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2009-09-11 by David Howell

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The Unlikely Jesus

Saving Your Life


A Divine Relationship


"Rewriting Jesus' Job Description"
2009-09-11 by Alyce M. McKenzie

PREACHING THE LESSON from Lectionary Homiletics

Mark 8:27-38

In last week’s “preaching the lesson,” I pointed out that in a story the main character has to have a burning desire, and it is out of that desire that plot grows. We noted that the Syro-Phoenician woman’s desire was for her daughter to be healed (7:24-37). This week we focus on Peter’s confession and Jesus’ corrective teaching (8: 27-38). Peter’s desire is to have control of Jesus’ identity. He wants to be Jesus’ handler.

Every good story needs conflict. Conflict is generated when the desires of the characters do not coincide, but rather, collide. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has a burning desire to draw people toward repentance and participation in the kingdom of God (1:15). The disciples desire to hitch their star to Jesus’ wagon, only they don’t understand the wagon. The Pharisees’ chief desire is to get rid of Jesus.

It promises to be quite a plot. What about you? You’re quite a character! What is your desire as you enter this story? Let’s keep that question in mind as we walk through this scene of Peter’s confession and Jesus’ corrective teaching, because when we place our deepest desires in the path of Jesus’ deepest desires, sparks fly. Out of those sparks a sermon comes.

Every text is a sandwich, placed between what went before and what comes after. Before this story of Peter’s confession and teaching by Jesus about discipleship, Jesus has been quite busy. He has cured a deaf man (7:31-37), fed 4,000 people (8:1-10), rebuked his disciples for their lack of spiritual sight (8:14-21) and given sight to a blind man (8:22-26). Right after this text comes the Transfiguration  (9:2-8).

This makes me think that this text, sandwiched between a blind man receiving sight and the Transfiguration, the sign of spiritual sight for all, is an opportunity for us to make a choice to see or not to see in a spiritual sense. It offers us the choice to cling to our familiar, self-centered desire or to exchange our desire for Jesus’ desire,
Mark intends for readers to see in the disciples a cautionary tale, to see, in their thick headedness, where we are headed if we don’t get our desires right. Not only do they repeatedly contest Jesus’ predictions of his death and resurrection, but they also display lack of faith in the two miracle-at-sea stories (4:35-41 and 6:45-52). “But wait,” as the infomercial says, “There’s more!”  They also desert Jesus after dramatically promising that they will risk death rather than deny him (14:29-31).

If I had been a disciple, standing around in this scene, when Peter blurts out the right answer (“You are the Messiah”) before any of the rest of us had the chance, I would have thought, “Well, yeah! We’ve been watching Jesus healing, feeding and teaching for how long now? Who else could he be?” My jealousy would have been short lived though. Because Peter’s about to get put in his place, and with all of us looking on. It’s hard not to feel a little gleeful when the teacher’s pet gets corrected.

Peter was corrected (8:32) because, in answering Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” he got the job title right. Messiah!  But not the job description. Suffering and service. He takes Jesus by the elbow and pulls him off to the side. Sometimes handlers, agents, publicists, and personal assistants have to take their “Talent” aside and get his or her mind right. It’s interesting that the text specifies that Jesus turned and looked at his disciples before he rebuked his would-be handler (8:33).

He wants us to listen in. This is just one example of Jesus correcting one of his disciples or a group of them. He has to do that a lot in Mark, because in this gospel they don’t learn much of anything. In Mark 8:31-10:34 Jesus predicts his death and resurrection three times. After each prediction, one or more of the disciples objects (8:31; 9:31-32; 10:33-34). In each case, Jesus offers a correction that warns them that their desire needs to be replaced by his. Their desire to gain prestige and luxury must be replaced by willingness to suffer and to embrace loss (Mark 8:34-38). Their desire to lord it over others must give way to a desire to serve those society views as insignificant (9:35-37).

In this correction Jesus identifies Peter’s motives with those of Satan who, in Mark’s terse account, is said to have tempted Jesus in the wilderness (1:13). But let’s not be too rough on Peter. Our desires need correcting too. We want to be Jesus’ handlers, too. We are quite happy to give him the title Messiah, but we want to be the ones to write his job description.

Let’s not be too tough on Peter. Because he was operating out of his religious upbringing, and it had two job descriptions for Messiah, the Hebrew term meaning “anointed,” the Greek for which is Christos. They competed with each other and sometimes overlapped. One was that Messiah would be a descendant of David and would come to restore and vindicate God’s people and then rule over a blessed era of earthly peace. The other was that he would be an otherworldly being who would return at the end of this age to pass judgment on enemies and vindicate the righteous (Son of Man). There was no notion of connecting the Suffering Servant of Isaiah with the Messiah they expected. But this is what Jesus did.

Let’s not be too tough on Peter, just because he was setting his mind on human desires, not on divine desires. Just because he was thinking about himself and how who Jesus was affected him, what he had to lose, what he would be called on to risk. Because we are too.

