Sermon for Sunday September 16th
From another world beyond our understanding, came a baby. Given to human parents to be raised as one of us, to inspire us, and to be a shining example. As a child he would discover other worldly insight and his parents would be amazed but not fully understand. As an adult he would venture out and begin to help and save people and be persecuted by a world that was not ready for him. I am talking of course about Superman. Forgive me, but as a child of the 80’s and 90’s my world was shaped by comic books and cartoons about comic books.
I had a Youth Director in my high school start off a meeting with the story above. His point was that Superman was a modern-day retelling of the story of Jesus. Youth Ministers in my teenage years wanted to make everything into an allegory of the life of Jesus. But for me, Superman stuck. Superman is pure goodness with powers that allow him to overcome anything and stand up for justice. But in the comic books, the world isn’t ready for such a stalwart powerful being to exist! It threatens to much of the establishment and the people in power that have gotten their power through oppressing others.
If there was any Gospel that would make a great comic book, it would be Mark. We are dropped into the action right away with John the Baptist appearing in the wilderness. And then it proceeds to sprint away from there. But almost exactly the mid point here, things are about to shift dramatically.
I am trying to put myself in the shoes of Peter. I can see him walking along with the others, over hearing the conversation as Jesus begins to ask them “who do the people say that I am?”. The responses come immediately, “John the Baptist and others Elijah and still others one of the prophets”. These answers make sense, as he has been traveling through teaching and healing people. He mirrors behaviors consistent with both of these figures. Healing and teaching with authority. But then Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am”. I have had a homiletics teacher, as an exercise ask us to read passages in several different voices and emotions. I’m curious here about how Peter says these words. Peter speaks up “You are the Messiah”. These 4 words dramatically change what it means for him and the other to be disciples.
Peter would have grown up with knowledge of what and who the Messiah or literally “the anointed one” would of have been. A man of the Davidic Line, a noble king well versed in the law, and of course keeper of the all the commandments. This shining example would be a great military leader who would win battles for Israel, inspire those to follow along with him and be the great and wise judge. The Israelites, God’s people would enter into the Messianic Age, and age of unbridled peace and prosperity under this agent of God. An important distinction here, an Agent of God, but not Divine. He would be Superman.
Now up to this point, and with this lens, Jesus hasn’t really done anything of this Messianic magnitude. Preaching and Healing was not really the MO of the Messiah, the Christ. Peter is going out on a limb here. Maybe it’s like someone finally realizing that Clark Kent looks and awful lot like Superman under those glasses. And then Clark Kent saying, “yeah I am Superman”.
How amazing would this moment be? The prophet and teacher that you have been following, that you have been handpicked by is The Anointed One that is going to deliver Israel from oppression. But not so fast there, Peter. The balloon gets popped pretty quickly by Jesus.
Jesus is not here to gather and army and win a decisive victory against Rome. Jesus is not here to rule as a good and faithful King, Judge and whatnot and bring the prosperity to the Israelites in this world. Rather he is there to give new life to all. To all.
Jesus, the Son of Man is to be rejected by the priests, suffer and be killed. And only then will he rise again. How is this possible? Superman can’t die! Superman can’t be rejected by the people that have been waiting for him for generations! It is no wonder that Peter pulls Jesus aside, and gets angry. I feel for Peter! These last paragraphs have been an emotional roller coaster for this man. With all that emotion he goes to Jesus and rebukes him.
Jesus isn’t Superman, Jesus isn’t the warrior king come to win battles and conquer lands.. He is coming to show us what is required for eternal life not here in this place, but with God. Because the matters of empire, the stuff we accumulate, and the money we spend isn’t going to matter in God’s kingdom. How we treat each other, how we care for one another, the communities we build and the way we welcome in ALL who are different or strangers to us. This is what is going to ultimately matter.
Arguably the worst sales pitch to become anyone’s follower continues at the end of the Gospel. And in that Jesus lays out for us what it truly means to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. To lose one’s life in order to gain it. To lose all the things that we hold in such high esteem that it draws our attention away from God. The implications of being a follower of Jesus now become clear. Following Jesus is not going to be easy. It will take everything you have, but in exchange you gain eternal life.
What I love most about this reading is that we are invited to be participants in the work of God. You see Superman is great and all, but in Superman’s world, people don’t participate in the saving and the punching and the flying. Superman shows up, does his thing and flies away (presumably to save Lois Lane). Superman can’t deputize anyone, so he can take a morning off. There are whole story-lines where the world is lost with out Superman.
With Jesus, we are invited to be involved in a community. We are called to heal the sick, sit with tax collectors and converse with Gentiles. At the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus responds to the disciples and says “You give them something to eat”. He sends out his 12 out into the villages to heal the sick and to exorcise demons.
We are not simply bystanders, waiting to be saved. But rather engaged in the work that God has set before us. This then leaves me with questions. What does it mean for me when I say the words of the creed “I believe in Jesus God’s Son”? What are the implications on my life? What things do I need to lose? This discourse, this conversation brings me into a conversation with a Gospel that challenges me, that inspires me to take up a cross and follow Jesus.