The Difficult Conversation

A sermon offered by the Reverend Ann Edwards

February 28 | Second Sunday in Lent

© St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Indooroopilly

Genesis 17: 1-7; Psalm 22: 24-32; Romans 4: 13-25; Mark 8: 31-38

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that for much of this week, you couldn’t follow the news on Facebook. Faced with legislation that would redirect power and wealth, the social media giant fired a volley – they removed news from the platform. It was an extraordinary and unprecedented display of power by a corporation, that one commentator likened to negotiations between sovereign states. There’s no right or wrong here, it was legal after all, and everyone is playing by the rules of the game. The corporate conflict is illustrative about how our world works underneath what we notice day to day. Drawing always in, preventing any reach out, shoring up barriers and barricades. Aggression and protection.

Our Gospel text begins with Jesus speaking a terrible truth, very openly: Jesus will suffer, be rejected by the authorities in power, and die, before rising in three days. The summary of what will become the “Good News”. News that we would have missed had we been relying on Facebook to tell us!

It was an explosive truth – one that shattered any illusions of a messiah that would conquer and install a new King, that would bring wealth and power. The teacher they loved, their leader, their hope would suffer and die. A truth that Peter did not want to hear and takes matters into his own hands, to make it more palatable, to fit his idea of what was good for him, and his idea of what his beloved teacher and friend should be and have.

And so Peter attempts to rein Jesus in – not you Lord.

Not my teacher. Not my friend. Not our story. Not our Messiah.

Surely the story is to win, to reclaim the power, self-sufficiency, and glory. To literally lord these over the conquered.

Get behind me, Satan. 

At the very beginning of Mark, in the wilderness, Satan offered Jesus self-sufficiency, proof of authority, and power over others, of having his own way in return for turning from God. Jesus rejected these things, as human not divine. Selfishness and an inward focus is the source of these sins.

Peter has taken the bait. Faced with the impossible loss of his expectations of victory, and of his beloved friend and teacher, he tried to limit and control Jesus to meet his expectations, to protect what he had, to angle to conquer. His focus was on the human and not the divine. On himself, his friends, and his people.

Jesus would die at the hands of those that held every temptation. Those that controlled and selfishly used the communities’ resources, those that wielded authority, those that desired and claimed power over others. Peter saw submitting to this terrible fate as losing, and wanted Jesus to join the battle. 

Understanding how temptation works is important. We think of evil as something that belongs to others. There are sides, and one is right and one is wrong. But just like the corporate conflict we’ve seen in social media, harm comes in the struggle for wealth and power that does not end. That struggle cannot end, because if the goal is to win, to have power and wealth, there will always be more to conquer. If we carry this behaviour over to our lives, we will be similarly engulfed in a struggle that can never end. 

To attempt to gain freedom by playing the same game means that nothing has really changed. A messiah is a liberator that leads the people out of the oppressive cycle, and Christ invites us to pick up our cross and follow to freedom. Jesus spoke this very difficult truth, unequivocally, plainly, in love.

Because Love speaks truth. Love doesn’t couch things. Love presents life as it actually is. In Love, Jesus prepares his friends for what is going to happen next, assures them that while they will enter into the worst of humanity, and assure them that in it all, he remains as is, the beloved of God, who will rise again. The Messiah that confronted Satan not just in the wilderness, not Satan outside of the circle, but Satan within the circle as well. Peter was as close to Jesus as was possible, and still needed to be challenged and to change.

When we think of Sin as something outside us, a looming threat that belongs out there, it is too easy to draw a line between those we think are wrong and right, to see sin everywhere but in our own desires. To miss the human selfishness that starts with individuals profiting at the expense of another, of in groups and exclusion, of the glee that comes with the resultant sense of winning and victory. A selfishness that builds in our communities, compounds, oppresses and can become systematically evil. Creating a “wrong” side and declaring ourselves “right” very conveniently allows us to go along unchallenged and unchanged, with a false security from the boundaries and barriers of our own human creation. That keeps us small. Unless we chip away at the things that divide us into right and wrong, in and out, we are never really truly experiencing community, never really becoming the fullness of our capabilities, never really being a part of Love. 

In our Lenten small group, we noticed that Jesus said to Peter to get behind me. Peter wasn’t banished, or excluded, but instead was told to remember how to follow, to watch and learn, before taking his place again at Christ’s side. Christ loved Peter, in naming him Satan. There was never a rejection. In the harsh critique is the expectation that Peter can be more. 

bell hooks writes that every person she has spoken to who had experienced true love “testified that the bonding was not easy or simple. To many folks this seems confusing precisely because our fantasy of true love is that it will be just that – simple and easy”. That’s what we’re sold, right? It’s easy to think that love is to have things as we want things to be. That’s the lie we’re sold.

Love isn’t affection, attachment, or a feeling, something is defined by what makes us feel good. Love is an action, a choice. Love is realised in action and decision. Love reaches outwards, it creates growth. It changes things. 

The Gospel, the life death and resurrection of Jesus, is the Good News of God’s Kingdom. What is different in our lives, individually and corporately, that is evidence of that Good News? What is the difference seen when we pick up our cross and follow Christ in Faith?

We’re called in Love to have the difficult conversations, with ourselves first and then with others. Love wants the best for the person, for ourselves and others, even if it makes for conflict. 

Lent is the invitation to face our self-imposed limitations. We are invited to let go of the need to “be” something other than what we are. We are invited to let go of the identity that others would have us adopt. We are invited to let go of the need to change someone to make them fit with what we think God wants. Eyes forward on Jesus, picking up the cross, and moving together through our selfish world, knowing that we are loved, that we are free, and following Christ. We are invited to love ourselves – to stretch for our own spiritual development and wholeness. We are invited to love others – to stretch ourselves for someone else’s sense of belonging, worth, and growth. And we are invited always to Love God first, stretching ourselves and investing the time to build our relationship with the Divine, and to discern the path of Christ we are to follow.

What would it mean to pick up our own cross? Personally? As a church?

What would it mean. to be liberated from the never ending struggle and confinement of our human expectations and to step out with faith into a journey somewhere unknown, knowing it is always with Christ.

The world teaches us not to stretch, but to contract. Not to flow but to stagnate. To soothe ourselves in smallness and confinement. But Love stretches. Life expands, and in Christ our lives will be as full beyond measure, with Love overflowing.

In the name of Christ,

Amen

hooks, b. (2001). all about love. William Morrow

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