Sunday, September 16, 2012
Sunday Reflection: Today's sermon in Menomonie
Grace Episcopal Church
September 16, 2012
This week there were leaves, red and gold and brown, beneath my feet as I walked. Here in the Midwest, fall is deep and meaningful and beautiful. It is a time when so many sounds and scents bring back a memory.
For many people in Michigan, where I am from, some of those memories have to do with deer hunting. I’m guessing that at least some of the people here, too, remember something like this:
It is a cool, even cold, day in late autumn. You are 9 or 10 or 12, out in the mist of the early morning with your father. One thing about deer hunting is that you have to be quiet and still, and the two of you watch and listen. Then, it happens- you see a buck there, walking within range. Your father points, and you raise your rifle. There is a single stark moment when the deer stops, freezes, perhaps turns toward you—that moment before it runs. In your ear, you hear your father’s voice. He says “now.”
Your father, with just that word, was teaching something, something important—teaching about timing.
Timing matters because not all moments are equal. I think that is one lesson from the gospel reading this morning [Mark 8:27-38].
Really, there are two great mysteries to me in that story from Mark. The first is when Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus orders him not to tell anyone. The second mystery is in Jesus later telling Peter “Get behind me, Satan!” I think there is a connection between these two, and it was something to do with… timing.
Jesus orders Peter not to share the truth—that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God—because it is not yet time for that. It would, of course, become clear upon Jesus’s death (even to the Centurian standing guard), but it was not yet time for that truth to be known.
Why not, though? Why was it not yet time for Jesus to be known as the Son of God? Perhaps it is because that public knowledge would have given Jesus power, and he wanted something different, and stronger: influence.
Power is the ability to make someone do what you want—to force or prevent an outcome. Certainly, Jesus could have chosen that kind of power: to be an earthly king.
However, that kind of power is profoundly different than influence, which is the ability to convince people what is right, and what they should do. It was influence that Jesus held, the ability to convince the world over centuries of what is right, something that could not be attained by sword or chains. Influence lasts; power does not. Nicolae Couescescu, the dictator of Romania until 1989, had power, and that is all gone. Christ influences us now, two millennia after he taught.
One reason that influence like Jesus’s has such strength is that it commits the listener to be a part of the story. When he talked to the woman at the well, he talked about water; when he tells a story about vineyard workers I suspect his audience included exactly those workers. They are hearing about themselves; they complete the circle of truth that Jesus began, as he both affirms and challenges them.
So, what of the second mystery—of Jesus saying “Get behind me, Satan!” to Peter? I think that, too, has to do with power and influence. Remember that what preceded Jesus’s response was Peter’s rebuke of Jesus’s prediction of a fate that would include great suffering, prosecution, and execution. Jesus described his path, and Peter used his influence to discourage him.
What Jesus rebukes is the negative, discouraging use of influence—that Peter set his mind on human things rather than the divine, his own desires rather than God’s.
There IS evil in that… just as there is evil in the words that others say to discourage us, to deter us from dreams. Sadly, we all have memories of that, too.
Jesus’s influence still lives, in our lives and in this world. Power is loud; but influence is often quiet. The gospels tell us not only of Jesus’s grand moments, but the quiet ones. There is meaning in that. We must still ourselves to be influenced by God.
It is, often, only in that quiet, in the stillness of our hearts, that we can hear the whisper of God, our father, close to our ear, saying “now.”
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Absolutely enjoyed meeting you this morning at Grace Church and listening to your sermon. I am very humbled by the message you gave and count it great privilege to have met you. I am happy I found your blog and will continue to read your articles on Huffington Post. I just purchased your book on my Kindle and I am excited to read it! I hope our paths cross again sometime.Post a Comment
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