Sunday, September 17, 2006

17 September 2006 - God, but not as we expect

Sunday, 17 September 2006
(text: Mark 8:27-38)


By George, I think he’s got it!

No, I’ve not got the citation wrong. I’m not quoting Professor Higgens from My Fair Lady and I’m not referring to Eliza Doolittle

I’m talking about Simon Peter, one of the twelve and a close companion of Jesus during his mission on earth.

In the story so far as Mark is telling it, Jesus has performed deeds and miracles of power Jesus has healed his fellow Jews, but Jesus has also healed Gentiles and he’s shown that he does not believe in following the religious system that the Pharisees have set up.

And the Evangelist Mark, as he is telling us the story of who Jesus is and what Jesus is here for, is just about to close the first half of his story and to move on to the second half of his story. And the second half of the story of Jesus begins with Peter finally “getting it”. “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ.”

By George, I think he’s got it! “Finally!” we sigh! We saw it coming ages ago as Mark told his story, but the disciples just didn’t seem to get it.

The only thing is that Peter doesn’t quite “get it”. He’s still expecting Jesus to be the kind of Messiah that he – Peter – is looking for. The conquering hero who is going to drive the Roman occupation out of Israel. The Messiah as a general whose display of earthly power will prove that God is on the side of the people of Israel.

So, when Jesus says that he is going to suffer, that he is going to be rejected by the elders, that he will die and rise again, Peter takes Jesus to one side and gives him a good talking to. Because everyone knows that the Messiah can’t suffer. A suffering Messiah is as contradictory a concept as a winner who loses. It just can’t happen.

God incarnate has been present in Peter’s life for the last three years, but not in the way that Peter expected.

God – but not as we expect

I really like the way that Mark portrays the disciples – and especially the way he portrays Peter. Mark’s Peter is impulsive, loud, big-hearted and is forever getting things wrong. I don’t know why, but I feel a certain affinity for this picture of Peter.

And here he is again: The Messiah has been present with Peter but not in the way that Peter expected.

Isn’t that just the way that we are? We pay lip-service to the idea that God is everywhere, that God is among us in the here and now, but we don’t always live out that stated faith

It is sometimes said that children have an innate sense of justice and fairness. Since I’m not a parent, I will stand to be corrected by those who are parents, But since I have also been a child, I’d like to offer the observation that children’s so-called innate sense of fairness and justice is often an innate sense of “*I* didn’t get the same as the other guy.”

In fact, I’ll be so bold as to suggest that it’s not just children who have this sort of “innate” sense of justice: so do many if not most of us adults. Most of us are well aware when we’ve not got the same breaks as someone else, but we often overlook our high-minded concepts of “justice” and “fairness” when the situation involves the other guy not getting as much as we have.

For many of us, our view of “how things ought to be” is a sort of “Superman” view of the world. It’s a world where the “bad guy” is clearly defined and where the “good guys” – that’s us of course – are clearly defined. It’s a world where the good guys are stronger than the bad guys and where God makes sure that the bad guys get punished. If there is an agent of God – a Superman – who can go after the bad guys and make sure that they get punished, then so much the better.

Then everyone lives happily ever after. The world will be a world of peace because everyone will be following the good-guys’ rules and they’ll get punished if they don’t.

This might be a simplistic picture, but I think that’s the way it is for many of us. I’d suggest that even those of us who know better, even those of us who know that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again secretly harbour this “Superman” view of God and of Jesus. I’ll hold up my hand and admit that, down-deep, I think that this is the way that “things ought to be”.

A Flaw in the Picture

But if you stop and think about it, there is a flaw in this picture of God as Superman, in our picture of a God who takes sides between people. (And I’m talking about God taking sides between people, not about a God who tells us the difference between right and wrong.)

There is a flaw in the picture of God as a God who says “these people are the good guys and those people are the bad guys”. What if *I* am the person who God does not love? What if *I* am the person who God is itching to punish?

Because if God takes sides between people, then by definition someone has to be the person who God does not love.

God is among us but not the way that we expected to see God.

Like Peter, we expect that a God of justice will punish evil-doers. Instead, God calls us to work with him to achieve justice by healing and restoring victims.

Like Peter, many of us expect that an omnipotent God will eventually destroy in his path all that is ungodly. But instead of killing, God chooses to be killed and to “destroy” death and violence by rising to new life. And God calls us to imitate him, to conquer violence not through violence but by finding alternatives to violence.

Take Up Your Cross

This is strong stuff. This is absurd. Some of you may disagree with me and that’s OK – disagreement is allowed. But for me, I think that the absurdity of the crucified Messiah is the reason that followers of Christ must take up their cross daily.

There are all sorts of ways that people have used the phrase “a cross to bear” that don’t – in my opinion – apply here. As difficult as it may be to live with an acute or chronic illness, I don’t think that this is what Mark’s Jesus is saying in this passage. As difficult as it may be to be the victim of natural disaster, war, drought or famine, I don’t think that these things are meant either. And “having a cross to bear” doesn’t mean having a abusive relationship or watching a loved-one succumb to addiction – however genuinely difficult those situations may be.

In this passage, Christians have a cross to bear because they proclaim a message that is absurd to the world – a message that is absurd to many people’s sense of “how things should be”. We proclaim a crucified Messiah. A Superman who refuses to use his super powers to destroy people. We proclaim a Messiah who did not cling to equality with God but rather who lived and suffered and died in human form.

We proclaim a God whose divine powers are focussed on raising New Life and not on destroying existing life. We proclaim a Messiah who is a suffering servant and not a conquering hero.

God is among us, but not in the way that we expect.


This morning, we come together as the Body of Christ to celebrate Holy Communion and to meet with Christ in a way that we expect.

This week, we will meet with God in many different ways, some which we expect and some which we do not.

I pray that our eyes will be opened to see God in every place in which God is present. That we may see where God is working in the world and live out our calling to witness to God’s love and faithfulness. And may we be strengthened by this sacrament to live and work to God’s praise and glory. Amen

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