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  • Glen A. Kirk

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost - Pastor Jonathan Hamman



James 3:1 – 12 Pentecost 16, 2021

Mark 8:27 – 38 Rural Retreat Parish




As we mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks yesterday, it has been sad to realize that two of my children who were born in 2000 have known just a few months of peace during their lifetimes, the others have never known peace. We can argue about the semantics of a declaration of war versus an anti-terrorist action, but the fact remains peace has been an anomaly. While we mourn the loss of life on that day in New York, the pentagon, and in Shanksville, we also mourn the destruction of our national sense of being out of reach from such actions, even as we celebrate the heroes of 9/11, we also should take a moment to think about the other costs.



It is important to remember, this peace has not just been an anomaly for us and our children, but also for the people of Afghanistan. Although exact figures are hard to come by, it is estimated that over 175 thousand Afghani civilians, members of the military and militias, and others have been killed in the last 20 years. This also does not take into account the number of people who may have died due to extenuating circumstances surrounding the war such as a lack of medical care and famine. Sadly, many of the almost 50,000 civilian causalities were killed by coalition force’s indiscriminate bombing.


Our identity, whether we care to admit it or not, has become wrapped around the use of violence to ensure peace. This was the irony of the idea around the Roman Empire’s pax Romana. The idea was that through forceful subjugation of foreign people’s peace could be achieved for the empire, for those conquered peoples, and this would thereby bring about peace in the whole world. Of course, this never really happened as wars were constantly being fought to subdue rebellions and to subject foreign people’s not to mention always having to defend the borders.



Into this violence of our world and into the violence of his time, Jesus goes this morning to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. This Roman town contained a large temple dedicated to the god pan and several other Roman gods, and even had a cave that some believed led directly to the underworld. It was also a place of a major spring of fresh water and the largest source of fresh water flowing into the Jordan river. It is interesting that Jesus would go to this place: in gentile territory, in the midst of foreign gods, in a place certainly occupied heavily with Roman troops, and turn to quiz disciples and ask them: “who do people say that I am?”



The disciples pop out a few popular answers they have heard in the gossip chain or perhaps on ancient twitter or Facebook: some say you are John the Baptist; others say Elijah and still others another one of the prophets. This is an impressive list, especially since these folks are dead! Whatever people may think, Jesus sounds pretty impressive. “But who do you say that I am?” Peter blurts out, for the first and only time, in fact it’s the only time a disciple identifies Jesus at all in Mark’s gospel: “you are the Messiah.”


Jesus’ response is rather empathic: shut up and don’t tell anyone about this. UH…What do we say to that? The Jesus tells them that the Messiah will be rejected by all the popular and mainstream faith leaders, he will be killed and on the third day rise again. What a minute Jesus. We almost stopped listening at the rejected part, we certainly can hardly hear the be killed part, and probably no one was still listening by the time he said be raised on the third day. Who hears that when your teacher, Messiah, and lord talks about dying?



Peter cannot stand this. He turns to Jesus now and tells him to shut up. And Jesus calls him Satan. “Get behind me Satan, you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” You are worried about how this looks to other people. You are worried about how these things play out in the press. You are worried about how people will receive you because I was your teacher. You are worried about all these human things and those do not matter. All that matters is the divine plan to save the world.


The worldly thoughts about the Messiah are real and prevalent in their minds. The Messiah was supposed to be a warrior king who would kick out the Romans and their power structures that benefitted the people in power, the rich, and the military system. The Messiah was supposed to come and lift up the poor, restore the peaceable kingdom, and take care of those who are marginalized in a society that simply does not see them.



Perhaps we too need just such a Messiah to come again and restore such things. Yet, as we often talk about in Bible Study, if Jesus came in such a way and to do such things, would we recognize him? Would we receive a Messiah who asks us to do these things? Would we follow him? Would we want to be a part of this kingdom?



Jesus talks about going to the cross, taking up our own crosses, and following him. Is this our crises of identity? Do we want to be defined by the cross? An instrument of shame, torture, and criminality? Do we want to be defined by the death of a savior who willing dies that we may have life in his name? Do we want to be identified by this mark on our foreheads that says, boldly and loudly, yes, we follow that savior? The one who hangs out with the criminals, the outcasts, the sinners, and the ones everyone else refuses to touch? Do we want to be identified in this way?


It has always been hard; we hear in the letter to James the people continue to struggle. Last week it was with the rich and poor people. This week it is the tongue. Lord it is hard to follow you, hang out with the people you want us to hang out with, not talk about the people we really don’t want to hang out with and deny this is actually what you call us to do. We slander with our tongues, we slander God’s grace and love, when we say, out loud or silently, we do not want to be with those people. The tongue is an awful weapon of mass destruction.



Take up your cross and follow me. In other words. It will not be easy. It will not be popular. It will not be glorious. It will not make you rich. It will not make you friends. You may even lose your life. For my safe and for the sake of the gospel. It is what it is. Actually, this is what God’s grace and love look like in this world. And though it is hard for us to live, believe, and face this reality, it is nevertheless, the gospel we are called to share.



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