The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - September 16, 2018
   Scripture: Mark 8:31-38       
Sermon Title: “Who do you say I am?”

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     Life is like a roller-coaster. I am not the first one to say that, but at least for me it is kind of like a roller-coaster in the dark, like Space Mountain at Disney.  Sometimes it feels like I am climbing up, a few days before any graduation, high school, college, or seminary.  All your papers are done, you know you are going to pass everything, up and up and up.  New job, promotion, raise, going higher and higher.  Marriage and children, even higher.  It’s dark. I can not see how high I can climb, but then without warning the bottom drops out.  The loss of a job or a loved one.  There are a lot of smaller drops. Getting passed over for that raise or promotion.  Trying to have children without success.  Even just someone who is saying something not nice can cause you to drop a little bit each time. 

     And then Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You do not have in mind the things of God!”  Wow, can you say downer? The bottom dropped out from under him.  Peter was doing well, answering the questions of Jesus, and he correctly identified Jesus as the son of God.  Then Jesus starts getting all strange on him, talking about dying, and so Peter takes him aside to have a little chat, and this is when Jesus tells Peter where to go.

     It is hard to imagine this because we know the whole story.  Jesus is going to be hung on a cross, die, and after three days, rise from the dead.  But put that aside in your brain for a minute.  Imagine yourself as a follower of Jesus.  Maybe you can not clearly say why you are following him, but there is something about him, something different, something special.

     Maybe this is the moment you have been waiting for.  I have told you before that King David, despite his faults, was still seen as the perfect King of the United Monarchy.   It has been almost 1,000 years since the Kingdom split, and here is a man of the House of David, David’s great, great, great, for about 1000 years of greats, grandson.  He is going to make his move, take back the land from the Romans, recreate the United Monarchy, and he will be the new King. 

     I am sure that all of us have felt this at some point in the past 30 years.  You have heard some politician speak and thought “Yes, he or she is right on the money, they would be great in office.”  And that was exactly what Jesus’ disciples were saying about him.  The plan has not been spelled out yet, but he can multiply food, that will be nice.  He can heal people, that will also be nice.  And he is the Son of God, that is a big plus. 

     And his closest followers, his disciples, although probably not assured, will probably be taken care of by King Jesus.  Big Kingdom, Jesus is going to need others in his government he can trust.  He can appoint them to posts, nominate them as judges, get them some kind of appointment, big salary, nice house, all the perks. 

     So Jesus lays out his plan for taking land back from the Romans, re-creating that United Monarchy, and making himself King of this land.  His great plan includes: to undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed.  No wonder Peter said “Jesus, let’s keep your mouth shut.” 

      But Jesus does not keep his mouth shut, invites anyone who will listen to follow him, deny yourself and take your cross and follow me.  Want to save your life, you will lose it.   End up losing your life for my sake, you will save it.  Remember that roller coaster?  The disciples were in free fall at this point.  Even if you take away almost everything else, Jesus said he is going to be killed.  So Jesus, how exactly are we going to do this with you dead?  And not only you die, but you want us to follow you on this crazy path?  They are going to kill you, Jesus, and then we are also going to be killed, and this is your great plan?  Just from a practical standpoint, being alive helps you to do most things.  But, of course, we know that God’s kingdom on earth reaches across borders, across oceans and really has little concern with our human elected or appointed leaders. 

     We are preoccupied with material things.  I am guilty of it.  Over the past few weeks I have noticed that the battery in my cell phone is starting to die.  Slowly, so not an emergency, but becoming an annoyance.  Looked for a replacement battery; it is officially non-removable, so will take a bit more work than just popping out the old and putting in a new.  But maybe, with the amount of work, and the age of the phone, I should just buy a new phone.  I think it happens to everyone.  It is easy for us to get too involved in the material things of life.  When my washing machine died, I spent a good week researching how much water each model used, ratings from people who owned them, initial cost, and cost of repairs. A week spent thinking about how much something would cost short term and long term.  And I can hear Jesus saying “Get behind me Satan, You do not have in mind the things of God.”

