Friday, September 14, 2012

Proper 24, Year B

The Cost of Discipleship

Readings: Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

Rumours pose a problem when it comes to famous people. Elvis continues to be spotted, apparently alive and well and living in Memphis. When Michael Jackson died he took some of that hype over from “the King”. After his funeral there were eye witness accounts of his crossing the border into Mexico, of his lounging around a pool chatting with his friends, and best of all, of him working with the CIA.

Often the rumour mills focus on the Royal Family. This week their private life was once again invaded as the paparazzi took pictures of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge vacationing at a private home in the middle of nowhere. It seems that people who would take such photos cannot or will not learn from past mistakes.

These days of instant communication it is easy to start a rumour. We can tweet it or post it on Facebook and in a moment or two everyone on your contact list has the bit of gossip complete with picture. Privacy is a thing of the past.

But then, rumours have always been a problem. James warns the early Christians to be careful of what they say about other people. His admonition is not simply about being tactful or holding back what we really think, but a reminder that we are made in God’s image, and our attitudes towards other people should reflect our understanding of what that means; indeed it should reflect our faith.

If someone spread an untrue or confusing rumour about you, how would you fight it or persuade people to accept your word and truth? How might the stories or inaccuracies affect your life in rather negative ways? It is good to know what people are actually saying about you. Maybe some of those things are behind Jesus’ question to the disciples in today’s gospel. After all, there were many misconceptions about who Jesus was. Even the disciples were not always clear. And so Jesus asks them, “Who do people say that I am?”

Often we are the last one’s to hear the rumours in the rumour mill. Jesus is wise to check it out with his followers who are more likely to hear what is going on than he. And he gets back a rather ominous list. John and Elijah and the prophets were all on pretty dangerous paths. If popular opinion was right, then the future could be pretty precarious for Jesus.

The conversation does not stop there. Jesus asks a further question, a far more important one for Peter to come up with an answer. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus knows human nature. What we have heard about people often informs our own opinions of them and of what they have accomplished. He needs to know how his followers view him. It is one of the great moments in the gospel, a time for commitment, for soul searching, for decision making.

Peter answers. He answers intuitively. He answers from the heart. “You are the Messiah, the anointed one.” He knew what it meant, at least to a certain extent. It must have been a shock to him to hear it coming out of his mouth. He must have begun to realize the implications of being a follower of Jesus. If he did not get the full impact of his statement, certainly Jesus’ words about suffering and dying and rising again would give him pause for reflection. That is why Peter rebukes him. He cannot face reality. He cannot yet face the cost of discipleship.

We all come to the point where we need to honestly answer Jesus’ question. He is standing there, asking each one of us, “Who do you say that I am?” There are so many answers. I realize that over my lifetime I have changed my mind many times about who Jesus is. Is Jesus a freedom fighter? That was probably in Peter’s mind. There are many who see Jesus as liberator. Saviour, redeemer, creator, nurturer, friend, brother, companion, Lord, God, Almighty, King!

As it did for Peter and the disciples, it comes down to the real question. “Are you going to deny yourself and follow me?” As with Peter it needs to sink in to us not only who Jesus is but what the cost will be of following him.

Self denial is difficult for all of us. Sacrificing ourselves in the sense of denying the self in our lives is difficult enough. We live in a society where so much is available to us that we come to have a sense of entitlement for anything we might want. It stops being about what we need and becomes far more about needing everything our heart desires. If we find it difficult to deny ourselves things that we crave how much more do we resist the thought of giving ourselves over to God?

There is a wonderful story about Bob Dylan talking about it in his own life. “Jesus tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Bob, why are you resisting me?” I said, “I'm not resisting you!” He said, “You gonna follow me?” I said, “I've never thought about that before!” He said, “When you're not following me, you're resisting me.”

What if everything we have done in our religious living and personal relationship with God has been for all the wrong reasons? What if we do what we do because we are looking for rewards, for Brownie points? What if we are following Jesus simply because we think it will be a way to avoid suffering, persecution and death? What if we are simply trying to cover all the bases?

That is why the question is so important. It is only when we accept who Jesus is that he can begin to teach us the consequences of our allegiance. What is Jesus teaching us? It is about our identity as Christians. It is about wearing that mark of allegiance as Christians. “I sign you with the sign of the cross and mark you as Christ’s own.” Those are the words we use at Baptism. We take chrism oil and make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the newly baptized. As I prepare children for baptism I always remind the children and their parents that they have an invisible marker on their forehead. They belong to Christ. It always reminds me of Jack. He was four years old when I prepared him for baptism. He was a bright little boy with a lot of questions. I showed him the chrism oil and talked to him about making the sign of the cross on his forehead. For many years after he would ask me if I could still see the sign of the cross on his forehead. I have to say, I always do.

That invisible marker, that sign of the cross, that promise at baptism, needs to result in action in our lives. We need to be servants of Christ. We need to deny ourselves and follow Christ.

Dorothy Day, a contemporary American saint was a tireless worker. She started the Catholic Worker movement, opened homes for the homeless and community farms for the poor. She was special. She did extraordinary things. Yet she became quite indignant when told that.

“You say that I am special because you don’t want to do what you see me do. You can easily do what I do, but by convincing yourself that I am someone special you can escape from your own responsibility. We are not so different. You can do what I do.”

What is the cost of discipleship? It costs everything. It requires becoming a servant. It requires action. It requires sacrificing ourselves. That is difficult. Somehow it is easier to leave it all to Jesus, and to join him in a kind of fan club. But God does not intend us to be mere spectators. We are co-responsible. And what Jesus is saying so clearly in this passage is that when we take responsibility, when we deny ourselves, when we become disciples, we become more truly human. We discover our true self.

The gospel warrants a few choice rumours being spread around. “Jesus spotted alive in Port Hope Church” the headline reads. The article goes on to talk about the wonderful things that are happening in our lives here in this parish. We are hearing and responding to the word of God. We are witnessing to our faith. We are reaching out into the community. We are growing in grace. Amen

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