September 13, 2015
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he 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.”
Gospel means “Good News.”
Our Gospel for today,
Our Good News for today,
Is a passage that should be quite familiar
To many of us life members of this Christianity club.
Having delivered no less than ten unique sermons
On today’s Good News
I’m with many of you;
Listening intently for what new God is saying.
If you are not a lifelong Christian,
Well, hold on to your saddle,
Because today’s Good News is about to give
Your spiritual journey
Quite an exciting ride.
Last Sunday we followed Jesus
Through a stir with a forthright woman in the city of Tyre;
A Gentile, non-Jewish, Mediterranean coastal city north and west
Of Jesus’ rural home in all Jewish Galilee.
Today, Jesus travel inland from the Mediterranean coast and northward
To Caesarea Philippi,
Which is located in today’s Golan Heights,
On the border between Syria and Israel.
Geography and local history are important here.
First, Caesarea Philippi is the northern most extension of Israel
When it was in its greatest period of expansion and prosperity
Under the rule of King David.
Though it was ruled by Jews in one thousand BC,
No Jewish culture stuck,
And at the time of Jesus,
Caesarea Philippi was only populated by Romans and Greeks.
Secondly, Speaking of Romans and Greeks,
This village was named after …
… Caesar, the Roman Emperor,
And, Philip II, the son of Herod the Great,
Who earlier named it Paneas,
In honor of the 3rd century BC Greek cult who worshiped Pan,
A goat-footed god of victory in battle.
The Greek temple can be seen today,
Carved in the side of the mountain.
Pagan worship to Pan was actively taking place
In this location
At the time of Jesus.
Thirdly, located at the base of Mt. Hermon,
The Jordan River starts its journey south
From a spring that gushes forth from the rock,
Right out of this pagan, mountain side Greek temple.
The source of the Jordan River,
The water that baptized Jesus,
Springs forth from a pagan temple in Caesarea Philippi.
There is no place in the Holy Lands
That is more diametrically opposed to Yahweh,
Our God of creation, covenant and law,
The God of our Jewish ancestors,
The religion of Jesus and most of his disciples,
Than is Caesarea Philippi.
Jesus walked into a pagan temple
Takes center stage,
Lifts his voice
And publically, loudly asked his own disciples
“Who do people say that I am?”
- Mark 8:27
Akin to today?
This isn’t simply like saying,
“One day Jesus walked into a bar.”
This is like saying,
“One day Jesus walked into a wiccan of witches.”
He takes his disciples with him.
Jesus asked them publically to identify himself,
within earshot of everyone present.”
“Who do people say that I am?”
- Mark 8:27
Think to yourself:
What is the most non-Christian setting
I can imagine
or have recently visited?
Where is the voice of the Church,
Not only silent,
In your mind’s eye,
Put yourself there.
Place yourself in the center of opposition
And make a public declaration
That Jesus is Lord!
That Jesus is the God I serve!
Be prepared to flee like your hair is on fire!
Our Good News for today asks the serious disciple of Jesus
If we are prepared to
Make a public declaration of our faith
In those places where Jesus is most opposed.
Is that where you work?
Where you stop and socialize after work?
Is that with colleagues or collaborators,
Supervisors or staff?
Is that with a neighbor who lives next door?
Or a bully on the bus?
Be they an atheist member of the PTA,
A devilish member of the community who thrives on tearing down and destroying all that is good,
Or an ISIS fundamentalist with a knife in their hand,
Are you and I prepared? to
Make a public declaration that
We serve the Lord and only follow Jesus!
Even amongst his faithful,
There was a bunch of mumbling, looking down, and kicking dirt.
Well, you could be John the Baptist.
Or maybe Elijah?
Heck, I don’t know.
Maybe you’re one of the prophets?
But it’s Peter!
Peter is the only one with the incredible courage
To stand up and speak out!
“You are the Messiah!”
- Mark 8:29
Son of God,
Only the first use since the opening chapter and verse of Mark;
Messiah is the correct answer!
Jesus has publically outed himself as the Son of God
Right in the midst
Of what could have been the Devil personified
At the start of 40 days with Jesus in the wilderness.
So why in the world does Jesus use this occasion
Of his public identification
As an opportunity to speak,
On the first of many occasions,
About his forthcoming
Suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection?
