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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Take Up Your Blasphemy and Sedition.


110904.Matthew 16:21-28

I.
            No sooner does Jesus declare Peter the “rock” upon which his church will be built, than Peter turns to equivocating mud, oozing the with flow of public opinion and mucked-up by the status quo.  He is confused by what he knows people expect and what he thinks will sell.
            Two weeks ago we heard Peter make his famous confession: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  This week, Jesus points out more of what this means exactly: It means that he “must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
            The Messiah, or anointed one, was related to three roles: prophet, king, and priest.  Last time we talked about what it would mean to treat Jesus as king, in terms of the leader of a new kind of community.  Here Jesus describes the priestly element of his role.  Priests were in charge of the sacrificial rituals that took place in the Temple.  Jesus will become both priest and victim, both sacrificer and sacrificed, when he gets to Jerusalem.  This is an essential and unavoidable aspect of his work. 
            But apparently Peter only understands the anointed one as a king, and a pretty conventional king at that.  Peter takes Jesus aside and starts rebuking him.  It is as if, now that he is the “rock,” Peter thinks he gets to be Jesus’ public relations manager, advising him on what will work politically.  And this talk of suffering and death is not going to be good for business.  Or maybe now he thinks he is Jesus’ personal coach and cheerleader, pumping him up when he gets down enough to say crazy and depressing things like this stuff about suffering and dying.  It is as if Peter encourages Jesus by saying: “No, Jesus, you’re not going to suffer and die.  Repeat after me: ‘I am a good person.  People like me.  I am the anointed king of Israel!  No one is going to kill me….’”
            Peter knows that nobody will want to follow a guy who is about to crash and burn.  Who wants to follow a spectacular loser?  Who wants to get on an airplane destined to crash?  Who wants to be associated with another failed Messiah?
            But Jesus knows his calling is to go to Jerusalem, and he knows what kind of a reception he will certainly receive there.  He knows he is walking right into the lair of those who hold the power who would like to see him dead.  So we might be justified in asking why he insists on going to a place where his arrest and execution would be inevitable.
           
II.
            The priestly, sacrificial role of the anointed one, the Messiah, is part of his work that we 21st century people really don’t get.  We have very little experience with the way of thinking and worshiping characterized by the sacrificial religious practices of the first century.  We can understand Jesus as prophet, teacher, healer, and  preacher; we can even understand him as our Lord and King whom we obey and whose commandments we keep.  But the idea of Jesus as a high priest is a bit more remote for us. 
            What Jesus was about to do in Jerusalem was to fulfill and complete in himself the whole complex of Jewish sacrificial rituals, most of which were designed to restore and maintain a good relationship between God and God’s creation, especially humans. 
            Like so much else in the religion of Jesus’ day, these rites had become empty ceremonies, done by rote, justified by tradition, and controlled by a wealthy and powerful elite for their own benefit.  The sacrificial ceremonies had largely lost their meaning.  They became just one more way for priests and rulers to maintain their power over people.  We see an example of this in the money-exchange practice, which was a virtual racket designed to rip people off.  
            As Protestants we talk about “the priesthood of all believers.”  This is something the Reformers recognized in Scripture, indicating that, contrary to the Roman church, each believer had direct access to God.  We don’t need any intermediaries, hierarchies of bishops, saints, and angels, through whom we have to go to get to God.
            What Jesus is saying here is that the priesthood of all believers is an extension of his priesthood.  He indicates that he “must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Then he says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  He clearly intends his priesthood, that is, his sacrifice, to be something his followers participate in by making their own sacrifice.  The priesthood of all believers is expressed in the sacrificial suffering of all believers.
            But the church allowed to get out of hand the mistaken belief that because Christ suffered we don’t have to.  When according to Jesus’ own teaching just the opposite is the case: we follow him by suffering with him.  Even now we may be able to talk about what Jesus did for us, but the second part of what Jesus says here, about how all his disciples have to take up their own cross and follow him, is largely lost. 
             

III.
            We do know that we’re supposed to mention the cross and all, but it is always only Jesus’ cross.  We don’t talk much about taking up our cross and following him.  Sometimes, if we talk about this at all, we think of it in terms of the various horrors and liabilities to which we are all subject as human beings: grief, disease, loss, pain, disappointment, unfairness.  As if these were our “crosses” Jesus is asking us to bear. 
            But we don’t have to “take up” the normal pains and difficulties of existence; we get them for free whether we want them or not.  The cross Jesus is talking about is a direct consequence of becoming a disciple.  This cross happens to you because you follow Jesus and this following has placed you at cross-purposes (so to speak) with the powers that dominate the world.
            Jesus was crucified for two crimes: blasphemy and sedition.  According to the religious and legal authorities of his day Jesus was guilty of these crimes.  And the crosses we are called upon to bear are laid upon us for the same offenses: we transgress the prevailing religious rules and standards, and we express disloyalty to the ruling economic and political order. 
            Jesus’ blasphemy and sedition grew out of his main agenda which was the proclamation of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God with us, and the final and complete demonstration of the love of God for the whole world.  If you live your life according to God’s love revealed in Jesus it is often going to look to the people who run things like… blasphemy and sedition.
            Jesus’ blasphemy consisted of the way he would overrule both Scripture and the religious hierarchy, especially in his claim to be in union with the God whom he referred to as his Father.  Jesus’ death warrant was signed as soon as the authorities heard his repeated formula in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard it said [this], but I tell you [something else].”  Not only was he contradicting the Bible, he put himself in a position to contradict the Bible.  And of course he was contradicting the official interpreters of the Bible, who conspired to have him done in.
            Jesus’ sedition was in claiming to be a king, as opposed to the reigning kings, and in calling people to a way of life that was outside of the domination of those kings.  Pilate and Herod went along with his conviction and execution because they recognized how dangerous he was to their power.

