Human Moments 9-13-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 8:27-38, I explore an example where the Apostle Peter displays typical human tendency. It gives us a good reminder of the human condition that we all share.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to notice a new tendency…when I get together with my friends…we very rarely create new memories…mostly, we just sit around and talk about our old memories…we share stories…often times punctuated with great laughter, about the old times…the silly things that we did in our younger years.

I’ve been noticing this for several years now…and it happened again quite recently as I got together with an old friend for lunch. Now this particular friend hails from this area, but we got to know each other in college, meeting during our first year at the community college close to where I grew up, growing close through those first two years before transferring to Iowa State together and even spending one year as roommates before life started taking us in different directions.

Sure enough though, life has brought us back together here…as he lives with his family in Council Bluffs and I am here in Underwood…and so periodically we’ll get together and reminisce about the old times. Inevitably…each and every time we do that…two inside jokes come up that we still get a kick out of. One of which shines a light on the positive side of our nature, and the other one…well not so much.

First off, the negative one…We both hated our first year college English class. We just hated it…and so as we always joked around about how we wanted to act out. To be sitting there during lecture…and without warning…completely out of nowhere…stand up, throw the table over…and storm out the door…only to step back in a moment later to sheepishly say “Sorry, I forgot my books.” Needless to say, we never acted on that impulse…but we still laugh about it.

But on the other hand…the second joke that we share certainly reflects a little bit better on us as individuals…and its actually a touch of advice that I pass on to students from time to time…I’ll be honest, I can’t remember where I first hear this…but if you ever want to score points with a teacher when you are sitting in a really boring lecture…simply make eye contact with them as they are making a point…then when they pause…nod your head…say “Nice”…and then act like you are writing down some notes based on what they were saying. (pause) We tried it once in Biology…works like a charm.

Two old jokes…two different situations that reveal opposite sides of human nature…and specifically MY nature…that I can ponder on being super respectful and attentive…and at the same time I can ponder on being an unruly menace.(pause) But…isn’t that human nature? (pause)
That we can have big victories one moment, and turn into complete boneheads in the next.

And if we were to try and identify a character from the Bible that best embodies this back and forth tendency…it would have to be Peter. (pause) Perhaps I’m the only person that thinks so…but I’ll stick by it…perhaps only because I relate to Peter so much…I see so much of myself in how Peter is portrayed throughout the gospels…the top of the class one minute and getting crabbed out for being stupid in the next.

We certainly see that very thing in today’s lesson don’t we? As Peter, in one spirit-filled moment, with no prompting what so ever…correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah…the one anointed by God…or more specifically in Jesus’ case, anointed by the Spirit…to usher in a new era…an era where the kingdom of Heaven has come near to us all.

And then…seemingly a moment later…having heard Jesus discuss just what the reality of being the Messiah truly means…Peter spouts off…and rips into Jesus…Peter tries to teach the teacher…Peter tries to master the master…in short…Peter doesn’t think…or perhaps one could argue that Peter thinks too much…and Jesus immediately cuts him down to size.

But certainly this isn’t the only time that we see Peter display the polar opposite of human tendency is it? Peter is the one who displays enough faith in Christ to literally walk on water in one instant…only to be way-laid by fear, and nearly drown because of it.

Or in another instance…Peter pulls a sword to attack those who are arresting Jesus in the garden…only to tuck tail and run away, before ultimately denying Jesus 3 times in a row.

Peter is always the one to spout off impulsively because he doesn’t know what else to say…and yet Peter is the rock on which Christ builds his church. (pause)
I thought a lot about that very fact this week…not just this one instance when Peter rips Jesus a new one only to have Jesus turn around and school him in the art of rebuking…but the fact that we have so many instances…so many stories where we see both sides of Peter…the triumphs and the failures…the faithful moment as well as the faithless ones.

And as I thought about those…I realized that recognizing these moments about Peter…these honest moments in the scripture begins to reveal a great deal about that same human nature…those same back and forth tendencies that we all share.

And we do don’t we? (pause) Because life is messy…and faith is messy…and sometimes we get it…sometimes the Holy Spirit shows us something so clearly in one moment…but it’s not long before life gets in the way…life with all its imperfections…and not only that but our warped sinful reality gets in the way and what was once so clear now seems so unlikely…so muddled…perhaps even impossible. (pause)
But now here’s the thing…if that was the end of the story…and all we had to learn today was that human nature is fickle…then I think the gospel would have ended right there…but it doesn’t? (pause) Because Jesus goes one doesn’t he? And we hear that he calls the crowds together…not just addressing Peter currently sitting in bonehead mode…not just the 12 disciples reeling from the fact that Jesus has called Peter Satan…but Jesus calls everyone together…and publicly talks about what it means to be his follower.

Words about denying ourselves…and picking up our crosses…and why? Well, because the cross is pretty much the end all-be all for us isn’t it? And when we stop and think about it…the cross is a pretty ugly deal…and no matter how much we might try to polish up the image, the truth about the cross is bloody and brutal.

The cross…crucifixion…was torture to the nth degree…a method of drawn out death that the Romans perfected as a warning to everyone that if you step out of line, this is what happens…and in the midst of this brutal death…God meets us. (pause)
And so…Jesus seems to be showing us here that to be his follower means that we need to honest and realistic about things. We need to call it like it is…and sometimes this brutal honesty means we need to be honest with ourselves. (pause)

And perhaps Peter is getting the short end of the stick here…as he often times seems to throughout scripture…but when we’re honest about our own existence…I think we realize that we all experience the same ups and downs…We all experience moments where it feels like we can do no wrong, only to have that pedestal that we have placed ourselves on knocked right out from under us. (pause)
But as we sit here…perhaps stewing in our own juices that being honest about our experience…about our own reality means owning our own imperfections…as horrific as they might be…there’s another point that I need to make. (pause)

Because we are given another example of just what it means to be human…and that example…is Jesus Christ himself. (pause) Jesus…the one who rebukes Peter in this instance…telling him that he needs to set his mind on divine things will soon find himself in the middle of a dark garden at night…in the midst of such excruciating stress that he’s sweating blood…and asking the Father to take this cup away from my lips…and yet…Jesus also utters these words…Not MY will…but your will.

Jesus, while being fully God…was also fully human…and as a human being he DID NOT…want to experience the torture that awaited him…just as we do not want to experience those moments when our human nature leaves us looking foolish, or silly, or stupid…or worse. (pause)
In today’s story, Jesus asks an important question, one that we all need to answer…Just who is he? Is he the Son of God…the one who came into our reality to bring the kingdom of heaven near? The one who eats with sinners…the one who takes the cross to conquer death? Or is he just a man that lived and died?

Sometimes when we are honest with ourselves…the answer that we give to that question is the logical one…that there is no way that this can be true…but on the other hand…sometimes we answer that question empowered by the Holy Spirit, who gives us the gift to believe that which cannot be proven…we answer through the power of faith…

And depending on who’s paying attention…either one of these answers can seem to be either really smart…or really stupid…and that’s part of the human condition as well…that the work of redemption that God is up to through Jesus Christ isn’t completed yet…and because of that people will respond differently in any given situation…just as we ourselves respond differently…because that is part of what makes us human…that we are flawed…that we are wishy washy…and yet praise be to God that he accepts us anyway…no matter how we respond. Amen.

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