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." (NRS)
I probably need to start by saying that we do not worship God, the Holy Trinity, as some kind of magical trick performer. God does not go around granting three wishes or making miracles a daily occurrence in our lives. God leaves some things for us to do and gives us some general instructions about what those things are.
What that means is that we have some work we need to do to demonstrate our relationship with God. It is not so much that God needs evidence because God can see into our souls and knows our hearts. However, if we confess that we have a relationship with God, then our actions are going to be different. This is one of the items that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions of the world. We begin with a belief in God’s grace that is our nascent faith, which develops as our relationship with God becomes closer and is shown through our works. All other religions teach that through practices our faith will develop.
Jesus Christ is God with us to encourage that relationship with God. It is easy to that it is hard to have a personal relationship with God the Creator of All Things, but it is much easier to have a relationship with Jesus the carpenter from Nazareth. Christ purifies us, first through forgiveness, then through our repentance, then through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit in us.
Mark’s gospel has us affirm who we believe Jesus Christ to be. During this series and probably on other occasions, you have heard me mention that even the demons of Hell believe that Jesus is Lord, but what do they do about it? They tremble at his name and plead for mercy in his presence. Is that how we want to come before God? To be a Christian is to proclaim Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior and live differently because of it. In this congregation we have people who have given up addictions to alcohol and to drugs because of the love Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives through the helping hands and encouraging words of the people who make up the living body of Christ. We have people in this congregation who have found the joy and strength brought about by serving others in missions. We have people in this congregation who have wrestled with prejudices of race, sexual identity, economic status, and many more issues that divide secular society, but in this church we strive to invite and include as many people as possible. As we heard a few weeks ago, it is not what we take in that defiles us, but what we do with and what comes out. We must be at work purifying the body of Christ from the inside out.
To me this means that if we are using our Christian identity to exclude people from our midst then we are using religion wrongly. We need to be cleansing ourselves of the unrighteousness, the bigotry, the anger, the frustration, the dross that clutters our hearts and souls so we are able to experience the grace of God more fully. I recently saw some pictures depicting our relationship with God as a floor plan of a house. As long as we still have mud on our shoes we cannot enter into the living room and we are stuck outside, knowing that God is inside but that we cannot enter into his presence until we are cleaned of the mess of this world. Once we enter, God continues to cleanse us, making us ready to go everywhere in the house, but we have to leave the angst and hatred of this world outside. I like the metaphor because it helps us visualize how close we can be in relationship with God, and yet we can also visualize those things that separate us.
This brings us back to Mark’s gospel – setting our sight on things eternal and divine. One of the topics I teach is strategic thinking. This is not the same as strategic planning. Strategic planning is necessary because we choose a goal and then establish a road map of how to get there. Strategic thinking means that we look at the map regularly to make sure we know where we are and that we are still on the right course to our objective. Jesus chastises Peter for again thinking of the human things and not the divine. Peter is not thinking strategically.
Jesus purifies us when we have our minds set on the divine things on which God is focused. Setting our minds on the divine is looking at the world as God sees it and instead of feeling overwhelmed we start to live as one that God has already redeemed. We cannot wait for everyone else to get their act together and behave “like Christians.” We have to be the trend setters. People look to us for authentic faith, authentic worship, and authentic lifestyles.