Weekly Seeds: Set Your Mind

Sunday, September 12, 2021
After Pentecost Year B

Focus Theme:
Set Your Mind

Focus Prayer:
Wisdom of God, from the street corners and at the entrances to the city, you proclaim the way of life and of death. Grant us the wisdom to recognize your Messiah, that following in the way of the cross, we may know the way of life and glory. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Mark 8:27–38
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.”

All readings for this Sunday:
Proverbs 1:20–33 and Psalm 19 or Wisdom of Solomon 7:26–8:1
Isaiah 50:4–9a and Psalm 116:1–9
James 3:1–12
Mark 8:27–38

Focus Questions:

  1. What does your life look like?
  2. What would you dread changing about your lifestyle?
  3. How has your life changed over time?
  4. What prompts you to consider living differently? What compels you to change your life?
  5. What does it look like to live your life based on divine considerations?

By Cheryl Lindsay

The gospel doesn’t make sense.

A paradox upends our expectations. It does not conform to norms and established parameters. In fact, a paradox should not be able to exist and seemingly presents a puzzle that needs solving in order to make sense of what does not, on the surface, make any sense. The very nature of a paradox is that the truth can be found in reconciling conflicting or contradictory statements or realities. In Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus of the paradox. “The Gospel of Mark includes both verbal and dramatic paradox. Verbal paradox occurs in statement form, while dramatic paradox occurs by means of the author’s use of events and characters in the narrative.” (Narry F. Santos) This week’s passage highlights an instance of Jesus teaching through confrontation, as he explains the paradox of his impending suffering and death to his followers who have come to expect victory and glory.

Jesus starts the dialogue by asking two questions of identity, “Who do people say that I am?” and “But who do you say that I am?” The juxtaposition of these questions makes clear that Jesus expects there to be a difference. Outsiders may have ideas about his identity and speculate about his intended aims and purpose, but his disciples should know him better than that. After all, they have been with him, observing his actions and participating in his work. The “but” of the second question also strongly infers that the responses of the speculation are incorrect or at least inadequate. Jesus is not John the Baptist, Elijah, or any other prophet. Peter replies that Jesus is the chosen one, and by admonishing them to hold this identity confidentially, Jesus affirms that they have gotten it right.

That’s when the conversation takes a turn as Jesus explains the fullness of what the Messiah has come to do and trials that Jesus is about to face. It doesn’t meet their expectations of a conquering ruler. Jesus reveals the plan to them fully and in detail. They don’t want to hear it. The text says that while Jesus “said all this quite openly,” Peter attempts a private rebuking of Jesus, who then makes his rebuke of Peter public. This is a confrontation of two companions rebuking one another, but this implies more than a forceful disagreement. Rebuking assumes the connotation of an exorcism. The two were engaged in dueling attempts to excise evil spirits from one another based on their respective responses to Jesus’ explicit explanation and Peter’s unmet expectation. This is the height of the paradox demonstrated in this passage. “The special effect of this literary device is twofold: It forces readers to read the opposing sides thoughtfully, enabling them to become aware of the conscious execution of the words; and it makes readers ponder the meaning beyond the contradiction.” (Narry F. Santos)

Why does Peter react so strongly to Jesus’ prediction of his suffering, death, and resurrection? It doesn’t seem unreasonable to object to the impending doom of someone important to you. Peter leaves much of his life behind in order to follow Jesus. He will–literally–cut someone to defend his teacher and guide. Peter will also be the one, when blessed with the opportunity to see Jesus in all his glory in the transfiguration, to offer to build Jesus a dwelling place there so that they can stay there. Peter, the fisherman by trade, will build the carpenter a home so that Jesus can remain glorified. None of these are bad impulses in and of themselves, but they point to the paradoxical nature of Christ’s mission to the world.

The Word doesn’t need to be made flesh in order to be glorified; the world needs the Holy One to show them the way through trials and suffering. The incarnation does not reflect the simplicity of a magic show; Jesus doesn’t snap his fingers, blink three times, or wave a magic wand. God With Us does not do the easy thing; they do the hardest thing.

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” (Proverbs 1:22a) So often, we long for it to be simple. When Jesus asked them about his identity, they answered him simply with the guesses from the anonymous “they say.” The disciples themselves may have been offering these answers from their own suppositions or from actual rumors spreading about Jesus as his notoriety grew. Maybe it was easier to believe the simple idea than to confront the fullness of Jesus’ identity…and the implications for their lives and their world.

