30 Aug Second Sunday in Lent, February 28th, 2021
Holy Gospel: Mark 8:31-38
”Get thee behind me Satan. For you are setting your eyes not on divine things but on human things.”
These words from Jesus had to be crushing to Peter. After all, Peter was one of the very first to be called to be a disciple of Jesus and had been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry. To now be referred to as “Satan” had to hurt… But was Jesus really referring to Peter himself as Satan or the idea that Peter was trying to convey to Jesus?
Jesus had just explained to the 12 that he was going to be arrested, tried and brutally executed and then rise again on the third day. Peter is the one saying “Uhhhmmm….. Nope! Not on my watch!” How many of us would say something similar in that situation? I would venture to guess that we too would react similarly if someone we loved and had been an integral part of our lives for many years sat us down at the dinner table and said these things to us.
Naturally, we would very likely also be horrified and tell our loved one to “knock off the nonsense.”
But, Jesus knows where he is going and what is going to take place. He knows that he is to be the sacrificial Lamb that brings the Grace of God and the grace of forgiveness back into a world of darkness and sin and gives Peter a rather stern telling off, telling him that he is focusing on the wrong part of the story. Peter is focusing on the here and RIGHT now rather than what is to come, human things rather than divine things.
But it is so easy to get caught up in focusing on worldly things. There are so many voices telling how to make ourselves better, more lovable… Just be thinner, smarter, richer, faster, more compliant. But these voices, worldly voices, eventually diminish us. They rob us of our birthright. They tell us we will be lovable “if.” They lead us to chasing applause that fades and approval that is always conditional.
The divine voice tells us differently. The divine says “You are my beloved.” Period. Full stop. Nothing more and nothing less. No “if.” That is because it is the voice of love, God’s love, and only love can call us to love.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans that we also heard today, is also talking about a shift of focus, from the present physical human world to the divine. He relates the story of Abraham and Sarah to the church in Rome and talks about how it is not the human here and now, the law, that makes humanity heirs to Christ but rather faith – faith in the promise that God made to humanity in the form of Jesus Christ.
In the when Paul was writing to the church in Rome, the vast majority of Roman citizens were Gentiles or “non-Jews.” The majority of the Jewish community that had remained in Rome was expelled from the city by Emperor Claudius after they had rioted at the name of “Chrestus” as it was written then and some scholars believe that Prisca and Aquila, whom Paul addresses by name later in Romans, were Jewish Christians that had later returned to the city.
This is important because Paul was a Jew and a strict adherent to the Jewish Law but Paul also was preaching a gospel of grace to ALL humanity, Jew and Gentile alike. This is one of the reasons that Paul, in Romans as in several of his other letters emphasizes that it is NOT adherence to the law that makes us heirs of grace but rather the faith of the promise of redemption in Christ. Paul uses the example of Abraham , considered to be the father of the Covenant between God and the Hebrews, as one who, before the covenant was established was a Gentile. In fact, here Paul argues that scripture bases Abraham’s righteousness on FAITH and not the law. Abraham was alive before the covenant and therefore before the law.
One of the signs of the covenant was the circumcision of males and Abraham was, according to Paul, circumcised after the covenant was established as a sign of Abrahams faith in God. This is the crux of Paul’s arguments that redemption in Christ was for both Jew and Gentile, for those under the law and those NOT under the law, for those circumcised and those uncircumcised.
Paul is talking about taking the focus OFF of the human worldly things like the law, like circumcision, like being part of the right clan and putting it on divine things –the redemptive grace of God given to us in the form of Christ Jesus.
In this time of Lent, we are again directed to focus not on worldly things, not on human things but on divine things. Many see this as an opportunity to refrain from something that they like, to deny themselves of some earthly pleasure like that piece of chocolate or what Germans whimsically refer to as the “Feierabend Bierchen” as a sign of faith. Is this focusing more on earthly things or divine? Self-denial could be seen as a personal form of “law” with the resulting consequences that violation of the law brings wrath, ranging from a guilty conscience to a less than pleasant encounter with the police depending on how far one wishes to take it.
But is that REALLY what Lent is about? Promising to do things that lead to feeling guilty if we don’t live up to our ideals? Paul sees apparently that as living under the law and that is NOT what guarantees the grace of God. That is not to say that we are free to do whatever we want whenever we want because Christ’s law is pretty clear. “Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind… and love your neighbour as yourself.”
Friends, we have been living what feels like to be a year-long Lent where, for the benefit of others and to contain this plague, we are denied many pleasures of this worldly life. We can only visit each other in VERY restricted situations, we are not able to worship together as we are accustomed to doing, restaurants, cinemas, and all other forms of entertainment are closed. By the same token though, we are doing this, not only because we are commanded to do so under the law but also because we know that to do so is to show love and care for our neighbour, to slow down the spread of the scourge of COVID.
We are created, each of us, in the image of God, in the image of love. We have been given righteousness and redemption and grace based on faith. Faith in a loving and forgiving God who sent his Son to be the atonement for the transgressions of humanity, to be the bridge between humanity and God. Faith in the resurrection of Christ as a sign for us of the forgiveness of God through Christ.
So maybe for THIS Lent, by focusing not on worldly things, not on the law, not what we give up for a season, but on the divine, we can hear the voice of God, the voice of love calling us by name, calling us to love and by listening to that voice, we hear our calling. A calling to grow into someone who loves what God loves how God loves it and we follow this divine calling because we are being true to the name God has given to us – The beloved.
Holy Gospel: Mark 8:31-38
Jesus began to teach his disciples that 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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
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. 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? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”