31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
February 7, 2016
Mark 8: 27-36
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
An influential pastor in my life used to say that we were people of two books: The Bible and the hymnal. Sadly, our hymnals often need replacing far sooner than our pew Bibles. It’s important for us to remember that God’s Word is a gift. Even today, there are people who are not able to read God’s Word for themselves, either because they lack basic literacy skills or because they do not have access to a Bible.
We are people of two books so this morning, I invite you to dig out that other book from beside the pew cushion, share with your neighbor, and open it to page 43 in the New Testament. That is the passage Kathy read from Mark this morning. The same story occurs in both Matthew and Luke. Keep your finger or your bulletin in Mark and turn to page 69 in Luke:
(Read Luke 9:18-25). Mark, Luke, and Matthew are synoptic, same eye, gospels so it makes sense that this passage from Luke is very, very similar to the passage from Mark. Luke omits one little section from Mark, verses 32 & 33 – the part where Peter rebukes Jesus for saying he is going to die, and Jesus rebukes Peter calling him Satan, saying “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33)
Now keeping your finger still in Mark, turn to page 18 in Matthew (Matthew 16:13-26). Luke omits a section of Mark. Matthew adds verses, verses 17-19: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven….” Pretty high praise.
One of these gospels is said to have been influenced by Peter himself. Which would be your guess? Matthew that balances the rebuke of Peter with the blessing? Luke that leaves out both? Or Mark that plays down Peter’s importance but does not hesitate to include the harsh words of Jesus’ discipline?
Wouldn’t it be cool if I could ask you to vote on your electronic keypads right now? And we could display everyone’s guesses on a big screen?
It is the gospel of Mark that is said to have been influenced by Simon Peter. And I wondered about that this past week. What makes someone willing to expose their flaws? What makes someone not try to soften or even distract from their failings? What kind of a person allows history to remember that Jesus rebuked him and called him Satan?
And my conclusion was – someone who has heard Jesus say, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Someone who has heard those words and said yes. Yes, I will follow.
Because they are not nice or easy words. Jesus is saying, if you want to follow me, walk in my ways, you have to be willing to be branded as if you were a convicted criminal, treated as if you were carrying the instrument of your punishment to your death.
Picture that criminal, burdened by the large wooden cross bar, eyes down, stripped of all dignity and pride. Totally humbled. That is what it means to follow Jesus.
The way of Jesus Christ is not a way of power, greatness, or honor. It’s about servanthood, about letting go of our egos. It’s sometimes even about pain and often about humility.
Why doesn’t Peter want people to only remember that he was the first to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah? Why doesn’t Peter erase the story of his human error and Jesus’ strong rebuke?
Because he has been transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because he has been changed by the amazing, unconditional love of Jesus Christ, and he has let go of ego, let go of honor, let go of looking perfect. He has chosen the way of Jesus, the way of humility.
Christian humility is many things, but one thing Christian humility is not is an excuse to withhold the gospel. We cannot claim Christian humility as the reason why we are not sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Being close mouthed about Jesus in a world that needs peace and healing is not humble. It is being shy or even worse, embarrassed or frightened to take up our cross.
Instead, Christian humility is acting in a way that will please God and not necessarily in the ways that will make you popular or celebrated by others.
Christian humility is taking a deep breath before you vote in a committee meeting, respond to your partner or neighbor, make a decision, large or small in life, taking a deep breath and prayerfully asking, “Will my response build up my ego or build up Your Kingdom, O God?”
Christian humility is about being willing to publicly apologize when you have been wrong, when the church has been wrong, when our society has hurt another.
And Christian humility is about being so dedicated to the way, the love, the truth of Jesus Christ that you are strong enough to let go of your ego, strong enough to admit that you are human, strong enough to admit that you are imperfect, have faults, and can be wrong.
Being humble, all so that others can see that Christians are not perfect people, we are sinners, admitted sinners, but we are trying, we are always trying, to be better, more loving people.
Being willing to be humble, all so that others can see that even when we sin and fall short, we are still loved by God and welcomed at Christ’s table. And so that they can see that even when they sin and fall short, they are still loved by God and welcomed at Christ’s table.
Peter wasn’t perfect. Sometimes he understood what Jesus was about; sometimes he really got it wrong. Sometimes he was a faithful follower; sometimes he was the most flawed of deserters. And what he discovered was that Jesus loved him regardless. Jesus loved him – period. And that love transformed him. Transformed him into a man willing to put aside his own ego, put aside the world’s constructs of what glory and success were, put it all aside to follow Jesus and proclaim the good news of God’s unconditional love.
As we enter the season of Lent this week, may we, too, be strong enough, faithful enough to confess our sins, deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow our Lord, Jesus Christ.