Let Us Walk Together
17th after Pentecost; September 16th, 2018
Text: Mark 8:27-38
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31Then he began to teach them 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. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But 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.”34He 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. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those 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.”
When I was young I wanted to become an adult as soon as possible. I thought that if I finished school I wouldn’t need to learn anything more. But I have learned that there is no one exclusive stage in life for learning. Nowadays we talk about “life-long learning” or “continuing education.” As members of this faith community we are continually learning about God and God’s love and how to live faithfully in the light of God’s way. So, church may be thought of as somewhat like school, yet different, in that we are all teachers and learners together. We are always learning from each other how to follow in God’s way. In our particular intercultural church we are presently learning Asian, Western and Indigenous perspectives on life, faith and holiness from each other.
In our church we began Chinese Bible study from last Monday and we are planning to offer other Bible studies this fall and winter. Besides these opportunities there are many other places such as BC Conference, Vancouver School of Theology (VST) and Naramata Centre are all offering learning programmes. I haven’t explored these yet, but I am sure there will be workshops and courses of interest to us; let’s watch the bulletin for these. One of my early impressions of West Point Grey is that we are open to learning how to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
Now let us attend to today’s Scripture. A long time ago, Jesus and the disciples would sit down and talk about God. Very often this meant exploring who God is and how to live faithfully in community. Jesus’ friends travelled to many places with him month after month, learning about God and how to share God’s justice and love with the people around them.
One day Jesus asked all his friends to sit down under an olive tree with him. “Now tell me,” said Jesus, “When you are talking with people who have gathered around to learn about God, whom do people say I am? Some of his friends answered that the people said, “You are John the Baptist. You are the prophet Elijah came back to life. You are the prophet Jeremiah.” Each of the disciples had heard something different. I think their learning was the reflection of their wishes. Perhaps they hoped that their teacher Jesus would be like a powerful prophet or some great deliverer so that they would become important in society because of the prestige of their teacher, Jesus.
Then, Jesus said, “Well, I can’t be all those people. Who do YOU think I am?” Peter’s face lit up. He had an idea: “I know. You are the Christ. You are the Messiah. You are the one God is sending to save us all.” Peter was very excited. The disciples and Jesus talked for a long time. They had many questions. Would Jesus live in a big palace? Would he have super powers? Would he have soldiers to fight for him? Would he have strong horses? They were interested in what great things he would do for the people. These ideas and visions came from their conventional wisdom. They were very natural responses and very honest answers.
According to contemporary biblical scholar Marcus Borg, “Conventional wisdom is a culture’s most taken-for-granted notion about two things - about what is real and about how to live. Conventional wisdom reflects cultural consensus. Conventional wisdom is what everybody knows, and it is what we are socialized into as we grow up. Growing up is basically learning the categories, labels and language of our culture. The effect of all of this may be to blind us to the wondrous reality in which we live, and it does that by becoming a grid that is imposed on reality.”
Let us look at our culture. We like the prefix “super.” Think how many words we can make with the word “super.” We might say that one of our social norms is that “super” or stronger or bigger is better. We like to have super-related things because when we have super things we think we will be strong and that other people will think we are important. This is what conventional wisdom suggests. Peter also thought of the role of Jesus in the light of conventional wisdom. Peter thought that Jesus would deliver the nation from the Roman Empire by military power. Peter also thought that if suffering were involved, the Messiah would inflict it upon the enemy. It certainly would not be inflicted on him!
So when Jesus spoke to the disciples including Peter about his death, “I 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,” Peter rebuked Jesus. In turn, Jesus rebuked Peter. Jesus turned Peter’s conventional wisdom upside down. Peter could not accept that Jesus would be killed, because he thought, from the perspective of his conventional wisdom that it could not possibly happen. Peter must have seen his dreams for Jesus and himself being destroyed in that instant. Peter was a victim of the conventional wisdom of his time. Conventional wisdom meant that Peter could not see God’s vision for all time and for all people.
Last Sunday I saw a different vision in our church. During the service Linda and Karen made an announcement on Intercultural Fall Fair being held on September 29 in Mandarin and English. They stood side by side and talked about the event and warmly invited us to participate in the planning meeting; many of you enthusiastically responded during the meeting after the service. Linda and Karen’s leadership was different from Peter’s in that they clearly described their vision for working in community and as a team. Together you put your work for the sake of Jesus’ vision and building the faith community for the common good. This vision offers me a perspective from which to understand today’s scripture, “picking up one’s cross,” not as accepting any burden or requirements to be a Christian, but as doing or supporting something good for the community through sharing our resources, here, for us, experiencing different cultural practices and the joy of working together.
We are starting a new season. At the beginning of this season Jesus calls on us to learn God’s wisdom, to see God’s vision and to practise God’s justice and love with all people. Just as Jesus invited Peter and the other disciples long ago, Jesus calls us today, “Follow me.” We are all invited to follow to search for God’s vision for our faith community and beyond. At the beginning of this new season Jesus calls upon us to learn God’s way and to practise God’s love with all people. On the journey we realize anew that we are not alone. God’s spirit walks with us and guides us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God who is always with us. Amen.