     We know that Jesus’ description of the kingdom is very different than our world, which honestly puts us in a hard spot.  In a material sense, everyone in this room, including myself, are rich.  Nearly half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day.  That is under $1,000 a year.  We all have electricity running into our houses, I think.  Water, sewer, some kind of fuel for heat.  We live in a first world country.  And Jesus tells us that the first will be last and the last will be first.  Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into the kingdom. Jesus tells us to sell everything and follow him. 

     I am not quite ready to do that.  I have two kids, I have an obligation to feed them and provide clothes for them to wear and a roof over their heads.  And while we do try to conserve, I like my heat in the winter, which comes from burning fossil fuels.  I like taking hot showers in the morning while drinking my coffee made with an electric coffee maker.  If I am going to work, I probably do need a car.  It is just over 50 miles down here.  If I were in better shape, I could probably do 50 miles in 2 days.  A little over an hour is much better.  And while I don’t consider myself too consumed with appearances, I do shave before church, get a haircut from time to time. I wear nicer clothes on Sunday.  I even pay to have the car washed when it gets dirty. 

     And this is the tension we live in.  Jesus promises something better, but we hold onto the present.  In a sense we are entrenched into our comfortable lifestyle, and for some good practical reasons.  I would not want anyone to sell everything they have today. Having a roof over your head and food in your cupboard makes sense. 

     Do you remember a few years ago they had those little rubber bracelets that had WWJD on them, stood for What Would Jesus Do?  They quickly got adopted by groups that were strongly pushing their own agenda, which not all Christians agreed with.  Basically we could not agree with what Jesus would do if pushed with 21st century problems. 

     But I think that we can hold onto a bit of that.  We should be concerned with those around the world, and especially here at home, that are poor, cannot afford food or shelter.  Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish so all were fed.  I suspect that Jesus today would have a food pantry where anyone hungry can get food.  Our story says that Jesus was born in a stable.  Even though there was no room in a nicer place, Jesus’ mother and father were given a roof over their heads.   I suspect that Jesus would approve of supporting someone to have a roof over their heads, nothing really fancy, but at least strong, safe, sturdy and practical for that person or family.    Jesus never talked about abstinence, the use of drugs or alcohol before the age of 21, homosexuality, the role of women in the church, and many other things we try to put into Jesus’ mouth.  If we admit that we don’t know what Jesus would say with many issues, but can at least agree on those things that Jesus actually said, that would be a good starting point. Maybe we can re-invent them with a little “I B J W S” -  I believe Jesus would say, as a way to guide our lives and actions. 

     I see today’s scripture as an invitation.  Maybe an invitation to use I B J W S.  There are things today that we all have to deal with.  We can choose who we buy electricity from, where to get our oil, where we fill up our cars with fuel, major purchases like a new car, and even minor purchases like a cell phone battery or new cell phone.  We have to make those decisions, but we don’t need to dwell on them, consider them over and over, let them take over our lives.  And while one may not take over your life, when you start putting them together they can take much more time and effort than they are worth.  We should be focused on the important things in life, on God, on what we are being called individually and as a community to do, instead we are trying to save a penny. 

     Jesus tells Peter, Get behind me Satan, you are worried about the small stuff, not even thinking of what the Kingdom of God really is about.  Incidentally the word that Mark uses to tell Peter to get behind him is the same word that he used when he invites us to follow him.  We are invited to get behind Jesus, to put our minds where they should be.  Not easy, and maybe in our society not even possible all the time, but when we start to ask I B J W S with every decision we are asked to make, we may find ourselves focused more and more on what really matters.  And then, when you are on that roller coaster, and the bottom falls out, which it will, you will have the faith to believe that there is always more track at the bottom of whatever hill you are going down.