24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Proper 19 – September 13, 2015

This Sunday we see Jesus the master teacher in action.

There is back-and-forth, questions and answers, exposition and application. Clearly, there is a lot going on in this pericope. At first I thought there were up to six moves in these verses and I broke it down something like this:

  1. Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?”
  2. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”
  3. Peter declares, “You are the Messiah.”
  4. Jesus teaches the disciples what it means that he is the Messiah: suffering, rejection, death and resurrection.
  5. Rebuking: Peter of Jesus, Jesus of Peter
  6. Jesus turns to the crowd, interpreting his earlier declaration about suffering, etc. perhaps hoping the disciples overhear.

But that’s a lot for one sermon, don’t you think? Given that, I broke it down into three sections:

  1. Q & A
  2. Teaching
  3. Application

Better, but still not right. So, I got it down to two:

  1. Theory
  2. Practice

Then I had an epiphany and got it down to one point: PRAXIS. Ta da! This Markan passage is all about praxis, about Christian praxis, about living the gospel in the world and in so doing demonstrating our to-the-marrow-knowledge of the Messiah and making his true identity known to others. This jives with James if we consider the admonition to bridle our tongues as an indication of both the power and carelessness of our speech. We church insiders may talk a lot about Jesus, but that talk is cheap if we don’t take up our cross and follow. We may say of Jesus, “You are the Messiah!” – but refuse to believe sacrificial action comes in the wake of such a proclamation. Therefore, Wisdom rebukes us, too, lamenting our lack of fear of the Lord as made evident by our lack of faith in action.

Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way in his speech to Montreat in 1965, “All too often in the midst of social evil too many Christians have somehow stood still only to mouth pious irrelevances and sanctimonious trivialities. All too often in the midst of racial injustice too many Christians have remained silent behind the safe security of stained glass windows.”

The question then isn’t only: Who do you say that I am? But also: How do you live like you truly know me? All this back-and-forth with Jesus and the disciples and Jesus and Peter and Jesus and the crowd is about the Messiah looking for apprentices, not a professor seeking approval and assent. Too often we fail to make this distinction and we become like Peter (thank you God for Peter) and we say, “No! My Jesus doesn’t suffer.” Like Peter, like our culture, we want to back a winner not a loser or at least remain safe behind a stained glass Jesus. Want a case in point?

Have you heard of the statue of Jesus by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz? It has been controversial because it depicts Jesus as homeless. The figure is wrapped in a blanket, sleeping on a bench, and the only giveaway to the man’s identity is his exposed feet, feet that reveal holes from his crucifixion. The artist offered the statue to a number of notable churches that turned down the gift. One church, an Episcopal church in Davidson, North Carolina, purchased the statue and placed it on the church property. Not everyone in neighborhood around the church was pleased.

The story was picked up by national news outlets including NPR, USA Today and the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post reported: “Some in the community disagree with the message the statue sends. ‘Jesus is not a vagrant, Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help,’ Cindy Castano Swannack, who called police after seeing the statue, told WCNC. ‘We need someone who is capable of meeting our needs, not someone who is also needy.'”

NPR quoted the congregation’s priest, “Another neighbor, who lives a couple of doors down from the church, wrote us a letter to the editor saying it creeps him out.”

It would seem we still want the Messiah to be a winner, not someone who is needy, one who suffers, is rejected. Comparing the Holy Family to refugees or undocumented immigrants during your Christmas Eve homily is a downer; I mean come on, those gathered that night come for carols and candles not a despised and rejected Savior.

All of which is to say, often we are right there with Peter willing to declare that Jesus is the Messiah but not ready to accept what his identity means for him or for us. We are good in theory but not in praxis. But Jesus is looking for apprentices not pupils.

So how do we become apprentices to the master? How do we put our belief into practice? How do we become praxising Christians? Take note of verse 34. This is Jesus’s answer for the disciples and for the crowd and for us. Three moves: renounce ourselves, lift up the cross and keep following Jesus. Declare publically that we are no longer our own, we belong to God, adopted sons and daughters, redeemed, bought with a price. Our lives are no longer ours to lose, they are God’s to use. Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim ’till all the world proclaim His sacred name. Go where Jesus leads, daily, hourly. Praxis, praxis, praxis.
As you prepare to preach this week, look in detail at the movement of the text. Use that six-point outline if it helps. Make note of who people say Jesus is right now, where you are. Answers will vary but the news will give you lots of clues. Who does the Kentucky clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses say Jesus is? What about Pope Francis? Those polled by Barna and Pew? Who do you – yes YOU – say Jesus is? What’s your elevator speech about Jesus? Who does your congregation say that Jesus is? What does your congregation’s calendar and budget declare about Jesus’s identity? Ok, now, who does Jesus say he is? That’s what we need not miss this week.

Jesus says openly: The Son of Man must undergo great suffering; and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes; and be killed; and after three days rise again. That means the Messiah may be found sleeping on a park bench, was certainly born in a stable among animals and unarguably hung out with tax collectors, lepers, sinners and others of ill-repute. All of this is what got the attention of the religious muckety mucks, and not in a good way. All of this got him hung on a cross.

And he says: Follow me. Be my apprentice. Apply the theory. Praxis the gospel.

Are we ready?

Are we ready to deny ourselves, take up our cross and keep following…but don’t forget to follow all the way to the very end…because just when we think the closing credits are going to roll…the stone does instead and resurrection happens…and the story has only just begun…for everyone.

Remind your flock that these verses from Mark are Good News, losing our lives, recognizing that our lives are really not ours to lose, but God’s to use, leads to salvation, life, abundant and eternal that is a joy to praxis. Want a case in point?

I bet you have one, don’t hesitate to declare it, share it and show it.

This week:

  • Take a few minutes to write down all the answers you can think of to Jesus first question: “Who do people say that I am?” Do this with a group and compare answers. How do those answers compliment or contrast with the Jesus of the gospel?
  • Prayerfully consider who you say Jesus is, not just with words, but with how you live your life. What does the use of your time say about Jesus’s identity? You use of your money? Your unvoiced thoughts?
  • What do we do with Jesus’s talk of suffering in these verses? If it isn’t a call to suffer for suffering’s sake, what is it? How does following Jesus open us to the possibility of suffering?
  • This text in Mark has Jesus calling Peter “Satan.” How is it that Peter is Satan in this story? Have there been times when Jesus might want to rebuke us in the same way?
  • What do you think would happen in your community if you put the statue of homeless Jesus in front of your church? Why do you think it is such a controversial depiction of Jesus?
  • Heed James’s advice this week and be intentional about bridling your tongue. What do you learn from this practice?

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