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Pentecost 16 Proper 19B RCL September 13, 2015

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Our first reading today is from the Book of Proverbs. Wisdom is portrayed as a woman. Herbert O’Driscoll says that wisdom is “a part of God, an aspect of God. The figure of wisdom expresses the mind of God.” Wisdom, or Sophia in Greek, is often associated with our Lord. Wisdom is more than ordinary knowledge. O’Driscoll writes, “We are being asked to consider a relationship with God as the deepest and richest knowledge of all.”

In our gospel for today. Jesus and his disciples are in Caesarea Philippi. They have gone beyond Galilee into a major center of the Roman Empire where troops were brought for rest and recuperation.

Jesus asks the disciples a question. “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples tell Jesus what they have been hearing. Some people are saying that Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life; some are saying that he is the prophet Elijah, and some say that he is a prophet. Jesus is getting a report on what they have been hearing on the street.

But them he asks that searching question, “But who do you say that I am?” This changes the situation from giving a report to expressing our beliefs. Immediately, Peter says, “You are the messiah.”

At that time, most people believed that the messiah was going to be a great military leader like King David who would go out into battle, against the Roman Empire, defeat the Romans, and bring about a revolution in which the reign of God would begin on earth.  In one way or another, we can assume and imagine that the people following Jesus were beginning to think that this was what he was going to do.

So, when Jesus begins to say that he is gong to suffer and that he is going to be rejected by all the authorities, and he is going to be killed, this simply does not fit the expected scenario. We can imagine that the disciples were in shock. Here they thought they were going to be part of a triumphal military revolution, and now they are hearing that their leader is doomed. What if Winston Churchill had said he was gong to die and we were going to be defeated in World War Two?

We would have been shocked. Well, Peter was shocked, He took Jesus aside and tried to tell him, “Lord, you’re mistaken. This can’t happen!”

When you know that you are called to do something that is going to be very difficult and painful and will probably cost you your life, you need the support and understanding of those closest to you. In Isaiah and other prophets, there is another understanding of the messiah. The messiah is the servant who carries out a quiet but very powerful revolution that will change the world. It is a revolution of peace and harmony. It is God’s shalom. But Peter did not want to hear about that. And that hurt Jesus. It was difficult enough for him to walk the way of the cross, and he needed his friends to help him to do that, not to try to argue him out of it.

That is why Jesus told Peter to get behind him. Get out of the way. That is why he called him Satan, Adversary. Because Peter was like an attorney arguing Jesus out of the way he knew he was called to go. Peter had dreams of following a General Eisenhower or a General Colin Powell to victory and Jesus was talking about dying on a humiliating instrument of torture called the cross.

To be sure, Peter loved Jesus and he didn’t want his Lord to have to go through that. We want the best for those we love. We don’t want them to suffer. So Peter said what he said, and Jesus said what he said, and other things happened, and later the two of them reconciled all that.

But the bottom line is that our Lord is calling us to take up our cross and follow him. Sometimes that involves choices that the world thinks are crazy. Somebody has a great job and is making lots of money and moving up the career ladder and they feel a call to work with an NGO in Zimbabwe or work with adolescents in a juvenile correctional facility or teach kids in Thailand or go into the Peace Corps at a fraction of the salary. Yet when you see them, they have an unmistakeable serenity and joy. That’s what it means to take up our cross. People may scratch their heads and wonder what in the world we are doing, but we know it’s what our Lord is calling us to, and we find a deep joy in answering that call.

When we lose our life for Jesus’ sake, we are not jumping into a black hole of destruction or hurting ourselves. We are allowing him to free us from our limited ideas of what life is about. We are the little seed jumping into the fertile soil and growing into a field of wheat. We are a little creature clutching onto a rock and finally letting go and allowing ourselves to be part of a loving, flowing current. We are becoming part of his shalom.

We live in him. He lives in us. We become one with him. There is much joy in that. There is much peace in that.

If we are following our Lord, we will also be following wisdom, and our tongues will speak words of compassion because our hearts are filled with compassion and our lives are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ.

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with  you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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