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Pentecost 16 September 13, 2015 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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PENTECOST 16  Proper 19  Year B
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-8; James 3:1-12; Mark 78:27-38
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday September 13, 2015
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
 
 
A few years ago,
there was a television commercial
in which a group of eager young executives
at a conference table
were brainstorming a slogan
for a newly-improved product.
 
Suggestions flew around the table,
but none were right.
 
Then one guy nailed it
and they all burst into applause.
 
At the other end
of the table
a woman quickly leaned over
to the person next to her
and smugly whispered,
“We’re dating.”
 
We do like to be associated
with a winner.

Today we’ve arrived
at the turning point
of Mark’s Gospel.
 
In the first half,
Jesus collected his group of disciples
and travelled about the countryside
doing astonishing things:
          exorcising demons,
          healing the sick,
          stilling storms,
          multiplying loaves . . .
 
revealing with power and authority
          the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom,
for those with eyes to see
          and ears to hear.
 
Wondering and marveling crowds
gathered around him
wherever he went.
 
His disciples must have liked
belonging to his inner circle.
Clearly he was a winner.
 

Now,
on the way to Caesarea Philippi,
Jesus asked them,
“Who do people say that I am?”
 
They answered what they’d heard
in the villages round about
and from the crowds:
 
“John the Baptist;
Elijah;
one of the prophets.”
 
“But who do you say that I am?”
Jesus responded.
 
There wasn’t much doubt
in Peter’s mind . . .
with such power and authority
who else could Jesus be?
 
“You are the Messiah!”
he exclaimed.
 
The Messiah:
Israel’s long-awaited Warrior King
now come to break the yoke
          of Roman domination.
 

Jesus didn’t deny it,
but “sternly ordered”
the disciples not to tell anyone . . .
 
. . . because he knew the expectations
attached to that title.
 
The common assumption
of who the Messiah would be
and what the Messiah would do
                   was not the kind of Messiah he was.
 
He had no plans to raise an army
to drive out the Roman occupiers.
 
He planned only to follow the path
God had set before him,
 
a path he increasingly realized
was leading him
to a final,
and probably fatal,
confrontation
with the religious authorities
who felt threatened
by his teachings and popularity.
 

Now it was time for his inner circle
to know what they were in for.
 
And so he said to them
“quite openly”
(this was not a secret),
that he must “undergo great suffering,
be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes,
and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
 
Whatever future, whatever glory
Peter may have imagined
was in store for the Messiah
and his followers
vanished like smoke.
 
 
“Are you out of your mind?”
he hissed.
 
“Get behind me, Satan,”
Jesus replied.
“Your mind is fixed on earthly ambitions,
not on God’s desires.”
 
Satan, tempter,
who had once tried to seduce Jesus
in the wilderness
at the very beginning of his ministry
with offers of worldly success.
 

Here was the same temptation,
coming this time through his
disciple and friend Peter:
 
raising
for Jesus
what may have been a recurring question:
“Who do I say that I am?”
 
Am I out of my mind?
Is this suffering and death inevitable?
Is this really the path
God has called me to walk?
Must I really press the issue
          by setting my face now toward Jerusalem?
 
A defining moment
for Jesus
and for his disciples . . .
 
 
In the wilderness,
Jesus had turned to the Scriptures
to counter Satan’s enticements – 
 

Now, increasingly aware
of the likelihood
of suffering, of death,
          if he continued his course,
did he think of passages
like the ones we heard today
from the prophet Isaiah
          and the psalms:
          (Jesus knew his Scriptures.)
 
From Isaiah:
 
“I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near. . . .
It is the Lord God who helps me.”
 
From the psalm:
 
“The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me;
I came to grief and sorrow.
Then I called upon the Name of the Lord;
‘O Lord, save my life.’
Gracious is the Lord and righteous,
          our God is full of compassion.
The Lord watches over the innocent;
I was brought very low
          and He helped me . . .”
There was no promise there
that he wouldn’t suffer,
but there was the promise
          of the faithfulness of God,
who would sustain and support him
          in that suffering.
 
