The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s136g09 Sunday 24 13/9/2009
'Peter .. began to rebuke him' Mark 8.32
I find it interesting that the disciples, including Peter, had their own ideas about how the kingdom was to come. We have numerous occasions when the disciples presumed to tell Jesus how to exercise his ministry. Philip suggested that Jesus dismiss the crowds so they could get some sustenance themselves. The disciples wanted to vet who could approach Jesus and who couldn't children were excluded. James and John wanted their places of influence. It is indeed doubtful that even after these words in today's gospel about his coming crucifixion and the sternest of rebukes to Peter that the disciples really got the message for they all deserted him when the crunch came.
And it is significant that the disciples deserted him when the real crunch came - they too were to be ashamed of him in that most significant of moments. They were part of that 'sinful and adulterous generation'.
So when we have our own ideas about the kingdom and particularly about its success, we are as likely to have not realised what the cross is all about, and we too, when confronted with the reality will also be ashamed to be associated with it.
As an aside, Jesus is surely not here suggesting that that particular generation was noted for its sexual immorality. His encounter with the woman caught in adultery has a completely different message. If anyone was accused of adultery, it was those who were there to punish the woman. The religious right were worshipping an idol made in their own image. I was reminded recently when I was asked to read a young person's essay on 'covenant in scripture' (and a very good essay it was too) that Israel is pictured in Hosea as the adulterous wife whom Yahweh continues to love. In scripture adultery is (mostly?) used as a particularly pejorative term for idolatry, of turning away from the God who loves all to a god who loves only those who seem to be related by (re) birth, language, culture, lifestyle or credulity. It is clear that any effort to make the church successful at the expense of others who have not these qualifications is idolatrous, something made in my own image.
I note that Peter was concerned for Jesus' welfare, so Jesus' rebuke to Peter is a rebuke for we in the church who are concerned for the welfare of the body of Christ, the church. Of course Peter's own welfare was inextricably bound up with Jesus' welfare, and we think that our own welfare is inextricably bound up with the welfare of the church. But we are not our faith. As J A H Futtermann rightly says: 'You are not your beliefs. Ultimately it is you that God loves .. rather than merely your beliefs ..' "Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua" (http://www.dogchurch.org).
As soon as the church exists for its own longevity by keeping people 'inside', she defeats the purpose for which she was founded. It is no different to a mother being eternally pregnant, but never bringing to birth her child. A hell of a lot of pain and agony and all for naught.
There is little point in criticising other organizations that are only concerned with their continuing survival when we in the church have identical fears. I recall the Warden of the theological college where I attended saying that he had been invited to join a society for the defence of the catholic faith. He declined, saying that if the catholic faith needed him to defend it, it wasn't worth much!
We therefore do not have to fear.
We cannot look at the Cross through the 'rose-coloured' glasses of the resurrection and ascension. As they say in the gyms: 'No pain, no gain'. The Cross is not the stage through which we must pass before being glorified. The Cross is our present existence it is something which destroys all personal ambition, even for a future life. St Paul says: 'For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.' (Rom 9.3) He desires his own condemnation for the sake of others. Our glory is other people's inclusion. One of the local churches here has the scripture on its notice board: 'There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus' (Rom 8.1) and if nothing else, these two passages need to be put together and each interpreted in the light of the other.
If our faith is only about our present blessedness or our future blessedness then it is essentially self-centred and selfish, no matter what religious jargon we use to disguise the fact. It is only when we consider the feeding of others, include all into the kingdom, and renouncing positions of authority over others, here in this life, as Christians towards those of other faiths and no faith, towards others who do not live the way we do or worship like us, that we might hazard to claim the title 'Christian'. This is what being 'in Christ' means and which results in no condemnation rebounding on ourselves. Again, this is not essentially personal but a corporate attitude of our shared faith that matters.
As I have gone through the church various people have suggested various remedies to renew the church. The traditional method has been to return to some mythological primitive Christianity as if Peter and the apostles had some special grasp on the truth. One has only to see how Peter, after his confession and rebuke in our reading for today, himself had to be converted in the house of Cornelius long after he had met the risen Jesus to realise that they too were ever in a process of growth as we are.
We have been encouraged to return to reading the bible, to receive the sacraments more faithfully, or to open ourselves to the operation of the Holy Spirit. Of course there is nothing wrong with any of these. But in the end each of these can serve to mark us off as different from other people. Indeed those who follow the reading of the bible path see themselves as so much more orthodox that the others, those who follow the sacramental path see themselves as so much more devout than others, and those who follow the charismatic path, so much more spiritual than the others! We hardly acknowledge the others as Christians yet we profess that we are following the same Lord! Are not each of these competing ways to a successful Christianity just our own suggestions to Jesus as to how we want the kingdom to be brought in? of course at no cost to God and at no cost to ourselves and our own perceptions!
Actually we are not asked to do much at all except to change our minds. When I listen to some 'christians' talk it seems that they demand others to change their gender for full recognition, to change the person with whom they have chosen to express their intimate affections, to change the colour of their skin, to discard all the insights that their own culture and faith has brought them as it they were all totally useless. How we love other people with the same unconditional love of God! We ask others to do everything so that our perception of the true faith remains unchallenged.
The Cross is eternally counter-intuitive, even for those who, like Peter, claim to want it eternally successful.
We do not have to fear, we don't have to start a new movement, we are only called to change our minds (if this is necessary) and to love others with that same unconditional love with which God has loved us.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"