I have often thought that, if Jesus had preached three point sermons with a poem at the end, he would have lived a lot longer. Whoever finds will lose and vice versa?”  What will it profit you to gain the world and forfeit your life? These paradoxical sayings and impossible questions of his kill me—and are part of what killed him. Because they’re challenging and offensive. What feels like gain to us is actually loss? What initially feels like loss (of ambition, control, and comfort) leads to gain? Our desires for wealth, prestige, control of others and a risk-free life will lead to loss and death? Jesus’ path of self-giving, radical love for God and others leads to life? This is a hard sell and a bitter pill.

But look who’s offering it. Right after this text is the Transfiguration, when we get a clear, though momentary, glimpse of who it is who is asking us to replace our natural desires with God’s. Better get going up that mountain.

Alyce M. McKenzie
Perkins School of Theology
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, TX

Healing and Homosexuality
2009-09-04 by David von Schlichten

My denomination, the ELCA, just approved the ordination of openly gay people. I rejoice over this decision, but some of my parishioners are appalled. Last Sunday I preached for people to agree to disagree. That is, even if a person disapproves of the ELCA decision, she or he can still remain part of the ELCA. After all, we Christians disagree all the time, but God's love through Christ is greater than disagreements over issues such as the ordination of openly gay people.

Yesterday, a parishioner left an angry and hurt phone message in which she lamented that I did not criticize the ELCA's decision. She wondered if I had been brainwashed by my denomination.

I pray that Christ can bring healing to us in the ELCA so that we can all continue to worship together even if we disagree over homosexuality.

I am hoping to address such healing in some manner this Sunday, but I need to be delicate.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Welcome, Guy Kent!
2009-09-03 by David Howell

Guy Kent is a retired elder of the United Methodist Church serving as a supply pastor for a congregation in Northwest Georgia. He is known in the internet circles as The Questing Parson through his blog at

This Gospel Lesson Is Personal
2009-09-03 by Guy Kent

“Dad, you need to come to the hospital,” the voice on the phone said. “It’s Christi.”

My daughter, four months pregnant with her second child, had for no apparent reason gone into a seizure and immediately afterward fallen into a coma. I rushed to the hospital and entered into the agony of every helpless parent with a child in the hospital.

Around one in the morning my sons came to me. “Dad, the doctors say she only has about a 10% chance of making it through the night.” My life stopped. It just stopped. Everything was on hold. The world stood still. That helpless child of mine was the only reality of my universe. I would have done anything. I would have sold my soul.

She made it through the night. And then the doctor, the famous neurosurgeon that had been brought in, called us together in a family counseling room. He still did not know what was wrong. He wanted to try a drug. But the drug would kill the baby.

This Syrophoenician woman is a friend of mine. We are kindred spirits. We have both experienced that devastation that comes when the demons are at work on your child. We both have begged him to bring healing. And we both have felt abandoned, alone, without hope. And so we argued with God.

Days later my child awoke. Days after that the doctors conducted tests. They discovered the virus that had caused the tragedy. They developed a recovery program. And then the doctor gave us startling news. “The virus was in every tissue of her body,” he said, “except for her womb. And that’s impossible.”

The woman and I know the uplifting exuberance that comes from finding your child alive on the bed, the demon gone. I do not know how the woman in the lesson celebrated, but when my granddaughter was born, she was named Faith.

Five years ago I married Lynn, who, as had I, lost her spouse. Lynn was a member of my church by when I was young and handsome, fit and smart. The last time I had seen her son was in that earlier day. He was three years old then. As his pastor, I learned to get his attention at church. I would raise my foot and stomp with all my might upon the floor. Chris would then turn to me for he had felt the vibration. I never called to him for Chris is deaf.

Chris is a college graduate. He’s astute and informed. But Chris is in a prison. I cannot know what it is like in there, in that silent world that we hearing people cannot understand.

Chris is patient with me as I try to communicate with him. The problem, you see, is I learn finger spelling by looking at the back of my hand. But when I try to read his finger spelling I’m looking at the front of his hand. Truth be told, Chris thinks me a little slow.

There is a rage in Chris. It’s a rage that comes from not being able to hear and not being able to talk. To walk about a world encased in a box of silence where everyone is isolated from the other boils frustration into a rage that sometimes bursts forth.

I smile at the verse 32 in the text. “They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech ...” What deaf person does not? It is the doubled locked door of the box of silence.

I am trying to imagine the Lord looking up to heaven, sighing and saying to Chris, “Ephphatha,” that is “Be opened.” The deaf man in the story felt his ears opened and his tongue released. If Chris experienced that do you suppose he would tell anyone? If Chris experienced that do you suppose I would tell anyone?

Who does Jesus think he’s kidding.

This reading speaks to me. It speaks for I know the little girl who was healed. It speaks for I am family of the one who cannot hear nor speak.

As I read the commentaries for today’s lessons it I am taken with the efforts to explain why Jesus healed the Gentiles. The writer we are told is reaching out to show Jesus love extends beyond the Jews. The writers are no doubt right. But there’s more.

Jesus is about the business of healing. My granddaughter turns backflips and dashes through this life as one who has been healed. My daughter has given birth to another child since then. She keeps telling me to quit spoiling them.

When you get down to the nitty gritty of this lesson it’s about a little girl and a deaf man in need of healing. I give thanks every day that my child woke from her coma, healed. And I practice and practice every day to get more proficient with that sign language so that I, until Chris’ healing comes, can do everything possible to penetrate that prison cell of silence.

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