When Jesus answers his own question, it’s too much. Peter, at least, doesn’t want to hear it. He appears to think Jesus has become possessed. Jesus forces him to face the truth he does not want to believe. It’s essential for Peter and for the future of the church. Gary Wheaton provides a helpful amplification of our translations of this interchange:

The words of Jesus to Peter in Mark 8:33c are widely translated along the lines of “You are not thinking the way God thinks, but the way people think.” The translation wholly obscures this idiom that was very common in Greek literature, and erroneously relocates the thrust of Jesus’ rebuke from Peter’s relationship to Jesus, to Peter’s understanding of the messianic task. Examination of the evidence of Classical and Koine Greek usage of this construction furnishes ample support for the alternative translation, “you are not on the side of God but the side of people,” a translation better suited to what follows in Mark 8:34-38. It is therefore preferable to render Mark 8:33b-c along the lines of, “Get behind me, Satan, for you are not committed to God but to people….” Jesus indicates that by his actions (8:32) Peter has abdicated the disciple-relationship to Jesus and assumed the posture of an “opponent.” The thrust of Jesus’ directive to Peter, “Get behind me!,” is almost certainly not to banish but to summon him to return to Jesus, to fall back into line behind him: “act like my disciple!” or “resume a proper position of a disciple!”

Peter’s avoidance of the hard truth imparts a lesson followers of Jesus should heed:

A threefold pattern unifies 8.27-10:45 and develops its themes. Three times, Jesus predicts that he will suffer, die and rise (8.31; 9.31; 10.32-34). After each prediction, he disciples misconstrue the nature of Jesus’ mission and the politics of God’s kingdom (8.32-33; 9.32; 10.35-41). Jesus responds to each misunderstanding with corrective teaching about the nature of the disciples’ own mission (8.34-37; 9.33-37; 10.42-45). The repetition of this threefold pattern of passion prediction, misunderstanding, corrective teaching builds the notion that to misunderstand Jesus’ Identity and mission is to misunderstand one’s own. (Elizabeth Shively)

Following Jesus means tying one’s identity to Christ’s identity. It’s likely that Peter and the other disciples understood that. Their intimate relationship and close proximity to Jesus would have publicly associated them with him. Peter’s attempt at private chastisement supports that theory. He was trying to bring Jesus back to himself to avoid public embarrassment. But, Jesus has no shame; neither should the disciples. Shame signifies a rejection of Jesus in both identity and mission because the two inform each other. Who Jesus is dictates what Jesus does, and what Jesus does flows from whom Jesus is. To follow Jesus is to accept the invitation to live the same way. “Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.” The prophet Isaiah’s words summarize the notion of companioning with Jesus in the work, purpose, and identity of the gospel.

The invitation is not optional to a life with Christ. To follow Jesus is to “take up their cross.” They don’t understand what that means. Presumably, they might have recognized the cross as an instrument of capital punishment in the Roman Empire, but they can’t yet conceive of it as an instrument of salvation in the kindom of God. The cross is the hardest thing. It led the Co-Creator of the universe to sweat blood in the garden. Jesus prays to the Parent for that obligation to be set aside. And, the answer was no.

Has God ever told you no? Have you ever prayed with everything within you to be delivered from an unimaginable hardship…and have the answer be no? Have you faced your greatest challenge with the hope and expectation that Holy Love would intervene to no avail?

Peter’s rebuke assumes that Jesus was expressing a desire for this path when the truth is that Jesus, in the moment at the very least, didn’t want to do it.

Even knowing what was on the other side, Jesus wants to avoid the hardest thing. Even recognizing the profound impact on humanity, Jesus doesn’t want to do it. Many of us can empathize with the reluctance to submit to such pain and suffering. The way of the cross is choosing to do the hardest thing.

Those who identify as runners tell us of achieving the runner’s high. It’s the euphoria that comes after a significant and intense period of effort. It doesn’t come easily. It doesn’t necessarily come with every run, and it certainly doesn’t come on those days when the runner fails to run. To get to the runner’s high, the runner has to endure the hardest part. The glorious feeling is a consequence of profound effort and energy.

As Jesus explained his coming journey to the disciples, he reveals the resurrection as a conclusion and consequence of the effort and energy he will expend in enduring the cross. What do we fail to gain because we are afraid of the requirements to get there?

Maybe the problem isn’t that the church is dying. Maybe the problem is that the church is afraid of the cost of new life. The church doesn’t want the pain and sacrifice that newness requires. Maybe the problem is that the church is so set on human things–attendance, giving, influence, etc.–that we rebuke the truth of divine things. We turn public witness of the good news into private complaint about the loss of the glory years of Christendom.

It’s time to set our minds on the way, the truth, and the life of Christ…and get behind Jesus.

Get behind Jesus and welcome the immigrant, asylum seeker, and refugee.
Get behind Jesus and the gospel of peace, not war.
Get behind Jesus and the dignity, worth, and body autonomy of every human being as bearing the image of the divine.
Get behind Jesus and assume care, responsibility, and covenant with creation as our sibling not our subordinate.
Get behind Jesus and do the hard thing, take up our cross, and move toward redemption, restoration, and re-creation.
Set your mind on these things.

For further reflection:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” ― Harriet Tubman

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (lindsayc@ucc.org), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Prayer: Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers © 2002 Consultation of Common Texts. Used by permission.