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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

God Pushes Us Past Our Humanity - 02/25/2018

It was part of verse 32 of our reading today that kept standing out from all the other astounding details of our Gospel reading this week … this story of the first time Jesus tells the disciples what is going to happen to him … and for them … in Jerusalem. “He said all this quite openly,” we heard. This is a departure in the way Jesus has been talking about who he is.

Right from the beginning Jesus has tried to maintain this secret about who he is. We saw that in Jesus' encounter with that first demon spirit that knew who Jesus was. You may remember for a few weeks ago: “Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and (the demon) cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’” (1.23-25)

And it wasn't just the demon spirits. He also told people he healed to keep silent about what he had done and said. Like in the first healing story of Mark when Jesus meets a man with leprosy. “Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the man, and said to him, ‘... Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone...'” (Mark 1:41-44a)

By the time we get to this part of the story today, Jesus has just said something like this again for the eighth time. This time it was directed at his disciples when Peter answered Jesus' question, “Who do you say I am?” “The Messiah,” Peter proclaimed. Jesus told them to keep it to themselves.

And it will come up just one more time in the Transfiguration story that immediately follows this encounter between Jesus and Peter. After that it's like Jesus realizes it is of no use to try anymore. His secret is out to too many and his actions have set inevitable wheels into motion in Jerusalem.

If the secrecy was about keeping clear of the people who eventually lynch Jesus, it's too late. The path the cross is already apparent.

Th point is, up until this point in the story, Jesus has consistently tried to keep his true identity under wraps as much as possible, even though stories of his teachings and deeds of power have snowballed. It was Good News that could not be contained.

So it really caught my attention that Jesus spoke “openly” like this. It seemed to beg the question of why in the first place Jesus tried to maintain that secret for awhile – that truth that he is the Son the God, the Messiah.

And I have to tell you, this question led me to one of those experiences that I can only attribute to the activity of God – the Holy Spirit moving things around in ways that I couldn't to open this text up in new ways, open up the possibilities of how God might answer this question: “Why the secrecy, Jesus? You always knew where this was going, and besides, you are God in human flesh –  you have nothing to fear.”

So here' how this “experience” happened. I was listening to some commentary on the Mark reading while I was on the road this week. I was hoping to hear others talk about this whole “secret Messiah” thing … but they didn't, much to my disappointment. They did start talking about the story of Abram and Sarai (Sah-rye), from our reading in Genesis and way of looking at this text that completely changed the way I thought about Jesus and his so-called secret in Mark.

What I heard was this: Up until this point in our story from Genesis, the covenant between God and Abram has centered mainly on Abram – the ancestor we share with our Jewish and Muslim siblings.

I will give you a Promised Land, God says to Abram when introducing this covenant. Abram was worried because his wife had not been able to conceive a child and God said to try to count the number of stars in the sky to know how many descendants Abram would have. And, God said, Abram and all these descendants would be blessed to be a blessing to others.

And God was keeping God's word on all of this. Abram was pretty satisfied by the time we get to this point in the story today. Although Sa-rai had not had a child herself, she arranged for her servant Hagar to marry Abram, and Hagar was able to have a baby. Ishmael was now Abram's heir and would himself prove to be the promise of many nations of God-fearing people. Also, Abram was on his way to the Promised Land and was living into God's design that he was blessed to be a blessing. Abram was good.

But that, apparently, wasn't enough for God, because Sa-rai had not experienced God's covenantal fulfillment like her husband had. And that appears to have mattered very deeply to God. Listen again to part of our reading from Genesis and notice how God has changed focus – it's now about Sa-rai; it's not focused on Abram anymore. God said to Abram, who has now been renamed Abraham: “As for Sa-rai your wife, you shall not call her Sa-rai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’ (Gen 17:15-16)

God's promise was much wider than just Abraham. God was breaking into Sarah's life too. So I dug into this idea a little more and discovered this wideness of God's promise in the story of Abraham and Sarah is embedded in their story even more deeply than this.

When God is making these covenantal promises to our ancestors Sarah and Abraham, God uses the word we read as “nations.” The Hebrew word is “goyim” which can also mean “Gentiles.” So you see, from the earliest promises of this covenant God is making with Abraham, and now Sarah too, it was always envisioned that this promise of abundant convenantal love from God is meant for vastly more than just our two ancestors here and their direct and knowable kin. The “nations” include all people of God's world.

And all this led me to think about the secrecy Jesus employs in the beginning of his ministry differently.

I think there is more to this secrecy than Jesus trying to evade the authorities who would really like him to “be silent.”

This insight into the story of Abraham and Sarah helps bring to the surface, one reason Jesus may have tried to keep his identity under wraps. Jesus' warning to keep his identity a secret serves to quiet us. It teaches us to listen. It holds us back from our propensity to analyze, organize and categorize all that we see and experiences into human terms and human understanding. And so Jesus says to Peter “be quiet,” and “don't give your thoughts and beliefs over to the evil one who wants to keep you limited, who wants to keep you believing that God's grace is a thing of scarcity … this is what happens when you set your mind not on divine things but on human things” (vs 33b)

Jesus is pushing our understanding here beyond our human limits. I suggest one way he is able to expand our idea of who his is here to benefit is by teaching us to just be quiet and to listen. It is an essential part of our Christian call to get out there and love God with all we've got and love one another as boldly as possible.

So what does this mean to us today in a world that is vastly more complicated and when “Nations” means a heck of a lot or than just the Hebrews and the Gentiles?

I think we can look to our friend Peter for some direction there. This is another thing I love about the Gospel of Mark – the disciples are so very relate-able.

One moment they are overcome with awe and hope by the Good News Jesus has introduced into their lives. They are so moved they throw down their nets, give up all they possess and even leave the familiars and comforts of family and hometown to follow Jesus.

And the next moment, they are like Peter, trying to pull back the reins on what Jesus – what God – is doing. In fact, each time Jesus foretells his betrayal, persecution, death and resurrection, the disciples will find new ways to display their gross misunderstanding – their human limitations – of what Jesus says and does and is about to do in Jerusalem.

Some people talk about how the disciples in Mark seem like a bunch of stubborn idiots – even that Peter is called “The Rock” on which the church was built because he had a head like a box of rocks. But I don't think so. I think we get this very honest and earthy and flawed portrait of the disciples in Mark so we can see they are just like us.

So Jesus says to us, for instance:

You don't think God can heal your broken body or spirit? You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

You don't think there are ways to have healthy and constructive conversations about gun violence, access to healthcare, education, sexuality, religion and bunch of other issues we tend to dig our human heels into? You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

You don't think there is enough food and clothing and shelter for all of God's creation? You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

You don't think you can come to the Font and the Table and be truly and eternally marked by Christ and forgiven your sins? You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

You don't think there is enough of God's love and grace and mercy to break into every single creature and corner of God's universe? You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

The secret about who Jesus really is and what he came to Earth to do is all but blown. However, the teaching and formation we gain in Jesus keeping this secret for awhile is still relevant to us. Because like Abraham and Peter and every other person we can think of, we cannot help but continue to put human limits on God's activity in  creation.

The question for us today, particularly in this time of Lenten reflection and spiritual tune-up, is essentially the same for us as it was for Peter. Now that the secret is out, how much will we let this gracious and merciful God of ours push us beyond our human limitations and into divine possibilities? Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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