9/13/2015 sermon “Hope and faith”

Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, Virginia 
Text: Mark 8:27-38
16 Pentecost (Proper 19), Year B

“Hope and faith”

Mark, who wrote our gospel text for today, was a master storyteller. In the opening verses of his account of Jesus’ life he tells US that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ. And therein lies our hope, our faith.

Then Mark lets us watch Christ’s followers figure out for themselves just who Jesus is, lets us watch them develop THEIR hope, their faith. Being clued in, we get to shake our heads at just how thick-headed Peter and James and John and Andrew and the rest seemed to be.

Here today, at the very core of Mark’s gospel, Jesus asked his disciples if they had figured our yet who he was and is. The answers were amazingly wrong. Jesus had been traveling around Palestine, healing all manner of diseases, teaching profoundly in synagogues since he was a child, and performing great miracles. And every response of “the people” that the disciples repeated to Jesus misidentified him.

The people—those who weren’t following Jesus—thought he was some kind of marker, some kind of persona from the past prophets who would herald the Messiah’s coming, or some kind of teacher. We hear these theories even today, from people who don’t actually follow Jesus.

Apparently, what is required to identify Jesus correctly as the Christ is to be a follower of Christ Jesus. Sounds kind of circular, doesn’t it? To recognize who Jesus is, we have to be a Jesus-follower, but why follow Jesus in the first place unless we know that he is the Christ?

I think the answer to this circular logic is “hope” and later, “faith.” You see, with Jesus we don’t know exactly what we’ve got, even now. We think we know, but we use human logic. Just like Peter thought HE knew. “You are the Christ,” he declared. And he was 100% correct. But then, when Jesus revealed what, exactly, his fate would be, this is where Peter failed Jesus’ test. What being the Christ means is to have to undergo great suffering, being rejected, and dying a painful death.

As you know, Peter tried to teach Jesus his own ideas about what the Messiah was here to do. Jesus rebuked Peter, told him that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Peter didn’t see the HOPE that Jesus has shared. Peter was so focused on the suffering and rejection and death, that he missed the promise. The promise was this, “after three days rise again.” Rise again to new life. Maybe we can forgive Peter; in his experience, rising again to life after being executed had never happened, had never even been seriously considered a possibility. WE know the story, not only who Jesus really is, but how Jesus’ Resurrection proclaimed for all our abiding hope and faith that we, too, will rise after death to be with him.

At this point in Mark’s gospel is where Jesus challenged those who would be his followers. Did you notice, in our lesson today, that Jesus called everyone who was following him? Jesus called BOTH the crowd AND his disciples.

In Mark’s gospel, as in Luke’s, there are two kinds of people who follow Jesus: the crowd and his disciples. The crowd included people who were intrigued by Jesus, people who wanted things from him, and people who wanted to find fault with him. His disciples—and this was many more than the original twelve—his disciples had a strong glimmer of who Jesus was and is, and who wanted to learn to be like him. Jesus’ disciples were those who wanted to help him accomplish his mission. Jesus was forever urging people to step forward out of the crowd into discipleship.

Here is where Jesus identified what the difference is between followers who are “crowd,” and “disciples.” Disciples are those who, in Jesus’ words:

  • Deny themselves,
  • Take up THEIR cross, and
  • Follow him.

So disciples are those who put aside their “me-first” calculations, put aside their desires about who Jesus should be, and follow him to death and beyond.

In Mark’s day Christians were being persecuted and martyred for being disciples of Christ. They found so much hope in Jesus’ teaching and example that they found faith enough to follow him through his mortal death, and their own mortal deaths. Because of HIM, and because of THEM, we have hope and faith, as well.

Even though WE are not in danger of martyrdom, yet, for our faith, do not each of us have to follow Jesus in this way of death? Perhaps we, too, must undergo great suffering as we age or get terminally ill. Perhaps we, too, face rejection, if not from “the elders,” then perhaps from “the youngers” today. And surely one day we, too, will die. But here’s our great hope and an anchor for our faith: that we, too, like Jesus, will rise again.

I know that there are many progressive Christians here who may not anchor their own hope and faith in this particular aspect of Christian teaching. Progressive Christians might say that by teaching us about something greater than death, we are thereby free to truly live THIS life, as Christ Jesus taught us.

Each of these places to anchor our hope and faith are equally true, as they each are anchored in Jesus, the Christ. Each requires us to set aside what we think is optimal for us personally, the “pick up our cross,” and follow him.

Jesus added what I call the “Resurrection promise.” He said, “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.” Isn’t THIS the crux of the Resurrection story? Deliberately choosing to forfeit life as we know it, as Jesus did and in the process gaining new life? Isn’t this OUR hope, as Jesus followers, to “take up our cross” and follow him, to death and beyond? Isn’t this our faith, that there will be a “beyond” with Jesus? Beyond life to new life. Beyond death to new life?

Today is “Voting Sunday” here at Church of the Resurrection. Today we ask each of you to make a “go/no go” decision on whether to redevelop our property to provide affordable housing for our community and a new church facility for us and for those who come after us. I didn’t check the lessons before we set our Voting Sunday for today. Maybe I should have, because I want to be very clear that I am NOT using today’s gospel lesson to tell you how to vote. What I am suggesting is that we each have to decide where to place our hope and our faith. And we each must step out of the crowd and follow Jesus—wherever that leads—even to death and beyond.

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