It would appear
That Jesus is grasping defeat
Before his victory.
The argument could be made
That Jesus is throwing in the towel
Even before he begins to get started.
It’s like Jesus looks at the pagans
- first stunned into silence
- now growing in rage
Who encircle Jesus and his disciples,
Like wolves going in for the kill,
And tells them
“You win. I give up. Just take me away.”
You and I, like Peter, respond with
“What the heck?”
WTF? (I probably will not say this from the pulpit)
Christ’s rebuke is hardly surprising
When one considers
The fact that
Jesus’ suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection
Is part and parcel of his identity,
Equal to the fact that Jesus is the
Son of God.
There would be no Son,
No Bethlehem’s baby.
Without allowing Christ to die,
There would be no point to his immaculate conception.
Without the resurrection,
There would be no reason for God to send us his son to save the world.
It is a bit easier for us,
Looking through the lens of hindsight,
To better see this reality of Jesus
Than did his own followers.
Time and again,
They get it wrong.
It is only after the resurrection,
When the Holy Spirit fills the Church,
Do they gain understanding
About Christ’s more complete identity:
Who Jesus is.
Why Jesus came.
What is different now that Jesus had come.
God’s greater plan,
Using Jesus as his principle interdiction into humankind,
For the purpose of a much larger kingdom
Surprised the first century Church,
And has been stunning generations of Christ followers ever since.
How does this revelation of Christ’s greater identity
Impact us today?
Suffering is a shared experience.
It is never alone.
For even when alone,
One is with God.
Even when alone,
One can associate personal suffering
With the suffering of our Lord at his crucifixion.
To suffer as a Christian
Is to allow yourself to crawl upon on the cross
And suffer with Jesus.
Suffering is not to be sought;
But neither is it to be shunned,
For it opens new avenues
And can deepen the relationship
Between ourselves and our God.
Death is a shared experience.
We may not like to consider our mortality.
Yet, we all die.
It is the final earthly act that unites us one with another.
It is the final act that unites us with Jesus.
As in baptism do we put on Christ,
So, too, in death, we join with Christ.
We take his hand
And step beyond
Into God’s heavenly kingdom.
Resurrection, likewise, is a shared experience;
For all those who believe in him
Shall have eternal life.
As Christ ascended to the right hand of his Father,
So, too, are we lifted up.
Jesus welcomes each of us
“your faith has made you well.”
We are more than healed of our earthly disease,
Our mortality is healed,
Such that we will know death no more.
All these mortal things will be passed away.
In the final act of today’s Good News,
… which, in my opinion, has been really GREAT News thus far,
Is Jesus challenging those who follow:
““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.”
- Mark 8:34-35
In the center of this pagan temple,
Filled with pagan worshippers,
Jesus is saying,
“Make yourself a hangman’s noose.”
“Give your noose to these people we’ve just offended,
Or, for that matter,
To any who you have offend,
Because you do so
When you publically witness to the fact
That you are my disciple.”
The cross was the public form of Roman capital punishment.
Today, it might be a hangman’s noose,
Or an IV bag and a collection of toxic chemicals.
The point Jesus makes
Witness to the world that you follow Jesus,
And get yourself hung up on a cross.
Others will kill your body,
But they won’t be able to kill your soul.
Your soul will be eternal.
The only way to save your mortal life,
Not be put to death by the political authorities,
Is to remain quiet about following Jesus.
The risk of not sharing the Gospel,
The risk of not witnessing to the world
about our relationship with Jesus Christ,
is that we will lose our life,
our eternal life;
that our final disposition
will be in the cemetery across the street or Whitehaven down the road.
The risk of not sharing Jesus Christ with the world
Is that the church of today
We’ll all die off
And the property will be sold.
Speak up! Jesus is proclaiming.
To be my disciple
Means that you’re willing to risk all things mortal
For all things eternal.
Witness to Christ,
Share the Good News,
And you’re making an investment
Not only in your eternal life
But also in the next generation of the Church
And every generation, thereafter.
Take courage, people of faith!
There is much opposition in today’s world.
When confronted by those who would oppose our faith,
Make your witness public and loud.
God as our Lord
And Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Be prepared for the consequences.
But know this:
Others may kill the body,
But only we can surrender our soul.
Live for Christ.
Witness for Christ.
And let God take care of the eternal.