Revolutionary Danger

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Proverbs 1:20-33
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

“Why doesn’t God answer my prayer? Why is my life so hard? When will things get better for me?” This week we are confronted with the difficult possibility that God’s primary reason for existence may not be to meet our every need, to make us happy, or give us what we want. The disciples began to learn that lesson at Caesarea Phillipi.

Caesarea Philippi is a site of incomparable beauty and longstanding political turmoil. Known today as Banias, or Panias, this once Syrian, now Israeli-controlled site in the foothills of Mount Hermon is a major source of the Jordan River. Spring-fed streams tumble through the area, making it one of the most picturesque sites in all the Holy Land. Yet the marks of violent struggle are visible too. The hulls of blown out military vehicles lie frozen as memorials to Israeli soldiers from the Yom Kippur War. Sheep graze in pastures with warnings posted in three languages: “Danger Mines!”

In Jesus’ day, Caesarea Philippi harbored plenty of ethnic, religious and political landmines too.Neighbors with differing beliefs and ethnicities eyed one another warily. Following the death of Alexander, Greek armies fought over this territory. A temple of Pan, the Greek god of Nature and sexuality, drew worshipers (and revelers) to the area. Herod the Great controlled the region for the Romans. Philip the Tetrarch built an administrative capital nearby and named it Caesarea Paneus. Philip II expanded the city and infuriated Jewish neighbors by stamping his own image on the local currency.

Jesus led his disciples into the heart of this ethnic, political, and religious minefield. It was here, surrounded by massive displays of governmental and cultic power that Jesus asked: “Who do people say that I am?”…and more specifically, “Who do you say that I am?”

With Galilean scenes of healing and power fresh in his mind, Peter declared “You are the Messiah.” And with that, a tumbler turned. Sand began to pour through the hourglass. Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem. The revolution was on.

Peter’s confession marked the theological, geographical, and political hinge point of Mark’s gospel. Ministry in Galilee faded in the distance. The road to Jerusalem loomed ahead. From this point Jesus “began to teach them” what it meant to be Messiah. But curiously, Jesus’ first words were not liberation, rebellion, or violence, but suffering, rejection, and death.

Peter strongly objected to the puzzling turn in Jesus’ rhetoric. Jesus called out Peter’s outburst as satanic and reminded Peter of a disciple’s proper place: “Get behind me!” Then

“He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”

And so we too are invited to find our place in the story…to emulate Jesus…to follow the Messiah into an uncertain future.

On this path to Jerusalem, Jesus is not our answer man, not our errand boy, not the solution for all our problems and pains, not the finder of parking spots or the god whose major concern is our happiness. It turns out Jesus is on a mission. A mission that will end in resurrection, right enough, but which will first plunge headlong on the path leading to pain, suffering, sacrifice and death. Jesus calls for followers who will walk behind him, sharing a bit of the same burden.

Karl Barth said that believers’ deepest longing is not for a temporary patch to solve personal problems. Instead, people really come to the faith looking for something with size. We long for a call that will summon from us everything we have to give. Will we serve or demand to be served? Will we pester God with our problems or will we join the revolution?

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (8:34-36)

Leslie is a blond ball of energy in a faded T-shirt who lived with us for a couple years as she finished an undergrad degree. She loved Jesus and wanted to get out in the world to share God’s goodness, but she seemed an unlikely candidate. Quiet and shy, Leslie lived on macaroni and cheese, was afraid of crickets, spoke only English. Yet there was an undefinable cord of toughness in her too.

As soon as she graduated she was off for a year teaching in Mongolia. Postcards and emails told tales of hard days, new experiences, a cold winter. Through it all, she joyously carried every burden she was asked to carry. Now she’s off again to tougher service, teaching young Syrian refugee, unflinching as she carries the cross of service.

This month our teachers head back to overcrowded classrooms. Underpaid, under-resourced, under-appreciated, yet tasked with the responsibility of student success, we honor these disciples whose vital work goes mostly unnoticed.

They are everywhere, Jesus’ disciples. Serving, giving, suffering, following. This week, take another look at what kind of Messiah Jesus is, and what kind of disciples he calls his followers to be. The answers are big, and difficult, and demanding. This week, may the call of Jesus be met by disciples who rise up and follow.

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