Readings: James 3:1-12 Mark 8:27-34
We pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
Fascinating readings today – offering opportunity for taking up a number of threads for a sermon – the difficulty and challenging role of teachers, the imagery for the power of the tongue found in bridles and rudders, and for goodness and cursing to come from it. We have the great question – ‘who do you say I am?’ and the rebuke of Peter for failing to grasp the necessity of the cross.
I do want to concentrate on the question ‘Who do you say I am?’ and I have no doubt we will connect some of the threads in doing so.
Yet today we also pay attention to the 125 years of women’s suffrage in NZ and what we might learn from that momentous decision and the wisdom and courage and faith of those who led, those who signed, those who presented again and again against powerful opposition.
‘Who do you say I am?’ Place yourself in that small gathering around Jesus – it’s a big question, you are glad that he asks about the people first because that is easier – you don’t have to take responsibility – and so you say: John the Baptist. Others say Elijah and yet others one of the prophets. But then the crunch moment comes: ‘But who do you say I am?’ Feeling you should know the answer but you don’t want to get it wrong, you wait for someone else to speak first. And Peter, bless him, answers ‘You are the Messiah!
Good answer, great answer! The one promised to the Jews had come.
But there is a problem. Interpretation. Peter has a clear idea of how that pans out – and it doesn’t involve Jesus going to the cross; suffering and humiliation is not part of the plan – and he says so. And the acclaim, the sense of going in the same direction suddenly dissipates. Jesus challenges Peter’s understanding of the path the Messiah must take to bring redemption to the people and Peter does not like it. It is counter intuitive to every hope he had and does not sit well at all.
He made a mistake, the right words did not come out of his mouth, rather they were poisonous to Jesus ears, a temptation he would not succumb to.
Yet we too name Jesus as Messiah – I wonder what our Messiah looks like? Who do we say Jesus is and are we willing to follow an unexpected, a counter-intuitive way of action to bring about God’s kingdom in this place?
It’s always hard to place yourselves in someone else’s story but it is interesting to think about how the Christian women of those suffragette years would have answered that question. Reading in the ODT the stories of six of Dunedin’s women who were leaders in the movement advocating for women gaining the vote, it is immediately obvious that their Christian roots were defining for a number of them and yet their path set them in direct confrontation with others in the Christian church – people who absolutely believed that the path of following Jesus Christ included treating women as second class citizens. It’s hard for us today to know what it would have been like, to imagine the bravery of stepping out into new reality of equality – at least as far as voting went. This was a huge step in offering the wisdom, leadership, voice of a largely silent half of the population into our church and our world. These women – you can see it in their lives – they were bold, courageous and determined to take this step toward justice against the expectations of a world and a church that had a different understanding of what it meant to follow in the path of Jesus.
We do this still today. Who do we say Jesus is today? Do we still bring our own expectations and hopes of the Messiah without holding in the light of the cross, the vulnerable way, the counter-intuitive way for many of us?
Are we captive to Peter’s understanding of what the coming of the Messiah means – the well-meaning, majority held but ultimately comfortable understanding of a Messiah who will conform to our specifications: or are we hearing the voice of Jesus say – no, not that way, that way is formed by human need. The way of God takes us in a different direction – one where we must humble ourselves, be servants, trust that God is in the places we naturally shun, where we feel uncomfortable and uncertain, where we know and depend totally on the love of God as our rock and our salvation - as our purpose.
So if we think back to those words from James about the voice, the tongue being responsible for great blessing and also great curses – how do we make our expression of the coming of the Messiah to be a blessing to the world in the way Jesus means.
I am thinking that every time we are judgmental of others, when we allow our sense of belonging to exclude others, whenever we keep our faith contained in boxes of our own making and look to futures of our own desiring then curses are the prevalent voice.
The blessings flow when we live in the valuing of all people, where we understand our diversity and celebrate it, when we open our futures to the possibilities God alone can see and trust in God to see us there and further.
I don’t know about you but sometimes for me the hardest thing is to know how to be in situations where I have no experience, where my voice, though well meaning, is unhelpful and actually it is me that is being ministered to, not the other way round. Distinctly uncomfortable and yet the place where I am closest to God, where the understanding of Messiah is made real and I no longer am calling the shots.
As a church, the hardest thing is to place ourselves in situations of ‘unknowedness’, where we cannot see a clear future, all the thinking we do to solve what we see as issues coming to nothing, and our purpose as God’s people seems to be aligning with words of disempowerment and loss of control.
A large part of our church, and the church throughout the world, is riding the wave of absolute control – what is right and wrong, who is acceptable, how we must act and speak and believe. That is sounding remarkably like Peter’s response is it not? Things human rather than divine. A Messiah boxed in to fit human biases and desires.
So can we take heart from the uncertainty of direction that our church is going in? Can we allow God to take us down the path of new things, different ways that might make us apprehensive and most certainly are not in our control – trusting that our voice will grow in blessing, be stronger for God.
Just as those suffragette women took on the prevailing wisdom of the time and blew it out of the water, can we too challenge that which prevents us from living fully in the way of the Messiah who will not bow to our wisdom but who offers a new way to redeem us and our world – the way of vulnerable love beyond our understanding and in which we are to walk in trust and hope. Amen