Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pentecost Sixteen
Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalm 116:1-9
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

And he called unto him the multitude with his disciples, and said unto them, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

A long time ago, I was acquainted with a young lady on the Internet who had decided that she was a prophet. Iím not sure what evidence she had of the position, but she sought out other prophets in chat rooms to discuss the things of God. She was impressed one day with the things I was saying and we struck up a conversation outside the chat room. She was young and willing to learn, and for some reason had decided I was a prophet, too. She looked to me for advice, and understanding. Though I have never considered myself a prophet in the sense she understood, I saw the conversation as an opportunity to help her understand her vocation in Godís kingdom.

She sent me several teachings that she had written, and quite frankly they were horrific. Not only was the theology questionable, but the writing was terrible. She had no grasp on spelling or grammar. Her sentences were confusing and sometimes incoherent. She was young and passionate, and she truly believed she was doing what God had called her to do. I encouraged her, but since she had sent me the writings for review, I gave her some honest opinions about them. I believe I was gentle but firm, showing her ways she could make the teaching stronger and easier to understand. I showed her biblically where she was in error. I even rewrote some of the text to make it usable for her ministry.

She was shocked. In the end I realized that she wasnít looking for advice. She wanted me to fawn over her wonderful work and tell her that she really was a prophet. I couldnít do that; she needed to hear the truth because she would be judged by her teaching. She was playing a dangerous game and if she was going to play at being a prophet, she needed to know her errors and experience Godís grace in a way that would help her to be merciful in her teaching. She responded with an attack on my own writing, but she did so with no foundation in the scriptures or even traditional Christianity. Her faith was eclectic, and mix from many different religions and she based her rebuke on teachings from outside the Christian faith. It made me sad to think that someone might be led astray by her teaching and that she would discover the judgment that comes from teaching a false Gospel.

James writes, ďBe not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment.Ē Prophecy and teaching are closely related and are often mentioned together in the scriptures. Some people are gifted at proclaiming the message of Godís Kingdom, while others are gifted at explaining it. It is vital that churches find those who are gifted in teaching, so that the congregation will learn how to apply the lessons learned from those who prophesy. These are gifts, not something we can grasp for ourselves. They are given by God, and though we can develop the gift, we canít learn how to be a prophet or teacher of faith if God has not first made it ours. When we try to become something that we arenít, we face roadblocks and we canít accomplish what we set out to do. We might want to prophecy and teach, but if God is not calling us to that vocation, we wonít succeed.

Too many people try to be something they arenít gifted or called to be. They try to teach, but leave their students confused and doubtful. The young lady in the chat room boasted that she was a prophet, but her words proved her wrong and she refused to accept the words of others. I was not the only one who tried to encourage her to seek Godís purpose for her. She most certainly had other gifts that would glorify God, but because she was so focused on being a prophet, she was missing the blessing I Godís call.

She probably had people who were encouraging her to continue to do what she thought was right, ignoring the reality. We all know that there are people who try out for those singing, dance and talent shows that should never have been allowed on a stage. Yet, they go with the idea that they can win the contest because someone has told them over and over again how wonderful they are. They end up being the joke, making us laugh. We wonder how they could possibly think that they are good at singing, dancing or whatever. I know I will never, ever try out for a singing show because I canít sing, and though Iíve had people compliment me, Iíve also had people tell me the truth. I have just decided that God gave me plenty of other gifts; I donít need to pretend that I have that one.

But if we tell people that they are good at something that they arenít good at doing, they miss the opportunity to discover their real gifts and purpose in this world.

Isaiah knew what God wanted him to do, and he recognized it as a gift. We can see in his story that prophet is not a good position to covet. After all, he faced difficult times. He was humiliated, beaten, rejected. Yet, he knew that God sent him to speak His word to the people, and he didnít let the persecution stop him or lead him to respond in ways that did not glorify God. He trusted in God, and he did what God sent him to do, no matter how the world responded to him. If the young lady were truly a prophet, she would not have felt the need to lash out at those who were trying to help her live by a similar faith.

Jesus also knew what God sent Him to do, but in todayís passage we see that the people around Jesus were not so sure. They thought He was another prophet, like Elijah or John the Baptist. Jesus gave the people no reason to believe these things: He revealed Himself constantly in the words He spoke and the things He did. Yet, the people saw Him as they wanted to see Him. They wanted a Messiah that fit into their expectations. They wanted the world to look like they envisioned.

Now, Peter spoke the right words, describing Jesus as the Christ. In Markís version, we donít see Jesus responding with congratulations on getting it right, or that the Holy Spirit gave him the faith to say it. Mark just tells us that Jesus didnít want anyone to know that He was the Christ. They already had an idea thatís where He leading them, but He knew they wouldnít like the reality of what it meant for Him to save them. They wouldnít like the path that He was walking.

And they didnít. When Jesus told the disciples that He would be beaten and die, they wanted to stop Him. Peter, who just confessed his faith in Jesus, rebuked Him for His words. Jesus responded, ďGet thee behind me, Satan; for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men.Ē Jesus came with a different purpose, a purpose that is still beyond our comprehension. He came to die. Jesus told the disciples to keep silent about what they knewóthat Jesus was the Messiahóbecause they still did not fully understand how this was to be.

We tend to have expectations for others that are based on our own perceptions, not the whole person. Perhaps we should ask one another, ďWho do you say that I am?Ē We might find that we get as many answers as Jesus got from His disciples that day. People see us as they know us, and they find it hard to believe those things about us that they canít see or understand. The disciples couldnít imagine Jesus as the suffering servant, the one who might sing the psalm as we see it in todayís lectionary. But we also know that Jesus is like Isaiah, trusting in God and knowing that even when His enemies slapped His cheek or pulled His beard, He would not waver from the reason God sent Him.

Jesus tried to tell them. ďAnd he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.Ē Since the crowds were whispering possibilities of kingship, the idea of suffering and death was far from their minds. Peter rebuked for Jesus. ďDonít say that Lord! You canít die.Ē They were just getting used to this idea that Jesus would be near. He could not be near. He could not hear their concerns. He could not heal them or save them if He was dead.

There is no way that Jesus could save us if He remained alive. This is the hardest part of the Christian faith for people to understand. Couldnít God have found another way? Couldnít He just forgive us or let us offer some sort of sacrifice? Couldnít He make the world perfect? The cross doesnít make sense. And yet, the cross is the center of our faith, whether we understand it or not.

When Jesus said ďGet behind me Satan,Ē He wasnít saying that Peter is the devil. He is commanding Satan to get out of the way. Peter could not see the reality of Jesusí identity, despite the fact that he confessed just minutes before that Jesus was the Messiah. He wanted Jesus to be the kind of king that the people expected. Jesus refused to be tempted by a different path. Anything less than the cross would be useless. The cross was His purpose; it was through Jesusí suffering, death and resurrection that true healing, true freedom, true salvation would come.

Jesus says, ďIf any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.Ē God sent His Son to change the world. Now He calls us to follow Him, living in faith that Christ is who He is not who we want Him to be. He gives us gifts to use in the world to glorify God and calls us to live according to His purpose for us. We might face persecution, but we have nothing to fear because He is always near. He died so that He might live forever, and when we die to our own desires and follow Him, we will also live with Him forever.

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