Sunday, February 28, 2021

Moving beyond earthly things 

The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector 

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 

Katy TX 77493 


Peter is rebuked publicly by Jesus and called Satan. Jesus turns to the crowd and begins to speak of taking up our cross and losing our lives to save them and finally a caution about being ashamed of the gospel. For many this is a puzzling jumble of sayings, many of which have been lifted out as individual sayings rather than a piece of the whole.  

The passage all starts with Peter. Peter who just a few verses earlier and for the first time in Mark’s gospel names Christ as the Messiah. Peter however really does not understand what he has said. For Peter the idea that the Messiah will be killed just does not compute. So he takes Jesus aside and attempts to set him straight. That is when Jesus rebukes him and calls him Satan. Now we need to look at the Satan idea. Again we must put ourselves back in the mindset of the 1st century Jew. Our concept of heaven and hell, the devil etc just did not exist at that time. Instead think in terms of Satan as described in Job. This image of Satan is the one who tests and tempts us to try to pull us away from God. This is not the guy in the red suit with a pointy tail and a pitchfork! In other words Satan in this image is the one who wants to keep us focused on human needs and wants rather than Godly things.  

This is where the Message translation once again comes in handy. Listen to verse 33:  

33 Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.” 

Peter get out of my way, you have no idea how God works. That is the key turning point of this entire passage and where Jesus begins to make a very important point. This is where he calls the disciples and us to change how we think about this whole Messiah thing. The idea of God’s thoughts and ways not being our ways is actually a very old concept, well steeped in Jewish theology. Just think about the passages that tell us this from the Hebrew Scriptures.  

The second song of Isaiah is the first passage that comes to mind. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor my ways your ways says the Lord.  There is the famous passage about the lilies of the field and the injunction not to worry but to trust God. All of this relates back to the promise of God, the covenant with humanity that God made all the way back in our passage with Abraham. God changes Abram to Abraham and says that he is their God forever. God promises to care for Abraham to make of his children a great nation. Nothing is asked of Abraham. That is certainly not the way we as humans operate.  

This is the point where Jesus turns to the crowd and begins to address them while Peter recedes into the background. Again I turn to the Message translation: 

34   Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. 

Now it really starts to get challenging. We are asked to give up control, to allow Jesus to lead. We must step back and be followers. Abraham had trouble with this throughout his life. How many of us in times of crisis pray for help. Yet in that prayer we are not asking God or Jesus to lead, we instead give them very specific marching orders and often a time table as well. 

Jesus would remind us that our ways are not his ways. We are not in the lead he is. This reminds me of the bumper sticker that says God is my copilot. Well I prefer the variation I have seen that says if God is your copilot you need to move over. God needs to be our pilot. When we are the pilot that is when things often go wrong. Giving up that control is hard, but that is also what the next and most challenging part of this passage is talking about.  

Now we are to the part that really makes people both nervous and confused, the line about denying yourself, taking up your cross and losing your life to save it. However if we have made the decision to allow Jesus to lead, to be in charge, this then is a natural thing to do.  

This gets a bit tricky and therapists start getting nervous when I go here. Remember that therapists are all about building a healthy sense of self and that is absolutely critical. We cannot set our own ego needs aside if we don’t have them or haven’t identified them. This in Richard Rohr’s words is what the first half of life is about.  

Richard in both his book Falling Upwards and the Naked Now speaks at length about how we must first identify and come to grips with the ego needs we have as children and young adults. Then as people enter the second half of life (and this is not chronological age by the way) they have the resources to step out of that self-centered being and grow into the disciples that Jesus is talking about today. Disciples who have the ability to see beyond their own needs and look to the needs of others. In recent years this is often brought on by what people refer to as a mid-life crisis. That moment when you ask, is this all there is. At that point we have the choice to move forward, the deny ourselves and pick up our cross and finally learn to fill the God shaped hole in our life with God. Either that or we step back and redo the first half of life and start the process of trying to fill the God shaped hole in our lives with things all over again. 

If we put our own ego and self-centeredness on the back burner then we have begun to deny our self. When we make our focus outward rather than inward we take up Christ’s cross and grow into mature Christians. This process is not only true of us individually, but I also believe it is true for churches as a whole. Richard Rohr said at a lecture I was at a couple of years ago that most churches are stuck in the ego-centric mode. Focused on their own survival, desperate to prove that they are right and everyone else is wrong. The problem is that all of those people who have moved beyond that way of being find no connection to God in those churches.  

Many churches focus their growth strategy on bringing people in to fill needed positions on committees etc rather than looking to meet the needs of the community around them. If we can reach out and be the church for the community then we will naturally attract new members. If the newcomer arrives and the first thing they are asked is what committee can you serve on, I guarantee they will never return.  We need to be looking to the community not for our survival but for the opportunity to engage in a relationship first and foremost with God and Christ. 

With all the disruption of the last year it has given many of us time to think about what is essential in church. Relationship both with God and with each other is the essential. The relationship with each other is what I hear time and time again from you that you are missing. 

The relationship is why as more of us get vaccinated and there is a chance to get back involved, I want us not only to focus on gathering here, but on looking outside of our parish walls. We start back at the Beacon homeless ministry in March. I have missed the fellowship of our group going down there and the chance to serve the people that come to that ministry. It’s about presence, being there, that is above all what I feel we have lost in this pandemic.   

 That’s the point of Jesus’ message today. Being a follower of Jesus is about getting outside of ourselves and our own needs and wants and become part of the bigger picture, the gospel proclaimed in God’s world