WORDS OF JESUS THAT SHAKE US
Mark 8: 31-38
The Psalmist in chapter 118: declares “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Oh, will we? Will we be glad in this day if deaths occur, or if a son or daughter is in trouble at school, or if a dear friend is in an auto accident? Will we rejoice when a half a dozen people in our area, just in the last month, died of opioid addiction? Will those in later years rejoice as their hearing, their eyesight, or their mind starts to fade? Author Josephine Robertson, in her book Meditations for Later Years, writes this: “Sometimes we have days which we wish the Lord hadn’t made, days when things go wrong, when energy is low, when physical aches and old griefs occur. Far from ‘rejoicing,’ we can identify better with the Psalmist’s cry of despair, ‘ The waters are coming into my soul.’” [Abingdon Press, 1974, p. 22] Last week we recalled that Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit—that is by God. That must have been a hard time. We then looked at Jesus’ wilderness testing and temptation. Jesus was fully human and fully divine according to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, (and based heavily on John chapter one.) Maybe so, but Jesus seems to set aside any ability to save himself in the wilderness; his full mortality was on display. Was he tired at the end of 40 days? Most likely. Was he hungry? Certainly. But in our text today, he was back on his game; he was finally in tune with his Father’s plan. But being in tune and cluing other into it were two different things. Nevertheless he jumped in, telling disciples that he would undergo great suffering, be rejected, be killed, and rise again (meaning come back to life.) What temptations did Jesus still have at this point in his life? Was his divine self sure, and his human self unsure about his future? Can you imagine Jesus being on the fence about anything? Let’s re-imagine the next scene: Simon Peter, who sometimes acted before he thought, took Jesus aside to try to fill him with his own human agenda! “No!” Peter might have said. “I’ll be your body guard!” And his words might have dangled the temptation for Jesus to eject from the heavenly plan before him. Like a fighter pilot finding his or her plane heading toward the ground and ejecting with a parachute, Peter was offering a parachute to Jesus—a caring but misguided effort. Still, I wonder if Jesus was tempted, for a moment, to say “yes” to Peter’s offer. Then he remembered the plan—heaven’s plan—when he gave his sharp retort. He said, “Get behind me Satan!” Author of the book Courageous Faith, the Rev. Emily Heath, has an insightful comment here:
The Hebrew equivalent of the word Jesus calls Peter is ha-satan, which doesn’t mean devil at all. It’s not ever a proper name, really. It means, “the accuser” or “the adversary.” Jesus isn’t saying that Peter is the devil incarnate; Peter is being an adversary. He is standing between Jesus and God’s plan….Almost all of us know what it’s like to have an adversary that keeps us from truly being a disciple. It might be an actual person,…[but more often] we call our adversaries by different names: doubt; fear; pride, addiction, hatred, greed, insecurity, and a million others. They may not be the devil we hear about from fundamentalist pulpits, but they have just as much potential to stand between you and God’s plan.
In my wilderness times, I can recall hearing the voices of my adversaries saying: “You can’t finish!” “You should throw in the towel!” “What if you fail?” “You just don’t have what it takes.” Sometimes my adversaries were people I leaned on for guidance: sometimes adults spoke their opinion to me, but other times it was my friends. As a teenager and beyond, I put a lot of stock in my friend’s words. And sometimes, in hindsight, they were my stumbling blocks. When I built up the nerve to tell my parents I felt called to go into the ministry, there was no parade, no cheering section, no “Thanks be to God.” They said. “Hmmm. That’s a hard life.” And with that I had to say “Get behind me Satan” to those comments. (I didn’t say it out loud!) How might you have been thrown off track over the years by well-meaning friends, coaches, or mentors whose words put a wet blanket over your Spirit-soaring plans? In hindsight, were they right in advising you, or were they a stumbling block for God’s plan? Did you retort, like Jesus did, or did you walk away, troubled or defeated? You see, the adversary is also the adversary of God. We can find that acted out in a biblical play called Job. The adversary, no matter who embodies one in your life, whispers “hopeless” in your ear when God says “hope;” “death” in your ear when God says “life; whispers “doubt” when God says “faith;” whispers “be afraid” when God says “fear not.” Too often our human insecurities cause us to listen to the wrong still, small voice. We listen to the carnal voice instead of the heavenly one. And we can let those voices cripple us, when Jesus is telling us “take up your pallet and walk.”
Perhaps in my examples you have pictured some people in your life who have been adversaries or accusers. They are not Satan, capital s. But they can stand in the way of your potential or of God’s plans whether you are 8 or 18 or 80. So many voices can fill our heads. But who wants to treat finding the voice of God like a “Where’s Waldo?” picture? No. We will need to weigh the adversarial voices with perspective, listening to a neutral voice: a counselor, a pastor, an objective friend, or to God in prayer. The time I was left in a hospital for my health at age two, I called out for my parents: “Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, Daddy!” Little did I know that they were saving me, not abandoning me. Sometimes we go through deep water, and it is necessary. Trusting God to be a good parent, like my parents were to me, can make the question “Who can I trust?” a little easier. Listen to these words:
Two of the most powerful metaphors used by mystics over time are the cloud of unknowing and the dark night. The cloud, as immortalized in The Cloud of Unknowing, envelops you with mist and fog and renders all your attempts to “know” God (in a mental, cognitive sense) ultimately useless. Meanwhile the dark night, as explained by John of the Cross, can visit you more than once….The experiences of darkness, of the cloud, of unknowing, of radical letting-go, may tempt you to abandon your spiritual journey—to retreat into cynicism, into despair, or even ego-driven fantasy. The best safeguard against this derailing of your spiritual journey is continual prayer. [The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Hampton Roads, VA. 2010, pp. 238-240.]
Adversaries are all around us, sometimes taking the roll of friends, like Peter was to Jesus. Sometimes well-meaning comments can drown out the voice of God. In turn, we can choose not to be a stumbling block to others either. In Jesus’ future was a cross, so we could have a ride one day on the celestial railway. We do not want an adversary to derail that train.
Jesus had a cross to bear, and, if we follow him, we may have one too. I’ll close with these words from Thomas a Kempis:
It is not in the nature of [humanity] to bear the cross, to love the cross, to buffet the body and bring it into servitude, to bear insults willingly, to despise oneself and desire to be despised; to bear any adversities and losses, and to long for no prosperity in this world. If you look to yourself, you will not be able to do any of this; but if you trust in the Lord, strength will be given to you from heaven …. But you shall not fear your enemy, the devil, if you have been armed by faith and marked by the cross of Christ.
Jeffrey A. Sumner February 25, 2018