While COVID-19 makes our in-person services challenging, Knox is providing podcast services. Not everyone can access these, though, so we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
Scripture: Mark 8:31-38
Today’s reading has shocked people for centuries: Jesus has some very harsh words for his friend, Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” can hardly be taken as friendly or supportive.
Who wants to be called Satan? If you look at the book of Job you see that Satan’s role is to test people with temptations. So, the implication here is that Peter’s words were tempting Jesus to take an easier path.
But what was Peter really doing? He had found real hope in what Jesus was teaching and all this talk about betrayal, death and resurrection was so grim and nasty. He was trying to jolly Jesus out of this negative tone.
You can just imagine the kind of thing:
“C’mon, Jesus, don’t say that! Everything will be fine, God will take care of you . . .” or maybe: “C’mon Boss, don’t talk like that, you have all these followers and if you discourage them, they’ll quit . . .”
It’s not hard to imagine Peter being concerned for Jesus’ mental health and trying to cheer him up, or to imagine him being concerned about the “spin” and trying to put a good face on Jesus’ words.
And wham! Jesus tells him off in no uncertain terms and then summons the crowd to warn them all that following Jesus’ teachings could become really tough.
Christianity is not a “fair weather” religion. We do preach a lot of hope: we look forward to all kinds of positive things but Jesus had no illusions about how challenging life could be and there is every indication that he went to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, taking advantage of the symbolism and throwing the sacrifice sellers out of the temple in the full knowledge that the Romans and the religious leaders would have to deal with him and would be harsh about it.
He was provoking them into a confrontation with his vision of a kind of kingship that was not about power and force but about transforming the first into the last and the weak into the strong. He was confronting the world’s greatest power with his own vulnerability and there was only one way that could end.
Peter’s vision wasn’t practical, yet he wanted a world where all the bad stuff was gone, where God had fixed everything and everything would be smooth sailing. (Peter knew boats, and he loved the idea of permanent smooth sailing.)
But Jesus knew what he was doing and he wasn’t afraid to face facts. He knew that you can’t have a resurrection without dying first and he didn’t want nice words to tempt him to avoid the hard times.
This year of COVID has been a hard time. We barely recognize ourselves anymore as a church. We’ve had to move online for services, for meetings and we’ve had to work hard to make sure that people haven’t been left behind.
And it’s not over. We still don’t know when it will be safe to meet normally again. We don’t even know what “normal” will look like. At our Annual Congregational Meeting we will consider what this past year has been like and we will try to look to the future, with a lot of questions still unanswered.
If we try to do this with some kind of Pollyannaish optimism that encourages us to pretend that it will be easy, then we are making the same mistake Peter did. We would be ignoring our call to face facts; to deal with the world as it is. We would be trying to live in an imaginary happy place, which has never been our calling.
Jesus did offer hope, amazing hope. Think about it: if you have a vision of going through crucifixion and coming out the other side, restored to life, how amazing is that?
What Peter was offering was a vision that nothing bad should ever happen. I can see the attraction in that vision. But Jesus faced facts: bad things will happen and we should not avoid that reality because God will get us through those bad things and we will be better, and stronger, and wiser when we come out the other side.
And if the crucifixion and the resurrection are any example, we will discover new hope: hope that we could not have imagined if we hadn’t had to face the hard realities of life first.
God can see us through any challenge.
So, instead of bemoaning the bad things that happen, or worse, instead of thinking that God has abandoned us, let us face the realities of the world we are in and discover how God will get us through our challenges.