Father Mark, Sermons


Proper 16A Pentecost 12; Matthew 16:13-20; 8/23/20

When is the last time you felt a tinge of curiosity?  Curiosity is a gift—it means we’re searching instead of being couch potatoes seeking to be entertained. 

Jesus was curious too.   After a long period of itinerant ministry with his disciples, he was curious about the reactions of those who witnessed his teachings and miracles.   Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the son of man is?   Translating from the Aramaic he meant, “Do people think I am an ordinary human being, just like everyone else?   Translating into Texan: “Am I just one of the boys?”

The disciples responded with the feedback they heard:  Some say a prophet, like Jeremiah, some say Elijah returned.  The idea that Jesus could be Elijah, or a prophet was quite profound as it pushed against the teaching that no prophet could come from Galilee.  The religious authorities failed to do their research to discover Jesus’ resume as they just assumed that Jesus was from Galilee and Nazareth—failing to ask the question:  “Where were you born?“

Of course the prophets taught that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem.   But the Pharisees didn’t ask the question.   Have you ever wondered why they weren’t curious enough to ask?  Assumptions without data and experience can lead us down a rabbit hole. 

There were other false assumptions which would bias the people against Jesus.  Customarily in the Middle East, kings send emissaries to foretell their arrival.  The Scribes and Pharisees put forward a false teaching outside of the Torah and the Prophets that the Messiah could not come and walk on the streets of Jerusalem while the pagan Romans ruled both the holy city and the land.  The prophet would come first to overthrow the Gentile rule so the Messiah could follow.  

This is another teaching outside of the Torah and the Prophets attempting to bend God to meet one’s personal narrative and desires.  Was the Messiah to bring in a Utopia or redeem the human soul? 

Why do people keep telling God how God is supposed to work?  This goes all the way back to Adam and Eve—we want to be in charge.   Of course God gives us this choice.  But there isn’t a time in history that human kind has had the audacity to think that we are in charge where we didn’t create a total mess of life and untold suffering.  

We often forget or try to change history to forget this urge to be in control of things.

Did what other people think of Jesus influence the disciples?  A crowd can be a powerful force to overwhelm an individual or small group who are not individuated—grounded in their faith and identity.   Jesus asks the disciples: Who do you say that I am?  Jesus received an unusual response from Peter.

It wasn’t the response itself that was unusual. It was the immediacy of the response.  Peter wasn’t quick on the draw about anything.  And here is where Jesus reveals his sense of humor.  We have to understand the culture and language to get the humor and see how funny Jesus really is.  Jesus weaves a masterpiece. 

In ancient cultures, names were symbolically given to children to represent certain character traits.

Simon was Peter’s true name, coming from the Hebrew Shimon, meaning “to hear” or “He who hears.” 

One who hears displays a mind that is alert, sharp, quick witted and perceptive. 

After getting to know Peter in the scriptures, Peter was anything but sharp and perceptive.  

So Peter was given the nickname, Kepa, which indicated he was about as quick as a rock.  We all know that rocks don’t move of their own accord. 

However, the meaning of Kepa shows qualities of protection, shelter and support.”  Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus picks up on Simon’s nickname.  Jesus called him a rock or a support upon which the rock of truth will be the foundation for his church.   Jesus takes a negative image of Peter attributed to him by others and transforms it into a strength.  Of course a foundation has to be stable like a rock.

Jesus not only reveals his sense of humor, he puts a twist on something negative, transforming it to create something to be more than a positive.  Jesus is raising Peter’s spirit to a new level. 

What does this have to do with us?   How many times has God transformed you or something in your life to become more spiritually whole?   How many more times will God visit us and transform some habit, belief, doubt, and our soul more into his Divine Likeness?   I would venture to say, more than we can begin to count. 

I want to clarify a mistranslation of another verse.

The gates of sheol, should replace hell.  Sheol and hell are two different realities.  The word sheol comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to be quiet or the Aramaic word “to cease.”  Sheol was the place where departed spirits went—the departed are “quiet and inactive as they do not talk.”  Sheol was the place of the departed spirits.  Sheol has no negative connotation to it.    Hell, or Gehenna, was the trash dump southwest of Jerusalem where trash was burned.  Gehenna was unclean as it was the place of child sacrifice in previous ages.  

Sheol was the place where the dead slept.  Gehenna was the place for the spiritually dead. 

In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “deliver us from evil.”  This is exactly the power that Jesus transmits to us. 

The resurrection is more than living after we are dead.  The resurrection is the same power to transform spiritual alienation and the evil that it manifests into a state of spiritual balance.  

When I was younger, I had the incomplete understanding that Christianity was about being a good person—totally missing the point.   Christianity, in the words of the Benedictine, Esther de Waal, is “not about being nice. It’s about being real.”  

Jesus’ resurrection makes us real—transforming our crooked places and making us whole—like himself.  

The outcome of all of this is that we can learn to love wholly as Jesus does, because Jesus is himself—the I AM, living in us, transforming our sorrow into joy, our conflict into peace and our darkness into Divine Light. 

This is a whole lot more than being a good person. 

We are in a season of the Church Year, where Jesus who is more than an ordinary human being, comes to transform us into our true selves, reflecting the Divine Nature of his soul in ours.   Trust this.  Taste this.  Live this. 

For the I AM is moving through you us in this very moment, looking for a place he can touch and transform. 

Are we curious as to where Jesus will move in us next? A hint where to begin is that the One who comes to redeem us often meets us in our suffering.

Be expectant.