Sermons from St
Fr John Reed, Sunday 25th February, 2018
Gordon Bailey wrote “Christian “ poetry in the 1970’s, he often protested at what he saw was wrong in the church and in wider society. It was the time of Jesus Christ Super Star and Godspell, two very influential musical plays that had hit the west end. One of his poems focused on the way in which writers and church people too were selectively taking just the bits of Jesus life that were easy to live with. The poem was provocatively called “Will the real Jesus Christ drop dead.”
But our gospel reading today reminds us that this is nothing new. Peter has declared that Jesus is “the anointed one” the messiah who will lead the Jewish nation back to the days of independence and empire. Then Jesus spoils the illusion of earthly glory by talking about the path of suffering and death.
Peter, as any good deputy should, takes Jesus on one side for a friendly chat and asks him to stop talking this way he is, worrying his followers! If this negative talk carries on they might stop following him. In the same way political spin doctors today regularly remind politicians in the public eye they are “off message.”
But Jesus' message wasn’t an easy one to follow. The whole thrust of Mark's gospel leads to the Crucifixion, a story that fills most of the pages in the gospel, and the disciple is called to follow Jesus all the way, embracing suffering and death.
Peter is rebuked with the statement from Jesus that he is “satan”, doing the evil one's work. Get behind me, or as U2 puts it “get out of your own way”
Jesus' teaching after the incident with Peter makes it even starker. If you would follow me, deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me. Crosses in the time of Jesus were not pretty jewellery, they were for rebels, the under-classes that threatened Roman rule, the enemies of the state stripped naked and nailed up on crosses by road sides and in public places, to suffer for hours and to die as an example of what the might of Rome did to those who didn’t cooperate.
Victims had to carry the instrument of their own death through the crowds in the streets, who taunted and jeered. It was the ultimate in public humiliation. A one way journey which you could not turn away from, and would never return from. And Jesus says this is like true discipleship.
Jesus' next teaching talks about being prepared to lose everything in order gain the full blessings of the kingdom. Like denying ourselves and taking up our crosses, in the society we live in, giving up everything in order to gain the blessings of the kingdom sounds like real folly. Which takes us back to Peter's attempt to change Jesus mind.
How serious are we about following Jesus? Do we take him at real face value or do we pick and choose the bits we like about him? Are we prepared to go that one way journey where nothing that this world offers is of a greater value that following Jesus? Are we going to get out of our own way, and follow the only way that leads to true life?
Abraham features in both our other readings today and Sarah his wife features in the Genesis reading. They were both people of faith, prepared to walk before God into an unknown land, never knowing where the journey would end. They were people who at a great age were promised not just one son, but to be the mother and father of many nations. And they laughed at the absurdity of what God was promising. They tried to engineer through a slave woman a child when things were not happening according to the way they expected them to. And when some years later Isaac was born to them, a child whose very name means laughter, far off promises became reality.
For St. Paul Abraham and Sarah embody what trust in God means, its not about them keeping there side of the deal, but its almost totally about submitting to a God who blesses and blesses and blesses again.
Like Sarah we may be tempted to laugh in a cynical way at promises that we know we cannot achieve under own strength, but the way of faith and the way of the cross calls us all in lent and all year round to let go and live.
When I was commissioned in Southwark Cathedral in 1982 I was greeted during the peace by Sister Audrey Day with the words 'welcome to Liverpool'. Audrey was a well loved chaplain of Alder Hey for many years, who many years beforehand as a young woman from Liverpool felt a call to ministry. And she faced a stark choice when she told her father about this; “if you want to join the church Army you won’t live in this family!” So next morning as she came down the stairs her bags were already packed by her father, she said goodbye and left never to return and she followed the way of the cross. And many were blessed in later years through her trust in God.