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September 13, 2015, 12:00 AM

Proper 19


13 September In the year of our Lord 2015

16th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Morning Prayer at Christ the King

 

Scripture                    Hymns

Psalm 116:4-8                #8 Morning has broken

Isaiah 50:4-9            #686 Come Thou Fount

James 3:1-12                

Mark 8:27-38            

 

My first series of sermons were delivered in a developing town called Poway, North of San Diego, in the spring and summer of 1968. I was 22 years old, a senior in college serving as Youth Minister at the Pomerado Road Baptist Church. They had a nice piece of land, a sanctuary, Sunday school rooms and a Hall for meetings and community lunches and dinners. The Campus Minister of Campus Crusade for Christ had referred me to their elder board. The church had no pastor at the time, so if I did not deliver, the people went hungry. When Jesus and the Scriptures were opened up to them, they were like Silicon Valley investors, scanning the Wall Street Journal. And as St. Paul said of the Brerean Jews in Acts chapter 17, they

Were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (11)

When I preached the people followed along with their bibles, sometimes took notes and challenged me if they had questions, sometimes during the sermon. I was a wonderful time for me, my experience there, and my later service at Brooklyn Heights Presbyterian that followed, for a while led me to believe I had a call to formal ministry. 

 

I did my best for those fine Baptist’s and they were so loving and accommodating to us. We were constantly invited into their homes and treated with such affection and respect.

 

I remember only one dicey moment: it followed a meeting of their board where I suggested using the New American standard Bible in place of the King James for the sake of clarity. The board told me that it would be OK to do so when teaching the young people, but I should keep using the KJV from the pulpit. After that meeting a wizened member of the board with the easy grace and rock hard character of Phil Intorf came up to me to set me straight on where I had gone wrong. He looked me in the eye and said: I was saved on the King James Bible. I could not argue with that. 

 

It was for Margaret and I part of our formation in Christ and in His Church. The idea of being Anglicans had no place in our plans or thinking at the time. We just wanted to get to know Jesus better, and to serve his people in any way that we could. Part of that service for me has always been teaching.

 

Teaching involves sharing a message that provides context. Bible teaching teases out the meaning of the Scriptures and glorifies the Father and our Savior. All the while a proper homily engages the mind and grips the heart of the listener and speaker alike. Now let’s look a bit closer at the context of our gospel lesson for today. 

 

It begins with the following line: Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, a Roman city 25 miles from the Sea of Galilee. Most of the public life of Jesus took place in and around the "city of Capernaum," on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  A tourist site with ruins and churches today, it had been inhabited in the time of Jesus for 200 years and would thrive for another 600. From our perspective it was hardly a city, having a population of about 1500 people. The "Sea of Galilee" is a freshwater lake, 13 miles long and 8 miles wide and lies 690 feet below sea level. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen called from their work along the Sea. Jesus taught along the banks of the Sea, and sometimes crossed it, walking on its waters and calming a storm on one occasion. Capernaum was a rustic Samaritan town, whose inhabitants subsisted on the natural riches of the lake, much like Plumas County subsists on wood products and tourism. Fishermen worked in teams with nets on boats about 25 feet long. Capernaum was well to the north of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life.  Stone Huts and houses in large numbers nestled on small hills and surrounded a prominent Synagogue, whose ruins brought me joy when I visited in July of 2010. Peters house was only 100 feet way. Its ruins are directly under a Catholic chapel with a partial glass floor that permits visitors to see into the stone remains.

 

Although Jesus would teach and preach in a variety of Galilean towns and villages, Capernaum remained the center of his mission, until he set out with his 12 disciples from there, to Jerusalem on his last journey. When our Lord left Nazareth in his thirtieth year to take up his public ministry, he went directly there and began calling his disciples.  Many of us have lived our whole adult life in Plumas County. I had colleagues who believed that I was wasting my career in a backwater. A close friend of mine who taught in an elite urban college once said to me: “even if you are a fine teacher, who would ever know it in Quincy.” I do not recall how I answered him, but what I would say today is “God would know, whether or not anyone else does.”

 

But why would Jesus spend most of his ministry there? Perhaps it was because Christ’s primary ministry was to the 12. They, save Judas were the ones who would take his message to the world. Gods’ plans and timetable are often not what the wise of the world would chose, as Isaiah said: 

My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my thoughts from your thoughts and my ways from your ways. [55: 8,9]

Christ had trouble getting his message through to those in his inner circle. Success was on their minds; they saw a great future with Jesus. They were convinced that bigger and better things were in store for them. So while he has them alone after ministering to multitudes, he wants to know who the 12 believe he is. The lead in is Who do people say I am? but what his is really after follows: but what about you?... Who do you say I am? Peter declares: You are the Christ. This is a messianic declaration. Peter as well as the others was looking toward a new era where Jesus will bring independence and glory to Israel and Jerusalem. 

 

So the Lord decides it is time to sober them up. For the first time he predicts his death and resurrection. Peter wants none of this talk about death, so he took Jesus aside to correct him. Our Lord’s response could not have been more direct: Get behind me Satan! … You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men. How often have I been there with Peter, wanting God to do it my way not His.

 

This is a message that Jesus wants everyone to hear and heed, so he spoke to the crowds who were nearby. 

 

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 

 

Had I been standing there much of the Lord’s words would have seemed inexplicable: take up my cross? Lose my life to save it? What does that mean? Forfeiting my soul for material or political gain, yes, every Jew can understand that ambition is a terrible risk. But the idea that they are wrong about what Messiah will do in his first appearance on earth? This will not understood until the gifts of the Holy Spirit were distributed on the Day of Pentecost. 

 

And we need to also remember that Jesus in the same place foretold that he will come again in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. This too would have required a stretch of the imagination to the listener. We recite our belief in the 2nd Coming every week in the creeds … but it is difficult to grasp, as was the Return of the King in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. 

 

To think in these terms, to think and live with the Lord’s perspective, we must regularly shut down our mental and emotional systems and reboot. When we do in prayer, our default position must be the Scriptures that lead us to Jesus, the living Word of God.

 

To God be the Glory, both today and forever!

 

Joseph J. Muñoz 

Quincy, California


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