We, too, have this promise,
for we, too,
if we would follow Jesus,
have chosen a vocation
          that calls for self-denial
          and may be marked by suffering.
 
 
“If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves
and take up their cross
and follow me.”
 
This cross we are to take up
is not the same as the suffering
that comes to all of us
in the ordinary course of our living . . .
          the loss of someone we love,
          a serious illness,
          a crippling accident,
          a natural disaster,
          a terrible dashing of hope . . .
                   agonizing as those are.
 

The God of Isaiah,
the God of the psalmist,
the God of Jesus,
is present in those hardships
and helps us bear them.
 
But the cross Jesus asks us to take up
is the sacrifice and suffering
we willingly choose
          willingly choose,
                   for the sake of advancing God’s kingdom.
 
“Those who want to save their life will lose it,”
Jesus said to the crowd,
“and those who lose their life for my sake,
and for the sake of the gospel
will save it.”
 
If we are concerned only with ourselves,
our prospects, accomplishments, possessions,
wealth, health, social status,
our lives will be narrow, constrained,
centered around us
and ultimately as hollow and empty as our ambitions . . .
 
If we are concerned only with ourselves
we will never know
the life for which we were created,
the authentic life, the genuine life,
that comes from deep engagement
with the wounded world around us,
the paradoxically abundant life
          of the gospel . . .
 

For what will it profit us
          to gain the whole world
if we forfeit the greatest vocation of all,
the chance
          to live for Jesus’ sake
                   and for the sake of the gospel?
 
 
If, because of the gospel,
we let go of the self
          and the ambitions to which we cling . . .
 
If, because of the gospel,
          we seek and serve Christ in all persons,
          strive for justice and peace among all people,
                   and respect the dignity of every human being . . .
 
If, because of the gospel,
we set ourselves to be
the heart and voice and hands of Jesus,
loving, comforting, helping
the poor and suffering,
          the lost and lonely,
freely spending our time, our energy, our resources,
          our very selves for others,
 
we will have found life at last.
         
 
 
Homecoming Sunday . . .
 
We’ve come to celebrate our life together.
 
We’ve come
to reunite with old friends after a summer
of travels and vacations.
 
We’ve come
to see whether this place and community
          called Christ Church
                    might be a new spiritual home for us.
 
We’ve come
to begin a new program year
          that promises to be rich
                    in liturgy, learning, fellowship, adventure.  
 
We’ve come
to continue in ministries we love,
or
to try new ministries to which we feel a call,
 
We’ve come
to return to Sunday School and Godly Play,
and to begin our first full season
of Adult Formation classes
          in a long, long time . . .
 
We’ve come
to worship God,
to join our voices in proclamation, prayer and song,
to be moved by the music of organ and choir,
to celebrate the meaning, purpose,
          companionship and joy we find here.
These are all wonderful,
all good,
all to be enjoyed and celebrated.
 
But if that is all,
then our life as a community
will be narrow, constrained,
centered around us,
and ultimately as hollow and empty as our ambitions . . .
 
If we are concerned only with ourselves,
with Christ Church,
our programs, our budget, our buildings,
          our liturgy, our music, each other,
then we will lose sight of the reason
          God has entrusted this place to us,
forfeit the life for which God has called us together:
 
the authentic life, the genuine life,
that comes from deep engagement
with the wounded world around us,
the paradoxically abundant life
          of the gospel . . .
 
We are meant to be
not just Sunday disciples,
but daily followers
of Jesus,
even to Jerusalem
          even to a cross.
 

We’ve come home
to be reminded by Scripture
of God’s requirements of us
and
God’s faithfulness to us;
 
to be fed by the Eucharist,
with the courage and strength
the compassion and determination of Jesus,
 
to seek together the answer to those questions:
Who do you say that I am?
and
Who do we say that we are?
 
We’ve come home
to leave home
          and live them.