Saturday, September 15, 2012

B, Post-Pentecost 16 Proper 19 - Mark 8:34 "In Denial"

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And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, Jesus said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:35, 38 ESV)
Civil unrest often manifests itself in riots on the streets of cities where one finds universities. When we turn on the television or computer, to see and hear the news, students of teaching institutions are the ones often seen hurling rocks and crude missiles at riot police or risking their lives in front of a country's military.
It seems those who avail themselves to be taught, place themselves under a force that is great. Teaching and being taught contain a power which sways opinions, influences ideals, and stirs up emotions and actions in the hearts of those who willingly hear. When a student's ears are opened to the words of another, energies can be raised so much in a community that even academics can rise up in rebellion against brutal dominance.
Added to this, deceitful or contrary teaching can raise up unjust rebellion and dissension in the hearts of the hearers too. Or, on the other hand, deliberate deafness and dumbness to right instruction can lead one into an apathetic, self-centred, rebellious and recalcitrant refusal to be taught.  So that what is powerfully passed on to the next generation is an obsession with the opinionated self, individualism, and stubbornness to listen and learn, to serve others - in wilful submission or as teachers. Refusal to be taught leaves a vacuum which allows other sneaky and dangerous forms of teaching to take its place. This is why James says…
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. …the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. (James 3:1–2a, 5a ESV)
So it sounds as if we should not teach, because we will be judged with greater strictness. We just might stumble and say the wrong thing and lead little ears into denial of the truth. It is here we realise the responsibility of teaching and the grave repercussions of wrong teaching. We realise the power in what we may or may not have taught.
What have I taught others? If I think I've left teaching to the pastor, the school teacher, the Sunday School or Confirmation teacher, not needing to take responsibility for my children's and grandchildren's learning, know that the child has already been taught and moulded by my actions and lack of active teaching too.
Realise then, that as parents and grandparents you are the primary teachers of your children and therefore know that parenthood has far reaching implications for all dads and mums given the responsibility to teach in the stead of God the Father in every earthy family.
This is big stuff. How then can I faithfully teach? It seems we are set up for failure before we've even been betrothed in marriage, before the relationship is consummated, and the child is conceived. But we hear in Isaiah how we are to go about the mandatory role we have as teachers of our families. Isaiah says…
The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. (Isaiah 50:4–5 ESV)
The first thing God does in all of this is he needs to teach us about ourselves. He needs to lead us away from the mentality of "Do as I say and not as I do". Why? Because learning and teaching are not just academic exercises. We teach and our children learn from what we do as well as what we say. In fact most of our children's learning occurs before and in the first couple of years of their formal education. It is true they might learn how to write and count; dotting the "I"s, reading, and working with numbers. But right from the moment a child is born they learn how their parents use words and by their attitude to the numbers in their wallets.
Right teaching is so necessary for good development of our young and old. Some might say you can't teach "an old dog new tricks", that once the child is set in its ways it's too late. In some cases maybe so, but the power of God's word can undo the tricks in the oldest and most set in their ways, when we allow God access into our stony hearts, he breaks us down, and reforms us as his children.
Peter's teaching was harsh. He had said all the right words to Jesus when asked, "Who do you say that I am?" I imagine Peter must have been pretty chuffed he got the answer right, proclaiming Jesus as the Christ! In his eyes Peter was now elevated to favour before his teacher. He had the stuff, he was good! If Jesus my Lord and teacher is the Christ, then I must be up there too!
Peter gets his answer and it's not as he would have expected. This old dog was being taught a new trick. However, this teaching was completed at the cross, the cross where Jesus taught his disciples he must endure death and rejection, the cross of which Peter would be so ashamed that he would deny his Lord. Completed after Jesus' resurrection from the cross, death and the grave where Jesus raised Peter from denial, reinstating him and filling him and the other Apostles with his power through the Holy Spirit.
Just as Isaiah had declared all those years before, Peter had been given the tongue of those who are taught. Jesus had taken him, broken him, and healed him. And in the wake of the cross we see a very different man deny himself and take up his cross and follow Jesus. What did this cross have installed for Peter? Pentecost, prison, a second Pentecost with Cornelius and the Gentiles, and a life that led to his martyrdom attested to by Origin, a theologian of the early Church (184 – 254AD), saying, "Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downwards, as he himself had desired to suffer."
This is why an upside down cross is generally accepted as a symbol of Peter, who would not have considered himself worthy enough to die the same way as Jesus Christ. But as unworthy as Peter was and thought himself to be, he was worthy of something much better. And that was eternal life with our Lord.
You might think you are not worthy to teach, but God can and does open the mouths and move the feet of those who listen to him. We now are called to bear our cross. And what is this cross we must bear? Behind all the struggles and suffering we face in this world everyone carries their cross of death, and we who believe, the cross to teach in all its various ways.
Now there are plenty who live in denial of this cross of death, even though they hopelessly walk towards it, lonely, overburden and overwhelmed by its cross. Then again there are others who carry their cross and in doing so look to the Lord to walk with them hand and hand to death and through it into eternal blessing.
I pray you live in denial of yourself and let God teach you "an old dog a new trick", this is the trick of repentance, confession of sin, and as Peter so harshly learnt, to put Satan behind. You can teach others in your actions of repentance and fellowship too. The greatest trick of the cross and bearing our cross is letting Christ beat the devil in us and in our relationships, making peace and reconciling us brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, as the Father's little children.
Stand hand in hand together with our Lord Jesus Christ and confess these words of Isaiah…
But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? (Isaiah 50:7–9a ESV) Amen.