Sunday, March 8, 2009

Plain Speaking

Second Sunday in Lent
March 8, 2009
Mark 8:27-38

I want to be clear. Dialogue can be beneficial. Having a conversation with someone can be good. But in religion there’s sometimes the kind of dialogue going on that falls under this definition: “an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, esp. a political or religious issue, with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.” The spirit of our age says that is what we ought to be doing. But while we should converse with people on religion, it should not be at the cost of compromising the truth of Scripture in order to get along or be in agreement.

The truth of Scripture doesn’t leave room for other points of view. It doesn’t coexist with beliefs of other religions. The truth of Scripture is clear. It’s not open to just any interpretation. It’s stated plainly and the choice is to believe it or reject it.

We all have difficulty with the Scriptures. There are parts that are tough to understand. There are also parts we understand well enough but don’t like what we hear. Mark Twain said, “Many people are bothered by those passages in Scripture which they cannot understand; but as for me, I always noticed that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand.”

This is what is going on with Peter and the other disciples in today’s Gospel reading. There’s a lot of misunderstanding going on with a lot of people. Jesus must be John the Baptist raised from the dead, or Elijah who has come back, or one of the other prophets. But not Peter. Not the disciples. They knew who He was. He was the Christ. The Messiah. The Savior God had sent. They understood exactly what Jesus was telling them about what it meant that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

And that’s where they began having trouble. That’s where they took issue with the Scripture. Where Peter was compelled even to rebuke Jesus, the very Messiah. It wasn’t because they didn’t understand, like so many people of the age. It was because they did. Jesus? Suffer and die? The Messiah? Be beaten and brought down? The Savior God had sent? Have to rise from the grave, meaning that His life would have to come to an end? There’s no way that’s who the Messiah is. That can’t be how God is going to bring about salvation.

But Jesus is clear. He spoke it plainly to them. And Peter is likewise clear. He will not allow it happen. He will not let God do it His way. Because He has his mind set on the things of men, not the things of God.

Peter doesn’t engage in dialogue with Jesus. He doesn’t try to talk Him out of it. He doesn’t ask Him how it is so. He rebukes Jesus. Peter is not interested in diplomacy, he’s intent on what he knows is right. And aren’t we that way also? Even if we may be a little more soft-spoken than Peter was. Even if we don’t always go for the jugular like Peter at times did. Our prayers often are not conversations with God, but laundry lists of what God should do for us. Because we have our minds set on the things of men, not of God.

Jesus is clear. In the water that is connected with His Word, you have Baptism. Not a symbol. Not a ritual. Not a rite of passage. Baptism. New life. A drowning. A union with the crucified Christ, a union with the resurrected Lord. A washing away of your sins. He’s clear. But do you still feel lacking? Do you say, God, where is a miracle when I need one? Why aren’t you taking away the cancer that has infected my mother? Why aren’t you giving me a clear sign as to if I should stay in my current job, risking getting laid off, or quit and take another job, not knowing how stable that will be?

Why are you turning your energies toward all of these things you don’t want to happen when you already know what has happened? You have been Baptized! You are a child of the living God! While you were an enemy of God He reconciled you to Himself. The flow of your life will fluctuate, but you will always be Baptized. Jesus is clear on that. He made a promise to you in your Baptism, and He keeps His promises.

He is clear. In the bread and wine of His Holy Supper, you are given His Body and Blood. You’re not given a reminder of Jesus’ body dying on the cross and His blood being poured out in His suffering. Holy Communion is no mere ritual. It is the Lord’s Supper! You think the Lord is going to invite you to His meal and offer you simply bread and wine? He’s a God who gives! He gives you the whole lot! Not a symbol, His very self. His Body—the very body that hung on the cross. His Blood—the very blood poured out on the cross. He’s clear on that.

But do you say, I’m so glad for this reminder of His love for me? Do you look for something more real in your life? Some physical way of Him touching your life, instead of looking to, and hungering for, His very Supper, His Holy Meal He gives to you?

It’s time to admit that our problem is not so much that we don’t understand, but that we do. And that’s why we’re having the problem. We hear what God is saying, but we don’t want it His way. We’d much rather wade around in dialogue. It sure would be nice if God would provide more spectacular means of forgiving us, helping us, caring for us, than in some water and some bread and wine. It’d be nice if we had something more to go on than a God who is taken out by a bunch of religious leaders and won’t stand up against some Roman soldiers. Be nice to have a God who isn’t so darn clear that it’s all about the cross, and not about us and how we feel, or what we want, or how moral we are, what good people we’ve been being.

Wouldn’t it be nice not to have deny ourselves and take up our cross? Nice not to have to lose our lives as we’d like them to be for the sake of suffering on account of Jesus? Nice not to have to be in the position where we’re made to feel funny for being a Christian, putting Christ before ourselves and feelings? A relief to have enough money to have peace of mind rather than rely solely on Jesus whether we have enough money or not?

Yes, Jesus is all too clear. He’s not interested in dialogue. When met with opposition He doesn’t hold hands with His disciples and sing Kumbaya with them, He rebukes them right back. He gets in their face and tells them what’s what. Maybe that’s what we need—a God who gets in our face. Who speaks plainly, all too clearly. This is My body, this is My blood. You are Baptized. I will suffer and die on the cross. I will rise from the grave. I will save you from your sins—and this is how I’ll do it.

And He did. He did when we were sinners. When we were His enemies. He Baptizes us when we need it. He feeds us with His Body and Blood when we’re helpless and hurting and entrenched in our sins. He can’t be any clearer on that. He saves you because you need it and because He because He loves you unconditionally. Set your mind on the things of God and you will find your dialoguing with others turning into sharing with them what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ. You will find your life enriched not simply with the things of men but with the things of God: forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen.


No comments: