The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19B (Sept. 13, 2015)

Lessons:Isaiah 50:4-9a Psalm 116:1-9 (9) James 3:1-12 St. Mark 8:27-38 Semicontinuous Series Proverbs 1:20-33 Psalm 19 (7) or Wisdom 7:26 – 8:1 (7:28)

Prayer of the Day O God, through suffering and rejection you bring forth our salvation, and by the glory of the cross you transform our lives. Grant that for the sake of the gospel we may turn from the lure of evil, take up our cross, and follow your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

8:27 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?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 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.”  34 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. 35 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. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 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.”

St. Mark 8:27-38 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?

“What does it mean to be a Christian?” That was the name of a video series featuring ELCA Bishop Herbert Chilstrom in the early days of our denomination. It is a good question for us to ask. What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus, the Christ? People have offered many different answers to that question. To be a Christian means having membership in a Christian Church, or believing the teachings that one’s own tradition embraces about Jesus, or having a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ, or declaring faith publicly in the workplace and the neighborhood (or some combination of these). For Bishop Chilstrom, it meant being grounded in God’s grace in such away that causes the believer to live all of life as an opportunity to share this grace with others.

This question stands at the heart of our Bible lessons this morning. The prophet Isaiah describes a faithful person as one who draws closer to God, one who grows deeper in faith, and one who finds strength in the community of faith in which they live. This was especially important in his day, when the people of Judah were threatened by the hostile empires that surrounded them. Isaiah believed their only hope was to stay strong in faith, and trust in God’s ability to deliver them.

Jesus describes a faithful person as one who is willing to suffer and die for the faith. He teaches his listeners that this will happen to him, and they should expect the same for themselves. It doesn’t go over well; not even with his closest followers. Simon Peter protests. He rebukes Jesus. But Jesus, in the strongest response attributed to him in the Gospels, describes Peter’s point of view as being directly opposed to his own: more closely aligned with Satan’s desire than with God’s. While Peter may have strong earthly expectations of what Jesus would accomplish, Jesus is clear on what it means to be the Messiah (Hebrew for “Christ”), and what it means to be one of the Messiah’s followers. It means to hold faithfulness as being even more important than life itself.

So what does it mean to be a Christian? Most interpretations of the Christian faith today describe it as a blessing, a source of strength and inspiration, a gift from God. “Come grow with us.” “Let Jesus light up your life.” “Blessed to be a blessing.” This week’s glimpse of Peter would fit right in well with many Christian congregations today.

How well does the message of Jesus fit into the typical 21st Century Christian congregation? “Come die with us.” “Follow Jesus, no matter what the cost.” “Called to sacrifice for the world.” We rarely hear these slogans in the church today. Yet they seem much closer to the heart of what Jesus taught. Our Lord calls us to follow him by giving of ourselves — of our very lives, if necessary — so others might know his grace. This is a calling believers have resisted from the very start. How do we receive it?.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What were Peter’s hopes for Jesus?
  2. Why was Peter so troubled with what Jesus said?
  3. What was Jesus’ own vision about what it meant to be the Messiah, or to be one of his followers?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. In what ways am I resistant to Jesus’ call to give of myself for his sake?
  2. What would a truly sacrificial lifestyle look like in my setting?
  3. How might I influence my own congregation to be less focused on individual gain, and more focused on sacrificial living?