Looking back to the hills from the Morgan Burra Road

Can I give it back now?

Gospel: Mark 8:31-38

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?’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.

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. 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.’

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. 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.’


Sermon (Second Draft)

"If there is a God," wrote Simone Weil — a secular Jew who converted to Christianity, "it is not an insignificant fact, but something that requires a radical rethinking of every little thing. Your knowledge of God can't be considered as one fact among many. You have to bring all the other facts into line with the fact of God.” (quoted by Rev James Eaton, who directed me here.) 

Do you understand here, that what she is saying is that God turns all our other ideas on their head? As we understand God, as we learn more about God, as we meet God, everything else gets turned upside down. We have to bring all our other facts into line with the fact of God.

That's different to how we live. We often seem to think life just goes on. We learn something new, but life goes on the same. What Simmone Weil is getting at is that God changes everything.

We should maybe ask ourselves: Does God make a difference? Would anything change tomorrow if God was not? Would we live differently?


Let's think about God.

In Ezekiel the prophet Ezekiel has an overwhelming vision of God… he describes it in great detail, and after 26 verses we get to God:

26 And above the dome over [the heads of the living creatures] there was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form. (1:26)

He says a little more, and then says: This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

You can see he is very careful to say he can't really define God. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

So there is a vision of God. God is one like a human being… God is like human form. It means that God is not an old man dressed up on a cloud; no, God is something beyond us. We are called to become like God. God is THE HUMAN ONE, and as Genesis 1:26 says, we are made in God's image.

Walter Wink makes it clear what this means.

It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness—which is to say, we are capable of becoming human. (Quoted here)

That certainly turns things on their heads!!!

In the New Testament, Jesus is called lots of things: Rabbi, Lord… but he calls himself  the Son of Man.

Wink believed that when Jesus called himself the Son of Man he was referring to the vision of Ezekiel who saw that God was the Human One. "I am the Son of the Human One— the son of Man," said Jesus. So "to bring all the other facts into line with the fact of God," perhaps it's not surprising that Jesus said

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…

even though that's the last thing people expected about the Messiah. If God turns everything upside down, perhaps it's not surprising that the Messiah will be rejected and die.

And if God turns everything upside down, perhaps it's not so surprising that Jesus said about following him,

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. 

Because if we are "only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human…" if we but "see glimpses of our humanness," then our ideas of what the Messiah will be like will be equally broken.

It's likely that Peter thought— as you would— that the Messiah would have a long powerful reign. He was probably expecting someone like Queen Elizabeth, 65 years on the throne. Maybe he thought there would be something… never ending about this reign.

But Jesus says the way Peter imagines the Messiah is satanic… It doesn't mean that Peter's idea is especially evil. It just means it's dead wrong. The way to be Messiah is actually through dying…

And this is not just Jesus' way to be the Messiah. It's our way…to life. We only come to life through death…

This is the crux of everything I am trying to say in this sermon: We only come to life through death. Trying not to die means we lose life.


So is all this just Minister's melodramatic language??? I mean… can't we be Christian, but go on more or less the same?  Well, I guess wecan… and I don't think God will reject usin the end… but I think it will be a paler kind of life.

I used to watch the other kids play cricket as a little kid at school, in Grade One. I would sit under the Kurrajongs and say I was not interested. Which probably fooled no one. I was… scared. That hard ball was very intimidating for a six year old.  I said I was not interested, but I was filled with sadness and longing because I could not grasp hold of the life everyone else had.

It's the same as the beach.  You can't have the joys of the beach, or the surf, until you face the fear of the water which may drown you, and the fear of sharks which may tear you to pieces.

Two of my friends went to the obligatory prenatal film… the one they show the newly expecting parents a video of a baby being born, so they have some idea of what it will be like having the baby. Linley told me the presenter said people often found it a very confronting movie, "So we leave the lights off for a couple of minutes after the end to give you a chance to get yourself together."

It was confronting. The film finished, and everyone sat, very silent, in the darkness. Then a small voice said, "Can I give it back now?"

There are two things we know. Once we're pregnant, we can't give the baby back. And once we are alive, we are going to die. There is no other way out.

The only question is, "Will we spend our lives living in fear, or will we begin to practice dying, getting ready to die?"

My job is to help people discover that death is the way to life, rather than the end of us.  It's a hard lesson for us to learn as biologically based personalities. The deep brain-- the primitive brain-- has evolved to stay alive at all costs— it is designed to fear death as a survival mechanism.  And we live in a death denying culture— much more than our grandparents did. Houses once had a front parlour, now they have a living room. The dead are removed immediately to the funeral parlour, and we prefer them to die in hospital, not at home. But to be human is to overcome our biology, and to learn to die.

We Christians understand that compassion is the Jesus' way to practise for death; compassion is the way into the little deaths that come from giving up the privilege of safety, and compassion is the way into the little deaths that come from beginning to live alongside the vulnerable. Compassion is not charity; compassion is to suffer with, and to risk the dangerous life of those without power. (These two paragraphs are adapted from here.)

Compassion believes "all souls are loved the same" by God. And it doesn't just believe that; it lives it out.

Living compassionately is like getting pregnant… it's exciting— we find new, growing experiences, things change in us… and then we realise we are kind of stuck… we have to have the baby… You women know about this better than me,  I'm just guessing,  although I know I was terrified my wife would die. 

Compassion traps us just the way love of a partner does— and the way pregnancy does. It's the same territory. We get into things where we are right out of our depth … and we have to live through the consequences… and sometimes come out the other end scarred by the new birth.

Sometimes it kills us. But unless we face the little deaths of compassion, and the always real possibility of our final death because we were compassionate, we never grow. Instead, we are always somehow on the sidelines of life, if we play it safe in life, or if we just live for ourselves. Compassion is the refusal to play safe, and the refusal to live for ourselves.

My distant school cricket experience still shocks me a little… the sadness, after so long, is quite sharp.  The trauma of school meant I stayed out of a lot of other stuff too, but this kept life at a distance, and  I was always missing out.

Taking up the cross of Jesus by living compassionately, has brought me off the sidelines and into the centre of the game of life. Into places I did not anticipate, and never imagined. And it is sometimes terrifying.  I keep ending up in places where I want to give the baby back, but it's too late…

But I'm in the game… I'm not sitting sad under the tree on the sidelines… I'm not wondering what people are talking about in so much of the joys of life.

Save your life... give it up; stop playing safe... risk dying. It's where life is. Amen.


Andrew Prior (2018)
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

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