Saturday, September 12, 2009

B, Pentecost 15 Proper 19 - Mark 8:27-38 "Expectations"

The early Christians counted suffering for Christ not as a burden or misfortune but as a great honour, a blessing, for in their suffering they could bear witness to the faith which God had given to them.

Tactius, a Roman historian, wrote of the early Christians martyrs: "Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths." Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished or were nailed to crosses or were doomed to flames and burned to serve as nightly illumination when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle.

We are told that the martyrs went rejoicing to their deaths as if they were going to a marriage feast. They bathed their hands in the blaze kindled for them and shouted with gladness. They marched into the arena as if marching into heaven. When Ignatius (Ig-nay-shush), an elderly martyr, was about to die for his faith in A.D. 110, he cried out, "Nearer the sword, then nearer to God. In company with God." Now we are not trying to be macabre, nor are we saying anyone should seek an adventurous death. Rather, we are saying that the Christian life often involves suffering.[1]

This scenario is a far cry from us today. In fact in the church today we suffer the burden of sitting for one hour just to hear God's word. The testing we face by cutting our time short for leisure activities to receive from God the essential things of salvation seem almost unbearable. Church almost seems like a life sentence, we fidget and squirm or fall asleep, waiting for the inevitable "amen", so that we might go off and attend to what we like.

Perhaps your mindset is this: My expectations are just not being met in church these days! God is not serving me the way "I" feel "I" should be served. Perhaps to avoid such perilous persecution we should go hunting for a better church product; one that fulfils all our desires and criteria. In my heart "I" just feel that my needs are not being met. God is a God of love; he wants to bless me. So "I" have to find a church where "I" get inspiration and encouragement; a place where "I" get knowledge and instruction; a place where "I" might get a pep-up to boost me through the week; a place where "I" get new friends; and a place where "I" feel "I" get loved.

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?" 28 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ." 30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." (Mark 8:27-38 NIV)

Peter's expectations are much like many of our expectations today. On hearing that Jesus was going to die the alarm bells went off for Peter and he acted in a way he believed to be right. That is until Jesus tells Satan to get behind. We too need to realise that error comes in many forms, and it often looks good at first glance and we think we are doing the right thing—but that's why it's called deception. I'm sure the apple looked good in the Garden of Eden too; the one who ate it lacked wisdom and discernment.

All of us have asked the question, "Are my expectations being met?" For Peter hearing that Jesus must suffer definitely didn't fulfil his desires and expectations of Jesus. If Jesus the messiah must suffer, then surely Peter's life would be far from rosy. So he sought to correct Jesus, so he might hear a happier message. But perhaps his question, like ours should be, "Are God's expectations being met?" Or to use Jesus' words to test and ask ourselves, "do I have in mind the things of God, or the things of men?"

Are God's expectations being met in us today? Are God's expectations being met in me? Is the service I'm seeking in worship one that brings glory to God, calling me to put off the old self and carry my cross? Is church more about covering up my true reality? Or is it about exposing it, though painful, and having it nailed to the cross, so we might live in peace with God, even if the world might want to martyr us for doing so.

Many today think that Jesus words "Get behind me, Satan" are for someone else. But these words are for you and for me. We are called to ask ourselves, "Do I have in mind the things of God, or the things of men? We find the essential expectations of God only in God's word, and in hearing his word we receive wisdom to study his word in order that we might discern right from wrong!

In these days of materialism where life is all about personal experience, feelings, and satisfactions, God puts all of his word in front of us and we do well to hear his word of correction, and return to Jesus' way, the only way! So that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, might rightly take the throne of our hearts over and over again.

God is worthy of honour and respect, he is God, and he deserves it. We need God's true service in his Son Jesus Christ through his word, so the Holy Spirit can bring us holiness and peace right now, even in the midst of great trials and suffering. Jesus is worthy of honour, glory, and respect; and he deserves it too.

God makes demands on your life and my life; to stop, repent, and return to his word! He knows the gravity of my situation and your situation; the life and death struggle that we Christians so quickly turn into a whim about what might please us. Honour and glory awaits all who trust only in Jesus, humility and holiness call us to put our selves, our time, and our possessions a distant second to the narrow road of the cross and the true glory it will bring us in eternity. Amen.

[1] #20 from Encyclopaedia of Sermon Illustrations, Concordia, St Louis, 1988, page 16