Sermon – 12 March 2006

Sometimes it can be fun looking at someone else’s favourite books. You tend to be able to see what the most interesting (or juicy) bits are by the way the pages are marked.

The gospels though did not have pages. How do you know where in a gospel the most significant (or the most juicy) bits are to be found.

It is may have been that the gospels were originally bits of parchment passed from hand to hand, though it is equally possible that they were scrolls and used in worship in a similar way to the way that scrolls are used in Jewish worship today.

And, you can often tell a significant bit of a scroll by the writing that is placed at the centre-point. The bit you see first when you first start to unroll it, with equal portions on either side.

If you were to write the Gospel of Mark on a scroll and then begin to unroll it in this way, you would find the that the central verse, the bit which hits you between the eyes is Jesus saying, “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

Right in the middle of the text. Right at the centre. Right at the heart of this gospel we find Jesus, rather sternly ticking off Peter and then starting to talk about those who want to follow him taking up their cross and following him.

Peter could not really have been expected to know the events of what we call Holy Week. Neither he nor the others knew what was coming. But we do. And so did Mark when he wrote it. And so did his audience – the community of Jesus’s followers who were around him, probably in Egypt.

This particular verse is a dividing point in the gospel. Before it we have stories mostly. Parables and miracles. After it, we hear all about Jesus setting his face towards Jerusalem and going there.

Remember, Mark had no precedent. If this was the first of the gospels, he had to work out how to tell the tale. It was carefully constructed around this balancing point.

So why did Jesus shout at Peter? Why did he rebuke him as strongly, merely for suggesting that he look after himself and stop talking about his own suffering and forthcoming death?

There are a few possibilities. Perhaps Jesus already had an inkling into Peter’s fickle nature – the friend who would betray him, the feckless one who would run away when things got tough. Perhaps Jesus really was coming to realise for himself for the first time, the reality of the mission he was on or the risks he was taking in going towards Jerusalem.

It is also possible that Mark tells the story this way in order to diminish Peter and any power that he might have had in the new religious movement that came to become called the church.

Whatever the reason, Jesus tells Peter to focus on divine things and not on human things.

I sometimes find that kind of talk hard to take. I’m more and more convinced that there is only one reality. And God is a part of the human scene. In fact, I think that is one of the great truths that unfolded from Jesus’s own coming at all.

Nonetheless, we still have Jesus’s words to deal with. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” How can we read this in Lent without asking the question of ourselves – what are we prepared to give up for the gospel? What kind of cross will we be called on to bear?

During Lent, we are invited to take something up and perhaps let something go.

I get the feeling that Peter had to let go of all his assumptions about Jesus. Perhaps he assumed that Jesus would offer only comfort and no challenge. Perhaps he assumed that life would be easier rather than more difficult by knowing Jesus. Perhaps he assumed that Jesus would listen to what must have seemed like common sense rather than making extravagant gestures and heading straight for conflict and trouble ahead.

Whatever Peter thought, Jesus was having none of it.

Sometimes we need to let go of our expectations of Jesus too. Perhaps we expect too much of him – a Jesus who will put on magic tricks and find us car parking spaces or rewrite examination papers for us. Perhaps we expect too little of him. Perhaps we expect never to meet him on our journey through life.

Perhaps we all have expectations of Jesus that might be shattered on actually encountering him.

This gospel was the first I preached on here in St Saviour’s. It is 6 years since I came here and my first service was the second Sunday in Lent. I’m going to close by repeating what I said on my first Sunday here. When I spoken then I said this:

If we listen to Jesus, we will hear a call to change. It might mean hearing a call to go somewhere new. It might mean a big change in lifestyle. Or, it might mean something much more difficult, like a

·        change of mind

·        or a change of outlook

·        or a change of attitude.

Perhaps Jesus is saying to Peter. Stop looking at things your way. Look at them from my point of view. Think of that pain I will suffer, for you. For that is the heart of the gospel at this time of year, as we fix our gaze with Jesus on Jerusalem and the site of his crucifixion, we have to think of the pain that he suffered there, with us. Sharing to the last breath what it meant to be human with us.

And still Jesus says to his friend Peter, and to his disciples and to the crowd around them, and to his friends in St Saviour’s, Bridge of Allan, "If you want to know me, then lift your eyes from human things that distract you. Try looking at things through my eyes. Try seeing things in a whole new way. And, if you will become one of my followers, Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me."< /p>

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