IV.
            What do blasphemy and sedition look like today?  In other words, what does taking up your cross and following Jesus look like in our own time?  What do disciples of Jesus do in the name of God’s love revealed in him, that bring accusations of blasphemy and sedition?
            As with Jesus, whenever someone suggests that God’s love and justice are more important than our religious rules, doctrines, standards, traditions, and polities, that is considered blasphemy and receives the appropriate response from the authorities.
            Blasphemy is not really about God; it is about maintaining theologies that keep people in shackled in guilt, fear, hatred, and anger.  Because we live in a religiously diverse culture, one person’s blasphemy is often another’s orthodoxy.  You offend Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Unitarian authorities in different ways.
            But the result is the same.  You get accused of blasphemy against God, but what you’ve really done is undermined the power of the powerful.
            Some of the greatest saints were accused of blasphemy and heresy because they chose to follow Jesus rather than the authorities.  Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Jan Hus, John Wycliff, Blaise Pascal, Albert Schweitzer, Leonardo Boff… the list is long.  If we truly follow Jesus, being accused of blasphemy is almost a given.           
            Sedition is easier to identify, and way more dangerous.  While blasphemy is a kind of internal argument among Christians, sedition runs afoul of the values and loyalties of the larger community.  It can get you into a lot more trouble.  That’s why, in order to get him crucified, Jesus’ persecutors had to charge him with sedition.  If he was only guilty of blasphemy they could have had stoned him to death.  But crucifixion was for political crimes.  This is what “taking up your cross” is really about.
            The primary Christian confession is “Jesus is Lord,” which tells the rulers, “and you’re not.”  Many saints throughout history have heard Jesus call them to pacifism, or to being critical of commercial interests and the military.  Many worked against imperialism, nationalism, and racism and suffered greatly for it.  They sacrificed themselves to end slavery, genocide, and the heartless reign of greed that economies so easily fall into.
            Sedition means refusing to hate those you’re supposed to hate.  It means refusing to kill those you are supposed to kill.  It means advocating for those whom society would oppress and exclude.  It means caring about the Earth, the poor, the foreigners, the sick and disabled, the imprisoned, the undocumented, minorities, women and children.  It is hard to follow Jesus with any integrity without at least being suspected of sedition in the minds of some.   

V.
            In the end what Peter’s shortsighted reaction to Jesus reveals is that he didn’t hear the last part of what Jesus says: that “on the third day [he will] be raised”.  The promise and hope of the Resurrection is the whole point.  This is not a tragic martyrdom, a terrible defeat we can cherish our anger over for centuries.  Jesus is telling Peter about his coming victory and triumph over the power of death!  And Peter doesn’t get it because, as Jesus identifies, Satan is clouding his mind and imagination.
            We who follow Jesus Christ are not a mass suicide cult.  It’s not about the suffering.  It’s always about the resurrection.  Jesus’ defeat of death is what gives his followers the strength to stand up in the face of violence and ignorance.  “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  Jesus’ message is always about finding new life.  And it is this new life that makes blasphemy and sedition and their consequences worth it.
            For at the heart of Christianity is this unspeakable joy at realizing the truth about life: that God is love, and God has entered human life in Jesus Christ to save, to heal, to redeem, and to liberate.  As our great High Priest, Jesus gives his life, he spreads his life over us so we might continue to share this life – this love and justice – with others.  As the apostle Paul writes, if we have died with him in a death like his, we will surely be united with him in a resurrection like his.  



1 comment:

javad_1328 said...

look at this paragraph,“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This week, Jesus points out more of what this means exactly: It means that he “must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” and now compared with these paragraph,
Why Jesus was hiding?

That’s why the Jews paid thirty pieces of silver to Judas giving them the necessary information about Jesus.

…Neither go into town, nor tell it to any in the town. (Mark 8: 26)

And he charged them that they should tell no man of him. ((Mark 8: 30) Jesus’ prayers and supplications to be saved from crucifixion:

Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. (John 26: 36)

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. (John 26: 39)

…. He went away again, and prayed the second time and prayed, saying ……and prayed the third time, saying the same words. (John 26:42-44)
don't you think there are contradict?
sincerely yours,
Javad