September 13th 2015
based on Mark 8:27-38 & James 3
Three years ago in July, Jim and I had the great privilege of being at the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. It was not at all what I thought it would look like. It was in a very plain block building with a number of other international religious and humanitarian organizations. During a break, between listening to our host speakers, I had a two minute opportunity to line up at the `holy trinity of computers’ available to guests in the building. I quickly logged in to Facebook so I could send a message home. The last entry on my home page was a cartoon that my son Aaron had posted. It was of a freakishly blissful Christian character and the title said: the Christian’s approach to personal responsibility. On one side of the person was a cartoon Devil, on the other – the Crucified Christ. Under the devil were the words: “It’s not my fault – the Devil made me do it.” Under the Cross were the words “Jesus died for my sins – all is forgiven.”
Aaron had commented, “Sadly, this is how lots of people see it.
I quickly typed back “We’re here Aaron, we’re right here at the headquarters of the World Council of Churches in Geneva.” I didn’t have time to add that I’d just heard about the formation of the WCC from John (from Ottawa) who told us that the Anglican, United and Presbyterian Churches of Canada were among the founding members of the WCC. That in 1910, the voices from Asia said, “We want to be the Church of Christ, not the church of `isms.’ E.g. Anglicanism, Catholicism, Presbyterianism… etc. That got the churches thinking and working together. 20 years later, after the end of WW1, the churches felt that the war reflected a failure not only of governments but of religion as well. They realized they needed to be reconciled to each other if they were to be a prophetic voice for the world. In the WWC, Christians gathered to enact together exactly the opposite of what the cartoon suggested. We do have responsibility – personally and communally.
But what does the world see? Who are we to the world? How do reflect the one we claim to follow? Jesus asks his disciples, What’s the word out there about me? Who do people say I am? And you – what you do say? Peter says, “You are the Messiah.”
(He wouldn’t have used the term `Christ’ which is Greek)
Is he the one whom by his death lets us off the hook – as the cartoon implies we believe? Or is he the one who says, I’m heading off to Jerusalem to suffer and die, and if you want to follow me, be prepared for the same to happen to you?
I can just imagine the confusion that reigned in the disciples’ minds when they hear such talk. I’m sure they thought, `There is something terribly wrong with this picture.’ What kind of Messiah is this? This is a very messy Messiah!
But it’s Peter who gives voice to what the rest are thinking. Peter takes Jesus aside and basically says, `Are you crazy? Don’t be talking like this. This is no way to build up the flock. You’re on a roll, here. This is not what we signed up for!’ Jesus rebukes him, with that famous line `Get behind me, Satan!
I expect Peter’s words were very tempting for Jesus. Who willingly, even Jesus, signs up for suffering? His next words are not ones the disciples then or now want to hear. ‘If anyone want to follow me, you have to let me lead. Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the Good News, will save it.’ Or, as The Message paraphrases it: “You’re not in the driver’s seat, I am.”
What does it mean to be prepared to die – to lose one’s life? The Greek word used in this passage from Mark relates to psyche – our psyche, our ego, has to die in order for our true self, our soul to be alive. What does this mean for us to let our ego die? Are we willing to let that happen and if so where will that take us? The ego self has many disguises. It can be that voice that says, “I am always the victim of circumstances, or I am always the loveliest, I am always misunderstood, I must always appear successful. If we are truly going to let Jesus be in the driver’s seat, we need to move over and hang on for the ride. Sometimes we may find ourselves saying, “Are we there yet?”, and sometimes we just want to get out of the car before it goes careening over the cliff!
The idea of death is frightening – be it the death of the body, or the death of the ego. But we are a people who believe in resurrection, are we not. And so we risk, if we dare, the letting go of the ego self; letting that die so that we can really be true to our True Self – that part of us that listens deeply for the voice of the Spirit. Jesus said, `Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am?’ Maybe we also need to ask – who am I? Who do you say I am? What am I projecting? Is this my true self, and am I being true to myself?
It’s hard not to notice that we are in the midst of a political election right now, and the `Who do people say I am’ looms large for each of the political leaders and candidates. Unfortunately, the political advertising is part of the process, with all the unlovely posturing and put downs and we wonder which leader and what policies to follow. As a community of faith, it isn’t as simple as saying, “Let’s just follow Jesus. “
- He’s not actually running in this election.
- We might be following in entirely different directions!
I caught a bit of CBC’s The Current on Friday, and unfortunately missed the introduction, but caught the part where a Christian woman talked of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ over everything – “ruler of all nature” as our first hymn went this morning. She began to speak about the environment, and I thought – ah good, her understanding of God’s sovereignty means, we need to have good stewardship of creation. Wrong! She said something to the effect of `God gave us all this oil and gas, so therefore we need to extract it all’ because it’s a gift to us.’ I wonder, if the +48 C temperatures from Israel to Iran this summer feels like a gift, compliments of human caused climate change?
I wonder how we can worry a little less about our individual comfort (our ego) in favour of mercy and justice for the whole world.
Jesus disciples eventually traveled with Jesus to Jerusalem and beyond. And we disciples today have to decide if we are willing to do that. Some years ago former UCC Moderator Rev. Bill Phipps got in a lot of trouble for saying “The church will never move forward as long as it has Christ at its centre.” Outrage followed, in the national press, but as we hear in the warning in the book of James, the tongue can cause a raging fire. So can the pen. When you just quote part of what someone says, you can really make a mess of things.
Phipps, was referring to Tom Driver’s book: Christ in a changing world: toward an ethical Christology where he said, “The church will never move forward as long as it has Christ at its centre, because Jesus isn’t at the centre, he is always on the cutting edge.
Who are you Jesus? Are you the one at the center of our lives – or the one we have a hard time keeping up to? I wonder…