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Christian Pacificism for Lent

February 27, 2015

Sermon: The Suffering Messiah (Mark 8:27-38)coptic Christians beheaded

Let’s hold in our minds for a few minutes the image in our newspapers and the internet over the last fortnight of those 21 Coptic Christians about to be beheaded on the beach. I want us to bring that frightening image today into conversation with todays gospel text:

It begins with Jesus questioning his followers ‘who do people say that I am?’ To which they reply ‘John the Baptizer’… ‘Elijah’ and ‘One of the prophets’. Then Jesus says ‘Who do you say that I am?’ And Peter replies, ‘You are the Messiah! (the coming King, the one who defeats the forces of evil in the world and brings in God’s reign of peace)’. That’s what Messiah meant.

And Jesus immediately and sternly tells them to be silent and not to tell anyone about him.

Interesting response! Why do you think Jesus is not interested in their publicity? Surely he would want people to know that he was the Messiah!

Perhaps the very next verse makes it clear. Verse 31:

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering… and be killed”.

He is a messiah who brings God’s reign, not through military victory but through suffering.
I am struck by the contrast between their Messianic hope… and Jesus own understanding of his calling and his future?

“He said all this quite openly.”
On the one hand he hushes up all talk of being Messiah. On the other hand he ‘quite openly’ talks of the suffering he is about to face.

And then he rebukes Peter in the strongest possible language:

“Get behind me Satan! For your mind is not on divine things but on human things”

Your messianic ideas are human rather divine.

Peter, who advocates for a violent divine response, a conquest; Peter is here the tempter (Satan). This kind of a Messiah… who takes on evil in the usual human way, with violence (fighting evil with evil) represents Jesus greatest temptation.

Verse 34

‘Then 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”’

The ISIS publicity photograph with the men in orange about to be executed and the men behind with their faces hidden by black balaclavas had a subtitle (do you remember what it was?) ‘The People of the Cross’.

No doubt those who posted that picture on the internet, the PR branch of ISIS, think of the sign of the cross in terms of the crusaders with their swords or the Americans with their bombs

It’s a profound irony, presumably lost on the PR men, that the ‘people of the cross’ in that picture are the ones who look, not like crusaders or American soldiers, or New Zealand soldiers, but like Jesus… like Jesus who won his victory over evil, precisely by going to his public execution… like the guys in orange overalls… for them that was the victory

Can you see Jesus in that picture? Can you see God in that picture? I’m told that in the video of the execution, the Coptic Christians can be seen mouthing the words ‘Jesus Messiah’ and the words ‘Jesus is Lord’ – the words that the Christians challenged the Romans with in the first and second centuries.

Taking up the cross for them is not taking up arms (like the crusaders, or the Romans who carries banners with crosses on them). Taking up the cross is a moment in which they come face to face with the force of evil in the world and, in the name and way of Jesus, confront that evil with their suffering and even their death.

Jesus is at his clearest here.

“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.”

”…to gain the whole world” … Even if the whole world is at stake… if the life of the kingdom is lost in the process, then the process is not Jesus’ process and those who undertake it are not followers of Jesus.

He couldn’t be clearer really. The life of the reign of God, has one point of access… and it’s not a violent revolution or a military conquest… it’s suffering, and possibly martyrdom.

Not because Jesus loves suffering. Not because Christianity somehow romanticises suffering. Simply because if you are to face evil without merely escalating and perpetuating the evil, you will have to be prepared to suffer and possibly die.

Lent is the time of year when we contemplate Jesus, the man who gave his life for others and ultimately for us. Why? Most deeply because his life was not his own to possess. As he received it constantly from his Father he gave it away to others.

‘Then he began to tell them that the Son of Man (true human) must undergo great suffering’

We are not just talking about any kind of suffering. The suffering Jesus is talking about is the price of social non-conformity – suffering at human hands, suffering in opposition to the evil powers in the world. So in confronting this world he gives his life into the hands of his Abba, into the silence … that’s the shocking thing, Abba is silent… but in trust and hope for Abba’s resurrection. In trust that love will be victorious in its own way.

In conclusion let us return to the political realities of our picture… And in this context I want to say just one thing. For us this morning in worship the question of what we as New Zealanders ought to do is not the first question. We are not first of all New Zealanders. At our baptism we are marked first of all as Christians. We are first of all followers of Jesus. Our duty is not first of all to John Key or any government, it is to Jesus Christ in whom God gives us our life and our identity.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 1, 2015 9:37 am

    Brilliant, poignant, painful truth here Bruce. This is the gospel – thanks for voicing it. You have given shape to my hesitance toward all the (often church endorsed) bravado and rallying.

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