Homily for Proper 24, Year B, 2009
Sunday, September 13th, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Mark 8:27-38
“Let them take up their cross and follow me.”
(authors note: This homily was preached as we were preparing to invite friends & neighbours to church for the upcoming "Back to Church Sunday" - Sept. 27th, 2009)
When Jesus asks the disciples “Who do people say that I am?” and the Disciples start making guesses like “John the Baptist,” or “Elijah”, Peter is the one who gets it right. “You are the Messiah!” he proclaims boldly. This proclamation is remarkable because, as we have learned as we have read through St. Mark this year, the disciples rarely get it right; they rarely understand who Jesus is and what it means to be his follower. And yet, here, when asked directly, Peter gets it right. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Now we might ask, how and why does Peter get it right in this circumstance? I would suggest that by simply spending time with Jesus day after day, by building a relationship with him, Peter has finally begun to know Jesus more deeply and more fully. What remarkable good news this is for us! We come here to this place week after week, we say our prayers, read the Scriptures, sing the hymns, and make our Communion. If we add up worship time alone (not to mention our private devotion and prayer), we will find that most of us have spent a lot of time with Jesus. Like the disciples, though, we often fail understand and know him. Yet, each of us has moments in which we can confidently proclaim, like Peter, “You are the Messiah!” We have those moments of clarity when we recognize in Christ Jesus the living God is in our midst and we rejoice in his abiding presence.
Of course, Peter quickly messes it all up. When Peter learns that Jesus must undergo great suffering and ultimately death. Peter stands back in astonishment. “No, it can’t be so!” To be clear, Jesus did also prophesy his Resurrection, but that point seems to have slipped past Peter. Jesus then rebukes Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” Alas, poor Peter has back to his old ways. So do we.
I think what frightened Peter, and what frightens us, is facing the risk of the Christian life. The risk, for Jesus, was the most horrifying risk that could be taken – public execution. Would the prophecy of his resurrection come to pass, or would it all be for nothing? This was the risk that Jesus had to take. Surely, the task before him demanded divine courage. For Peter, at that moment, it was all too much; divine courage escaped him. This is why Jesus rebukes him with “Get thee behind me Satan!” Although Peter was confident that Jesus was the Messiah, he was not so confident in what it meant to follow Jesus. If his Lord must undergo such tremendous risk, what would be the risk he was called to take?
This is a question that is ever before the Church throughout the ages. What are we willing to risk for the sake of new life? What is the crucifixion we must face before we experience the joyful Eastertide of Resurrection? There are many things. I want to address one particular fear we Anglicans are to which we Anglicans are prone – the fear of sharing our faith with others.
There are two verses that actually complete today’s gospel reading that have been left off (and you all know that I enjoy bringing these omissions into my homilies). I believe they might help us. They read
“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of man will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not face death until they see the kingdom of God has come with power.”
These verses are fairly strongly worded and one can see the reason why they might be left out of the lectionary. However, I think they provide a key to understanding today’s passage and a key for us as we try to unlock the mystery of the risks that stand before us today. (And before you begin squirming in your pew too much, I do not believe this passage is about shaming us into sharing our faith!)
So what risk is God calling us to take and what is the fear that stands in our way from stepping out in faith? Like many Anglicans, in recent days we have had much talk about declining attendance and the possible solutions to this problem. There are many scapegoats. We can claim that the changing demographics of our neighbourhood have contributed to decline. We can claim that our worship style is out of date or that programs are not relevant. We resign ourselves to the fact that people are too busy to come to Church. The truth is that we can make any number of changes but unless we actually invite people through these doors, internal changes will mean nothing to the advancement of God’s kingdom. I think that we must also be aware of an even greater fallacy of thinking. I would suggest that declining attendance is not the problem. A radical assertion, I know, but I do not actually believe God cares about the survival of any given parish Church. Rather I believe that God cares about the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. Growth is about growing and advancing the kingdom, not saving a parish in decline. If instead of advancing the Kingdom of God, saving the parish is our primary goal then we will lose everything – what will it profit us to gain the world but lose our spiritual life? If we choose not to participate in the true proclamation of the kingdom and the advancement of the Reign of God here in this community, then God will call others to take the risk in our stead.
Ultimately, Peter joined in that task. After proclaiming Jesus as Messiah, he was rebuked but for a moment as he was overcome by the risk that was set before him. But when all was said and done and the story unfolded, his experience of journeying with Jesus through his life, death and resurrection stirred up within him divine courage that he might join the work of the furthering the Kingdom of God. Though rebuked for a moment by the Son of Man, the Son of Man was not ashamed of Peter and Peter became first among Disciples.
We stand at a crossroad today. Each of us is here because we believe, we profoundly believe, that Jesus is the Messiah. We are here, and come here again and again because we have journeyed this far with Jesus. We now face a moment of risk. What shall be the future of the Kingdom in this historic place? Do we dare to risk?
The truth is I do not believe we are ashamed of the Gospel nor are we ashamed of Jesus. I know that Jesus has touched the lives of each and every person here, or you would not be here! I think that as Anglicans we might just be a bit shy. Perhaps it is our Victorian heritage, but there is something that makes us nervous about inviting someone to join us. “Would you come to Church with me,” seems as frightening to us as Jesus’ prophecy was to Peter about the road to the cross. I say it again: I do not believe we are ashamed. I believe that like Peter we have found the Messiah, we have followed him, we proclaim him again and again as our Lord and Master. Yet, like Peter, when called to face something more, we are more than a little scared. That is human, but to risk, to reach out to another and invite them to join us is to draw on the divine courage that we have with Jesus as our friend.
Jesus said, “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God has come with great power.” I have never believed this was a prophecy about the future. I believe that this was a word to his followers that the kingdom is upon us this very minute. As Jesus stands in our midst her in this church, his kingdom is breaking through as we speak. We are witnesses to that glory.
Let us then, who have walked in the presence of the Lord, in the glory of the Lord, take the risk of faith and invite someone else to join the journey of the kingdom. Let us face the fear before us with divine courage; a courage that comes from knowing Jesus and offer that gentle invitation to friend and neighbour, “Come and see!” Invite a friend into the Kingdom.
Copyright 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves