Saturday, September 12, 2009

It Don't Mean A Thing

Text: Mark 8:27-38

If you’ve been watching television over the past several years, you are probably familiar with those successful Mac vs PC commercials. The ones where two actors stand in as “Mac” and “PC.” The PC—a middle aged man dressed in a suit—tries to be hip, the computer that all the cool kids want to have, and yet it can’t. The laid-back Mac—the twenty-something jeans and a t-shirt guy—doesn’t have to try to be the best computer, he just is. Because, no matter what the PC may say, the Mac just performs better (or so claim the commercials).

Not long after these commercials began airing a parody was made by a church where instead of the PC vs Mac you had a Christian vs a Christ-follower. In this parody, the Christian – the middle aged man dressed in his Sunday best – is carrying lots of books—rule books, ethics books, morality plays, and his “trusty sword” as he calls the bible—an incredible Christian bumper stickers collection, and works hard to exhibit all these outer signs and symbols of his faith. The Christ-follower, on the other hand, is in his casual jeans an a t-shirt, doesn’t worry about bumper stickers or outward marks. When the Christian asks the Christ-follower, “so, what do you do to display your Christianity,” the Christ-follower responds “nothing, I guess, I just try to follow Christ with the way I live my life.”

The first time I saw this parody was not too long after I graduated from seminary – where I got to study rule books and theology books and Hebrew and Greek so I could understand the “trusty sword” in its original languages. Let’s just say, it hit a little too close to home.

Those of us who come from “mainline” traditions like Presbyterian or Methodist, Episcopalian or Lutheran – we are reasonably comfortable with the Sunday best, the rule books, the bible study. We know when to stand up and sit down in a church service, we can recite the Apostles’ Creed, we rules and we like to follow them decently and in order.

And this parody is suggesting that those signs, those creeds, those habits – they don’t make you a follower of Christ.

It’s a little like our gospel lesson this morning.

Out of all the people – the crowds, the disciples – Peter seems to get “it.” He gets that Jesus isn’t some old prophet come back from the great beyond, he gets that this guy they’ve been following is the one – the Messiah. A bunch of other may claim to be the Messiah, but they aren’t – Jesus of Nazareth is.

Peter has clued into the Messianic secret – he understands what those demons Jesus cast out of people seemed to already know – this is the one everyone’s been waiting for. The Messiah.

What a wonderful moment of faith for Peter. He can smile and take pride that out of all of Jesus’ followers, he’s the real deal just like Jesus is – because he’s the one that makes the first confession of faith. “You are the Messiah.”

And moments later, he’s the one that gets rebuked.

We don’t know what exactly Peter rebuked Jesus for when he turned to the crowd and spoke to them of death and resurrection. Perhaps it was because the Son of Man- the Messiah – couldn’t die. That wasn’t how isn’t how things were supposed to go. Or perhaps it was because Jesus was sharing this with all. Perhaps Peter thought this Messiah was for only those in the know. After all, Jesus has just told him to keep quiet about the whole Messiah thing – why is he now speaking so openly about the Son of Man?

Whether he didn’t like what Jesus was saying or didn’t like that Jesus was letting all hear his words, Peter rebukes Jesus. And Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter. Peter—who just moments before seemed to have “gotten” it—is rebuked in front of his fellow disciples and then hears Jesus speak to the whole crowd how to follow him.

“Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me.”

Jesus doesn’t command confession – he commands action. It is one thing to say, Lord, Lord, and another to live as though Jesus is your Lord.

Jesus isn’t as concerned about the right words as he is about the right way to live. He doesn’t condemn those who call him Elijah or another prophet nor does he reward Peter who knows him as Messiah. The confessions are important but not complete. Not without the life that seeks to answer Jesus’ question. We—who will stand up and affirm our faith in Jesus Christ God’s only son, our Lord—too called not to say the right words, but to live the right way.

And we, like the crowd, like Peter, we don’t. We may say the right words but we don’t live as Jesus tells us to. Here and now, we fit right into the gospel story.

“Who do people say that I am?”

Oh, say the disciples, well, Jesus, these other people, they call you Elijah and John the Baptist, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. They see you as someone who has come before. An ancient prophet that has arisen. Someone they already know.

This is what the crowds confess, the crowds that will celebrate his triumphant entry into Jerusalem and then shout crucify him less than a week later.

“Who do you say that I am?”

The disciples remain quiet. All, except Peter. “You are the Messiah,” he says, “son of the living God.”

This is what Peter confesses, Peter who will soon rebuke and be rebuked by Jesus, Peter who will deny him three times.

“Who do you say that I am?”

Oh, say we. Who do we say that you are? Okay, we say you are Son of God. And Lamb of God. Oh, and Word of God. And Emmanuel, Rabbi, Beloved, Bread of Life. King of Kings and Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace. Alpha and Omega. Savior, Messiah.

This is what we say, what we confess, and yet we will walk past those who are hunger, we will keep polluting the waters and not worry that some have nothing to drink, we will have nothing to do with the stranger for they are just too different, we will think it’s a pity that some have no protection against the elements but not offer our cloak and our other garments too, we will wish all could have health care but let the difficulty of solutions distract us from actually caring for the sick, we will stay away from the prisons for we will not believe that those who have strayed can truly be rehabilitated.

We, like Peter, can confess the right thing, make the appropriate statement of faith, and then leave it to that – words and only words. We, like Peter, can turn against Jesus when he asks us to believe something we don’t want to, when he asks us to follow him where we don’t want to go, when he asks us to live and die – for him, through him, and in him.

Being a Christian, a follower of Christ, really is a lot harder than reading your bible or knowing the right words. As a friend of mine recently reminded me, wearing a cross is not the same thing is taking up the cross.

We, like the crowd, like Peter, we don’t get it. We don’t always walk the walk, we don’t always confess Christ with our lives as well as our lips.

And yet, we, like the crowd, like Peter, we keep trying. And we, like the crowd, like the disciples, like Peter, we have seen and believed that Christ forgives us and works with us and through us and yeah, in spite of us. We may deny him, may crucify him, but we come back, we want to follow him. We may stray, but we know he’ll lead us back. And he does. Jesus always has and always will bring us back and with willing and open hearts, we will follow him into some scary, and wonderful, places. And in moments that may last seconds or years, we do feed the hungry, give water to thirsty, welcome the stranger. We do build houses for those without shelter, serve at the food pantry, offer compassion and justice for those who are in need, visit and have relationship with those whom society would rather forget.

Even if we don’t quite understand who Jesus is, even if we don’t always live as Jesus commands, our Messiah does not give up on us. The proof of God’s amazing love us this: while we were sinners, Christ died for us. And it is we sinners Christ calls out to, speaking of love and forgiveness, telling us to take up our cross and follow him. And it is we sinners who long to answer, who can answer, with our lives as well as our lips: yes, Lord, yes Savior, yes Son of God, yes Messiah, yes. Amen.

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