Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 14, 2003
The Gospel: Mark 8:27-38
Sermon: "Divisiveness is not of God"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus 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?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then 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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But 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." He 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. 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those 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."
Divisiveness is not of God
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 14, 2003
A friend of mine had just returned from a journey. He had flown back from his trip on Friday morning and I was talking with him on Saturday. On the flight he sat down next to a well-dressed man in the coach section. After he settled into his seat he took out his Bible to do his daily study.
The man next to him noticed the Bible. He turned to face my friend and asked him, "Are you a Christian?" My friend replied cordially, "Yes, I am." The man looked at him and said, "I am a Satanist." Needless to say my friend was a bit shocked. This man was well dressed, neatly groomed, and well mannered. He was a bit taken back by this proclamation of belief. Instead of turning away he responded to this man with conversation. He said, " Well, as a Christian I believe in God. Then he asked, "What do you believe?" The man replied, "Satanists believe in God too. We just believe that God has lost the battle. As you believe Jesus is the Son of God and has conquered evil. We believe that Satan won when Jesus was killed on the cross. Satan will rule at the end of time, not God." My friend thought about this reply for a minute and then asked, " We worship God and profess Jesus as the King of Peace and Love. We pray to God and we pray for peace in the world. How do you worship and how do you pray?" The man easily replied, "As you worship God we worship Satan. We believe God has lost the battle. Those who worship Satan will be the ones who receive power when he takes his place as ruler of the world. You pray for peace. You pray for unity in your churches, your families, and your lives. We pray to Satan for strife, battle, enmity, and power. We pray to Satan for the breakdown of relationships. We pray for your clergy to have trouble in their personal and family lives. Then they can not be good leaders. We pray for fighting in the lives of your church people. We pray for the breakdown of the family. We want strife. We want pain. When these things occur Satan's power grows." Needless to say my friend was shocked. As he related the story to me he was quite shaken. He was trying hard to process what he had heard. He found it difficult to believe that there are people who pray for strife and discord. He found it hard to believe that there are people who want anger and hurting to prevail. He had never met anyone who actually wanted to thwart the will of God intentionally. He was emotionally and spiritually distraught at this revelation.
Let's think for a moment about Peter in this morning's reading. Jesus is going to Jerusalem. He tells the disciples he must suffer and die. He is trying to tell them that he is the offering for our sins. He is not just the offering for our sins today. He is the offering for the sins of all humanity past, present, and future. He has come into the world to offer himself so that we might have reconciliation and redemption. Peter does not want the event to happen. He is tempting Jesus to disobey the will of God. Peter wants Jesus to stay and become the Messiah as he understands the scripture. In tempting Jesus to follow worldly ways and means he is playing into the hands of the evil one. If Jesus does not go to the cross, if Jesus does not die for our sins, then God's will of reconciliation and redemption would not occur. In a way I feel sorry for Peter. I believe he had no idea what he was suggesting or saying. He did not want his friend and teacher to talk about death. He wanted his Messiah to talk about Jerusalem in glory and power.
Over the last ten days I have been to two meetings concerning the votes taken at The General Convention. I have listened carefully at both events. The first meeting was a report concerning all of the aspects of the Convention with a time to comment or ask our Bishop questions. At this meeting the vast majority of people who spoke disagreed with the Bishop. In fact, very few had anything positive to say and many decided to throw stones. Some people called for everyone present to withhold their pledge to hurt the diocese and the national church. It appeared that some people just wanted to hurt Michael and Gary personally. Some of the attacks were quite brutal.
The other meeting was with the clergy and the bishops. At this meeting there were also some brutal and harsh words spoken. These words were spoken by people on both sides. Clergy in favor and clergy against the vote threw some pretty sharp and pointed barbs at one another. I was not happy with the results and I found the meeting difficult.
Right now, the church as a whole is not united. The church has lost its focus and many people are drawing battle lines. Satan is winning the day at this time. Calls for division and non-support are an answer to the Satanist's prayer. They are certainly not an answer to our prayers.
Division in the church has always caused pain. Even in the earliest times of the church division has torn the people of God apart. I am not asking for all of us to agree. I am not asking for us to build a campfire and sing Kum By Yah. I am asking the church to stay united. I am asking people not to withhold their pledges to the church. I am asking people to pray for unity. I am asking for us to stay united in order to do the will of God.
We at St. Thomas' are in a good place. I know we have people on all sides of the issue. However, we are staying together. We are coming together as the people of God to do the work of God. We come to worship. We come to pray. We come to support the work of God in this community. Here is an example. I have heard many calls for not supporting the diocese or the church financially. Here at St. Thomas' we have a budget of approximately $165,000. Our diocesan assessment was $19,000 last year. That means $146,000 of our budget, 88 percent stays in this church, in this town, in this community to do the work of God here. The money that is sent to the diocese helps pay the salaries of the entire staff. We help pay insurance. We help pay for the Christian education Program and the Youth Program, which includes Happening. We help support the outreach of the diocese in building new missions and supporting projects like the farm ministries. Very little of our contribution goes to the National Church. To cut our pledges hurts us and prevents us from doing the work to which God has called us.
We are the Body of Christ in the world today. We are called to be agents of reconciliation in the world in which we live. We are called to tell people about the love of God in Jesus Christ. We are called to baptize in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are called to minister to God's hurting and lonely people. We are called to be a prayerful community of peace and love even when we disagree. Let us not disregard the importance of the cross. Let us hold the meaning of Christ's sacrifice high for all to see. Let us show in our actions of that Jesus Christ has won the day. Let us be the incredible people God has called us to be. AMEN