Sunday, September 16, 2018

Jesus-The Messiah of Losers (Sermon)

“Jesus - The Messiah of Losers”
Mark 8:27-38
Allen Huff
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he began to teach them that 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. 32He said all this quite openly.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He 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. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (NRSV)

         Early last week a prominent televangelist publicly stated that Hurricane Florence missed his area because of his prayers. He then implied that if people in Georgia and the Carolinas had his faith, God would favor them, too, and send the storm to hit people who didn’t matter. All cruel vanity aside, if this guy can really affect the weather, why he doesn’t just pray that deadly storms don’t even form in the first place?
The man’s remarks are simply another example of something that’s been true throughout human history: Competitive, potent, and privileged cultures tend to worship whatever god or gods seem to favor winners.
         Now, we deserve a little credit. Most of us here have a sufficiently healthy image of God, enough compassion and simple decency to know that wealth and power have nothing to do with God’s favor. While I think we know that, we’re constantly bombarded by proclamations and displays of thanksgiving to the god of winners. The conflation of state with church or synagogue or mosque may be the most complicated and perilous of signs, but other things work on us, too – simple things. The athlete crosses home plate, throws a touchdown, or drains another three-pointer, and afterward, he kisses his fingers and points to the heavens. The synonymy of God and worldly victory creates a self-serving ethic because it creates God in our image.
If any part of us still wants or expects Jesus to be the Messiah of winners, we can relate to Simon Peter.
When Jesus called him, Peter was a dyed-in-the-wool, god of the winnerskind of guy. He knew about the Exodus and Miriam’s song: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously, horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:21)
Peter would have known the prayer of Jabez who “called on the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!” (1Chron. 4:10)
Peter would have known about Israel’s prophetic tradition which often compares Yahweh to a warrior laying waste to enemies and their lands. He would have known about the perceived promise to David of an eternal, earthly throne.
While Peter would have known all of these things and more, he may have felt like a loser. He was, after all, just a lowly Jewish fisherman in a Roman territory.
Jesus knew all of that, too. He knew that the Roman authorities and the complicit Jewish leaders would take offense at his ministry. He knew that oppressed Jews wanted their long-awaited Messiah to lead them in a military revolution and make Israel the once-and-for-all winnerin Palestine. And they wouldn’t take kindly to a Messiah who didn’t deliver thatvictory.
So, Jesus’ question, “Who do people say that I am?” is laden with the baggage of Israel’s expectations.
The disciples say: They think you’re the return of one of the prophets.
Maybe Jesus feels the question inside that answer: Are you our hero. Are you our victorious deliverer?
So, Jesus strips it down: “Who do you say that I am?”
“You are the Messiah,” says Peter.
Don’t tell anyone, says Jesus. Then, he tells his disciples that he’s going to be rejected by the religious authorities. He’s going to suffer at their hands, and be killed by them.
Peter lashes out saying, No! If you’re the Messiah, you will NOT be a loser! We worship the god of winners!
Only in hell, says Jesus. So, “get behind me Satan!”
Jesus does not promise the kind of victory that Peter expects from the Messiah. Jesus doesn’t promise that if people go to church and pray hard enough, they’ll enjoy comfortable and easy lives. He doesn’t promise that believers will be winners. Jesus himself will pray until he sweats blood, but Hurricane Friday will still blow into Jerusalem. The storm surge of frustration and fear will dash Jesus against the rocks of Roman judgment. And Israel’s hopes will drown – for the time being.
 Here’s what Jesus does promise: “If any want to become my followers…deny [yourself] and take up [your] cross and follow me…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.”
Jesus is the Messiah of Losers. How many followers do we still have for that Messiah? How many takers for his promise?
The thing about Peter is that, beneath his selfish and reactionary fear, he really does understand. Remember, when Jesus said, “Follow me,” Peter and Andrew dropped everything. They left their nets, their livelihood, their family, their security. They lost their lives to follow Jesus. And they’re still learning to live into new life with Jesus.
The deaths we die when choosing to follow the Messiah of Losers are usually slow and painful. But discipleship is all about letting go. It’s about losing ourselves into something bigger, deeper, and holier. It’s about losing ourselves into the conscious awareness and acceptance of this new thing called the kingdom of God. And math in the kingdom is backward. Growth as Jesus followers happens by subtraction. To experience and participate in the kingdom, we turn loose, because grasping at material things inevitably makes us dependent on violence and exploitation.
Sure, we need food, shelter, community, and some degree of security. And Jesus calls us to harmonize those needs with discipleship. That’s why we need the Messiah of Losers. He promises that losing fearful and selfish ambition frees up more space in our lives for us to hold on to Jesus and to his gospel.
Again, you know this. You know the things we crave but which separate us from God and from each other.
Listen, I love my righteous indignation toward anyone who pushes my buttons. (As the beginning of this sermon makes clear!) But even when I think my views have merit, if over committed to my own opinions, I become Pharisaic and arrogant. When my decisions and attitudes reveal that I believe God is onmy side, my way of life begins to diminish the lives of others. And I consider their loss my own God-ordained win. And that diminishes my life, as well.
So, Jesus says, Allen, lose that attitude. Lose that old life and that old self. You’re making someone else’s life a living hell. Make more room for following me.
Like Peter, I have trouble hearing that. But when I intentionally relinquish even some of my selfishness or fear, I realize that – while I still have arthritis, a bad back, 20 extra pounds, and a whole barnyard of neuroses – I begin to experience new awareness of and appreciation for what life becomes when I have a little more Jesus and a little less Allen. And oddly enough, when that happens, I begin to feel more like myself than ever.
Less really is more with Jesus – the Messiah of Losers.