This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 8:31-38. I explore the famous exchange between Jesus and Peter where we hear “Get behind me Satan.”
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You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Friday dawned as one of those perfect late winter days. It was cold to be sure, but there was no wind and the sky was clear. As the morning went on the sun got up in the air I found myself standing at various windows…just soaking up the sunshine.
Most of you have heard me express my extreme dislike for the winter season, but days like that almost make it okay…and the sunshine helps give me hope for spring which is right around the corner. (pause)
But…in what seems to be a trend…those beautiful sunny days always seem like they get interrupted by bad news…and the darkness of the world creeps into the glorious brightness of the day. (pause)
That happened Friday…right at lunch time…when social media broke the news that rocked the world for every single science fiction fan out there…Leonard Nimoy…the actor best known for playing the Vulcan Spock in Star Trek…was dead. (pause) Its weird…that the death of someone that I’ve never met…someone that I didn’t really know at all…would smack me like it did…and as I sat there thinking about the fact that Spock is dead…I admittedly starting thinking about the storyline of the character through the original television series as well as the 6 movies that featured the original cast.
And anyone out there that is a Star Trek fan knows that Spock is truly the Christ figure…both figuratively as well as literally in one case…for at the end of Star Trek 2, Spock makes a decision to sacrifice himself in order to repair the Enterprise and allow it to escape destruction…therefore saving all of his friends at the expense of his own life…but then, in order to complete the Christ comparison…in Star Trek 3…Spock is resurrected…alive once more. (pause)
But that’s a character…a fictitious alien in a popular, but equally fictitious story. Spock is not dead…because he was never real…the reality of this situation…saddening though it was for the science fiction realm…is that an actor lived a full life…and at the age of 83 died of complications resulting from COPD. A loss to be sure…but certainly not unexpected…and certainly not tragic. (pause)
And in a personal note…what gives me pause in this whole situation…was that I was more effected by this news than I was by some actual tragic news that broke earlier that morning…the news that an unidentified individual went on a killing spree across several communities in southern Missouri, before turning the gun on himself…resulting in the deaths of 9 people. (pause) Sure I was saddened when I read that news…and I said a quick prayer for those that were affected by it…but then I put that in the back of my mind and went on about my day…only to feel a stronger feeling of loss and sadness at the death of an actor a few hours later. (pause)
Now I’ll be the first to admit that my personal reaction to these two different bits of news that center around death was misguided. I pretty much disregarded the important one…and I dwelled on the understandable one…and the only sense I can make of my misguided reaction is to embrace the fact that I’m human…and I’m not perfect. (pause) And I share that trait with a certain character in today’s gospel lesson…Peter…ever the impulsive one…ever the one opening his mouth and promptly sticking his foot in it…ever the one making the bonehead comment.
And today is no different…in our story, which is a direct continuation of the story when Peter makes the ultimate confession of Jesus’ identity as messiah…he proceeds to spout off yet again. (pause) Now we don’t hear what Peter has to say…only that he’s listening to Jesus explain just what it truly means to be the Messiah…and Peter…is apparently flabbergasted.
It would seem that Peter’s got some preconceived notions about the Messiah…and understandably so. Because his perception is shaped by his history and by his culture…and there have been messiahs before…because in the Jewish culture…Messiah in the Hebrew, or Christ in the Greek simply means the anointed one of God…and they’ve got at least two major ones in their history…the first two kings of Israel…Saul and then David…both of these men were anointed…and the ongoing expectation for the people…Peter included…was that the long awaited Messiah was going to follow that same line…
They thought he’d come on the scene…and kick out whatever oppressive culture was in charge at the time…reestablish the throne of David and everything would be good to go. That’s what they thought…but now things are a little different…because Peter’s been following Jesus around for awhile.
