Friday, September 11, 2015

Expectations. (Sept 13, 2015)

Homily.  Yr B Proper 24.  Sept 13 2015.  St. Albans Church
Readings:  Proverbs 1.20-33; Ps 19; James 3.1-12; Mk 8.27-38

We all have expectations.  Many of us are starting new phases in our lives this month, new jobs, new homes, a new school year.  And we have expectations for all of these things.  For those of you who are students starting a new year of university, what are your expectations?  Are you expecting a great learning experience?  To meet new friends?  A busy social life?  Hours spent in the library, or hours spent at the pub, or maybe both?

We have expectations of ourselves.  We have expectations about how we’re going to live, and maybe most importantly, we have expectations about what it will take to be happy in life.  Will it take a good education and a good job?  Do we expect to find happiness in romance?  Will we need to travel the world, do we want to party and have fun?  What does it mean to live a good, full and happy life?  Think about that for a moment.  What do you expect an abundant life to look like?  If you’ve got a pencil and paper, jot down a few things.  I’ll give you a moment.

Of course we don’t just have expectations about ourselves and our own lives, we have expectations of others too.  Here in Canada we’re right in the middle of an election campaign, just in case you haven’t noticed.  And we have expectations of the party leaders, the people who are running to be prime minister.  I want you to imagine for a moment that one of the party leaders has announced that he will be making a major speech.  And not just anywhere.  The leader has decided to travel all the way to Ottawa to make this major announcement on Parliament Hill.   And so he makes his way to Parliament Hill, and finds a place with the Parliament Buildings as the background, surrounded by his followers.  The media is there, with their cameras and microphones, and a large crowd gathers.  He begins his speech,

“Friends, I am running to be the prime minister of Canada!”

Wild cheering and applause breaks out from his followers.

“And if I am elected prime minister, my plan is to be rejected by the people of Canada, to suffer immensely, to be an object of ridicule, to be convicted as a criminal and to be thrown in jail.”

The cheering and applause stops abruptly.  The crowd starts to grumble.  The party communications director faints and falls to the ground.  The campaign manager runs up to the podium, takes the party leader aside and starts to berate him.

And all that is nothing compared to what we just read in today’s gospel.

In today’s gospel, Jesus decides that it’s time to make a major announcement, an announcement that he knows will confuse and crush the expectations of his followers, but must be made anyways.  He picks his location, taking his disciples and the crowds that follow them way up north to Caesarea Philippi, a Roman imperial city and a symbol of the military oppression of Israel.  And with the barracks of the Roman legion and the monuments of Roman imperialism as a backdrop, he asks his disciples a question:

“Who do people say I am?”

They answer him, “John the Baptist; and others Elijah; and still others one of the prophets.”

“But who do you say that I am?”

And Peter answers, correctly, “You are the Messiah.”

The Messiah.  The anointed one.    The one that the prophets had been pointing to and all Israel had been waiting for, for hundreds of years.  The one that God would send to defeat the enemy and save the people, restoring Israel to its proper place.  Finally, after years of waiting, after years of oppression and defeat, God was acting and the whole world would finally see what God is like through this Messiah whom he had sent.

And what do we expect God to be like?  What did Peter expect God to be like?

We want a God who is strong.  A God who keeps us safe, a God who helps us prosper, a God who fixes what’s wrong with this world.  If you don’t believe me, just listen to the words of the songs we sing in church.  In the 16th century, Martin Luther wrote his greatest hymn.  What was it called?  “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”.  In our Anglican tradition, one of the all-time favourites is “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation”.  And are we any different in the 21st century?  Well, we started out this morning by singing ‘This is Amazing Grace’.  Listen again to the words of the first stanza:

Who breaks the power of sin and darkness
Whose love is mighty and so much stronger
The King of Glory, the King above all kings
Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder
Who leaves us breathless in awe and wonder
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.  That’s a strong God, a powerful God, a mighty God.  Gimme’ some of that holy thunder.  We want a God who is strong.  That’s what we expect.  That’s what Peter expects.  That’s what he expects of God’s Messiah.

And that’s not what Jesus gives us.

“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

And the communications director faints and falls to the ground, and Peter rushes to the front, pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him.  But Jesus will not turn back.  Because Jesus must show us who God is, and this is the moment when his mission to do just that really gets going.

We want a God who is strong.  Jesus points us to a God who is weak, who suffers, who is vulnerable.  All in the name of love.  Because that is who God is.  God is love.  And that’s a good thing.  Because when we are weak, God is with us in our weakness.  When we suffer, God suffers alongside us.  When we are vulnerable, God meets us in our vulnerability.  When you think about it, you realize that there is a great strength in that.  But it’s not holy thunder.  It is, rather, the strength of rising again.

Jesus points to God.  And then he points to us.  Because if you want to follow Jesus, it will have an impact on your life.  Why?  Because life is like love.  It is meant to be given away.  It is only when you give your life away that you discover what life really is and what it is meant to be.  The only things that  really last, the only things we can hang onto, are the things we give away.  Things like love.  Forgiveness.  Compassion.  Service.

Does that sound confusing?  Difficult maybe?  Does it meet your expectations?  Maybe, maybe not.  For those of you that took me at my word earlier and wrote down your expectations for what a good, happy life would look like, take a look at what you wrote.   Jesus said “those who lose their life will save it.”  Any resonance there with what you wrote down?

You see, this is the pivot point of the gospel.  It’s the moment when Jesus points us to the truth about our lives that is mysterious and difficult to grasp, but is crucial:  that real and abundant life comes through sacrificial love and service to others.

Is that what you expected?

I admit, it’s a bit counter-cultural.  But then again, Jesus always was and always will be.  Love, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, gratitude, humility, vulnerability, sacrifice, trust.  Denying yourself, taking up your cross.  Nobody said it was going to be easy to follow Jesus.  

Oh and he’s leaving now.  He’s back on the road, on his way to Jerusalem, and along the way he’ll show us what this sort of life looks like. 

Are you coming with us?


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