong. The truth of our lives speak about the effects of the ravages of disease. And there is no one and nothing that can just swoop into any of that and make it all pretty.

But the grace in this gospel is not about being successful, or happy, or even physically healthy; it is about being foolish. Foolish in the eyes of the powerful, foolish in the ways of the world, foolishness that brings new life. This foolishness is about laying down whatever is killing us, and picking up what brings new life. The grace in this gospel is that you are created in God’s image, and in God’s image you are imbued with God’s divinity.

Peter shows us that the way of following Jesus is so very different from the way of getting ahead in this world.

And the foolishness of the gospel points to life after death. The foolishness of the gospel points to hope rising out of the ashes of despair. The foolishness of the gospel points to crashing and burning followed by baby steps of recovery. The foolishness of the gospel shows us that there is always resurrection, but resurrection never goes around pain and suffering, resurrection is only on the path of pain and suffering.

Today's gospel reading is all about this path, this pilgrim path. It is all about being a follower of Jesus. This path doesn't result in success. This path doesn't result in ease of living. This path doesn't result in the absence of disease. It is not a gospel of prosperity. This path, Jesus says, is to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and follow.

Now, just in case any of you hear that as a call to suffer in silence, or just take what the world throws at you, or even taking abuse at the hands of the one who professes to love, that is not what this is about and it is not what I am saying. This gospel has been used as a weapon to keep people in their place with that kind of interpretation, but this is not what Jesus is talking about. Jesus is talking about the new creation, Jesus is talking about reorienting the culture as we know it, Jesus is talking about being the change that makes the world just, Jesus is talking about the kingdom that is God’s love for all of creation, no exceptions, no exclusions. Jesus is saying that Love wins.

Actually, the pilgrim path, the path of discipleship, isn't about the results at all. That's really why the path of discipleship is radical. That's why the path of discipleship is counter-cultural. Jesus is saying that we indeed must lose our lives to save them. But what looks to the world like loss is not loss at all. You see, on this path of discipleship, new life is what we live on the way. On the path of discipleship, we lay down our selves for the sake of the kingdom, we lay down our selves for the sake of compassion, mercy, healing, justice. Indeed, these are the characters we encounter on the path of discipleship.

And, the path of discipleship isn't about you at all. The path of discipleship is about God's healing mission in the world. When we walk this path with all the others, with the community of disciples, we bear witness to God's love and healing in this hurting world. We make real to the world that Love wins. We are not in the business of persuading others of the truth of the gospel story through propositional argument. When we are on the path of discipleship, we are rather about the work of living out this story that is true, this story that makes sense of our lives.

But there is more. This path of discipleship is about breaking bread with outcasts and sinners, healing the sick, and proclaiming good news to the poor. It is about changing the structure of this world to be justified with the rule of God’s kingdom. It is about putting the other first, and ourselves second. It is about speaking truth to power.

As Episcopalians we make a unique proclamation as we follow Jesus on this path. People make that proclamation on our behalf when we are baptized, and each time we baptize a new member.

We reflect on Scripture, the apostles' teachings, communal prayer, and life lived in connection with breaking bread together. Mission is the work of God, who was sent into the world and sends us into the world. We bear Jesus into the world. Mission and outreach are holistic. We seek to meet the needs of the whole person, spiritual and physical. We proclaim in voice and in action the good news of God's kingdom. We teach, baptize, and nurture all those who seek Jesus. We respond to human need by serving others. We transform unjust structures of society. We seek sustainable and renewing initiatives that redeem not only humanity but the creation in which we live. Our outreach and mission are always rooted in Scripture, tradition, and reason. We make a greater witness to the world around us when we join hands with one another whether we agree with them or not. We are changed by serving and walking with others. We are incomplete without others, those who are different from us, by our side. We are loved, absolutely and abundantly.

This is indeed what makes sense of our lives. It is the particular story which gives meaning to the chaos of a world ruled by powers and principalities. It is the particular story which gives meaning to our lives. It is what we have been given by Jesus and it may very well be foolish, but it is the truth that Love wins.

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