And in the midst of this…Peter has seen just what old JC is capable of…he’s seen the miracles…he’s seen the healings…he’s seen the exorcisms…and Peter knows that Jesus has the power of God on his side…and so it would seem that Peter’s got this notion in his head that Jesus is gonna use that supernatural power and throw his proverbial beat down on the Romans…miraculously kicking their keisters right on outa here. (pause)
And now Jesus is teaching them something that seems to blow Peter’s expectations right out the window…and Peter’s not having it…period, end of story…and he thinks he justified to pull Jesus aside and set him straight…Peter…tries to tell Jesus what’s gonna happen…Peter…tries to take control of the situation…Peter, even though he means well…is trying to take over. (pause)
And now its Jesus who’s not having it… “Get…behind me Satan.” (pause) Woah. That’s pretty harsh isn’t it? Calling the one that would eventually take over as the head guy Satan…that seems a little extreme doesn’t it? (pause) Or is it precisely what needs to happen? (pause)
Because Peter’s got human ideas in mind…human notions that can be…and in all likelihood were shaped by selfish human desires…desires that can be…and in all likelihood were twisted by the lies of Satan to trip up Peter…and maybe…just maybe if Satan got really lucky…it would even trip up Jesus as well.
But Jesus doesn’t let that happen…because he’s got a bigger picture in mind…Jesus knows the truth of what it means to be God’s Messiah…he’s no ordinary king or prophet…he’s not just some great military leader that’s eventually going to throw a Biblical beat down on the Romans…the Messiah is here to establish something entirely different.
And so with this harsh statement to get behind me…Jesus isn’t just shutting down the lies of the enemy…but he’s also saving Peter from his error…he’s saving him from himself…and in the end…isn’t that really what he was here to do in the first place? (pause) Isn’t that where all of this is going? As we move through this dark season, we know where it ends…it ends with Jesus hanging on a cross…utterly forsaken…and ultimately…dead.
But here’s the difference between us and Peter…we know that there’s more to the story…we’ve got the benefit of hindsight…Peter didn’t…and so perhaps it comes as no great shock that as Jesus shares just what it truly means that he IS the Messiah…that this truth utterly blows Peter’s mind. (pause)
This truth, begins to show Peter just a little bit about the work that God was actually up to…the saving work through Jesus Christ…that ultimately will serve to save us from ourselves…and this is where we once again recognize our connection to Peter and the rest of the disciples…when we recognize our own limited understanding of just what’s really going on in the world…much less our understanding of what God is up to as he seeks to rectify it. (pause)
So maybe that statement…Get behind me…which at first glance seems so harsh…and so negative…maybe just maybe that statement is actually one uttered out of love…love for one that Jesus is trying to protect. This is the man that will take the cross for Peter…This is the man who will step out of the garden and be arrested in order to protect his followers…This is the man who calls himself the good shepherd…the one who will protect his flock…even from themselves.
This is the man who makes the ultimate sacrifice for someone else…even though we can’t begin to fathom what he’s really up to in the midst of it.
The world is a messed up place…there can be doubt of that…and on almost a daily occurrence we hear bad news…disasters…sickness…death…storms and earthquakes, tension and battles…bad news followed by bad news followed by bad news. We hear so much of it that perhaps, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re becoming immune to it…just as I was hardly effected by the horrific news in Missouri on Friday…and I listened to the lie in the back of my mind that it didn’t affect me and so it didn’t really matter…well maybe, just maybe God wanted to save us from those lies too…to save us from ourselves.
And that’s what Jesus was really up to…that’s what being the Messiah really means…not that we should be subject to him…or that we need to get behind him out of some ambition on Jesus’ part…but we get behind him so that he can protect us…so that he can protect us from everything…even from ourselves…even, from those lies that we tell ourselves…those lies that say that death doesn’t matter…that suffering doesn’t matter…that the darkness in the world doesn’t matter as long as we’re okay at the moment.
And I believe that Jesus saves us from this because God knows that all that stuff does matter…and throughout all the darkness in the world, that which we recognize and that which we gloss over and forget about…the first being to mourn this reality is God…and through Jesus, God…is truly…doing something about it. (pause)
But…it doesn’t come without cost…and its going to cost Jesus his life…and as we see today…Peter is offended by this…he’s offended by the notion that the Lord would have to die…and maybe just maybe he’s offended by the idea that our perfect Lord would willingly die for someone that’s unworthy…but the remarkable thing about the gospel is that this is exactly what God choses to do…to die for the unworthy…because we’re unworthy, and yet in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God proves that he is will to do that which we find offensive in order to repair the breach between God and all of humankind…and it IS freely offered to EVERYONE, whether we like it or not…the remarkable yet utterly offensive nature of the gospel is that everyone gets it…even that troubled man that took lives on Friday…Jesus was willing to die for him…so that he could be protected from the darkness inside of him…
And if Jesus was willing to die for him…well then maybe…just maybe…he was willing to die for me…in order to protect me too. Amen.