The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:

s136g06 Sunday 24 17/9/2006

'who do people say that I am?' Mark 8.27

When I was a young theological student, I was presented with the three alternative answers to this question either Jesus was mad, was bad, or was God. Now obviously Jesus was neither mad nor bad therefore I and we have no option but to conclude that Jesus was God. However I am not entirely certain that this trilogy of options do justice to the gospel accounts.

Peter was quick to come to the conclusion that Jesus was beyond the mad and the bad, and proclaimed him the messiah, but his perception of the messiah was quite wrong.

And those who opposed Jesus enough to have him killed, people who were the ones who loved God so ostentatiously, had Jesus killed because he did not fit their idea of God at all. Funnily enough, the real problem that both Peter and the opposition to Jesus share is not divine status but how that divine status is exercised in the day to day world.

Affirmation of Jesus can stem from a false idea of who Jesus was and rejection can come from an all too accurate picture of who Jesus was.

It is instructive that Jesus calls Peter 'Satan' that which opposes God. This should alert us to the fact that it is not at all straightforward to distinguish when someone is being led by God and when they are being led by that which opposes God. Those people who suffer mental illnesses often have profound other-worldly experiences, yet if St Peter can get it all wrong, so can we and so can anyone. While our text for today doesn't include Jesus' commendation to Peter that the revelation of him as Messiah had come to him from the Father this doesn't mean that Jesus can't in the next breath call him 'Satan'.

There have been occasions when I have been called the 'enemy' by someone suffering religious delusions and I've taken this as a compliment.

So when the Church proclaims Jesus as Lord - this is no guarantee that the working out of this in the day to day world is actually 'of God'. And when people dismiss the Church it may well be because they recognise that for all their fervour, churches are actually demonic in their attempts to manipulate and dominate others.

Our epistle reading for today mentions the almost sacrifice of his son Isaac by Abraham. We can conclude that again Abraham has trouble distinguishing just how God was leading him. It was the pagan nations who 'gave their offspring to Molech', and this was an abomination to the God of the Hebrews. (Leviticus 20) It is hardly conceivable that God asked this of Abraham.

Who would be ashamed of Jesus other than those who are ashamed that Jesus died for others? Others who don't live up to my expectations .. And this shame is the basis of Jesus' comment 'this sinful and adulterous generation'.

'For the sake of the gospel' means to me the dignity of each and every person, and it is something for which I actually think I am ready to give of myself. I have no particular interest in the success of the Church.

Recently I heard this interchange on the Religion Report on our Radio National and downloaded this extract. It was between reporter Stephen Crittenden and Gary Bouma from Religions for Peace.

Stephen Crittenden: I was at a lunch in Sydney a week or so back for Rabbi David Rosen, the very high profile Israeli exponent of inter-religious dialogue, who was en route for Kyoto. He made a fascinating point when he gave his speech in Sydney, about the agreement between Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, all those years ago on the White House lawn. There wasn't a single religious representative present, and that the Muslim nations, Iran for example, negotiating over nuclear power at present, would be a whole lot more responsive and receptive if Western delegations in particular included religious leaders.

Gary Bouma: He's very strong on that point, and it's one that is very dear to the heart of Religions for Peace group. He's absolutely right, this agreement was signed, but it might as well have been signed on Mars. There was no opportunity for the countries represented there to buy in, to see not only their senior leaders signing agreements but representatives of their faith standing there observing and clearly buying into the agreement as well, and because they weren't included of course the capacity to build the complexities of peace arrangements and to maintain peacefulness at home, was much undermined. A similar example was that the UN of course was concerned about the Taliban's intent to blow up the images in Afghanistan.

Stephen Crittenden: This is the Buddha statues in Bamiyan.

Gary Bouma: Yes, and the world was very concerned about that. Well Hatami and the Religions for Peace had proposed an Islamic delegation to go and speak with the Taliban, to talk with them Muslim to Muslim about how that was not a very Islamic thing to do, it was not Qu'ranic etc., and to be able to make those kinds of arguments. Instead they sent somebody from Norway and from France who went in with the usual argument about this is a world cultural heritage site, blah-blah. Well I'm sorry, it didn't cut the mustard, did it.

While I have enormous sympathy for the aims of 'Religions for Peace' this left me wondering if the fundamentalist sections of faiths (Christian no less than any other) now have to be appeased to realize peace? How is it that those who claim to adhere most closely to the faith (again, whatever it is) are the most sceptical, the most reluctant to be appeased, the most unable to see where the possibility of peace might eventuate, indeed they are the most oblivious to the fact that they themselves are the cause of the disputes?

I note that recently the Prime Minister here in Australia had a briefing session with Christian leaders. This might be shrewd politics on behalf of the government, but I wonder if this might encourage the churches and their desire to be appeased?

I note that most frequently in the Old Testament, foreign powers were seen by the prophets as instruments of God's judgement on God's chosen people, and in the New Testament there is a reluctance to blame the civil authorities for culpability for Jesus' death.

Sadly perhaps there weren't any religious leaders with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin because religious leaders are noted for being less interested in peace than secular authorities. And of course one has only to look at the disputation within the Anglican Communion at present to realise how true this is in our own church without us having any need to look elsewhere.

If this is what our 'christianity' has come to then there is little wonder people will depart from our communion in droves and good on them!

There is no point in us proclaiming however loudly our faith in the divine status of Jesus if it leads us to deny the sacredness of all other people, of whatever gender, race, colour, culture, faith, lifestyle .. If we do this I believe we will incur the same rebuke Jesus delivered to Peter: 'Get behind me, Satan!'

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