12 September 2021. Mark 8.27-38. Proverbs 1.20-33.
Most of today’s Gospel was also part of a reading in February. In our sermon on that reading, we explored how Jesus’s rebuke of Peter, while seeming harsh, was a necessary response to a Gospel-denying assumption, born of this world. Peter, like many people of his time, was eagerly awaiting the long-expected Messiah. The messiah was envisioned as a leader, appointed, and supported by God, who would rescue the Jews from the occupation of the Roman Empire, by force if needed.
Peter is rebuked because his view of a messiah, that of a conquering military leader, is informed by the Jewish culture in which he was raised, not by the presence of the incarnated God, the actual Messiah, standing right beside him as flesh and blood. This is why Jesus explains to Peter that his mind is set on earthly not divine things. It is why Jesus calls Peter, Satan, who is lord of this world, lord of the things of empire, not of heaven.
We can perhaps understand a bit of Jesus’s frustration here. After all, he has recently modelled perfect surrender and letting go of the things of this world. Last week in the story of the Syrophoenician woman we saw Jesus challenged by a determined mother in distress to go beyond his own barriers of prejudice. While initially rejecting her request, Jesus accepts the mother’s retort and evident faith, even though she is not part of the Jewish culture. In response, Jesus changed his mind, transforming himself and his mission, and the Syrophoenician daughter was freed from the possessing demon of cultural prejudice that limited the Gospel.
Peter is rebuked as a person, as an individual, who cannot, despite this modelling from Jesus, make the leap away from his own assumptions. But while focusing attention onto the person, and our own personal choice – to take up our cross or not – Jesus also focuses our attention to the communal and the cultural:
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
The metaphor of adultery is key here and it is significant that in the Greek, the word is a form of the feminine noun, meaning a person – adulteress. We can make of that what we will. Israel, as a nation was often seen as married to or united with God. Ceasing to follow the commands of God, or worshipping other Gods was seen as adultery – the breaking of the covenant between God and the people of God.
And as people of God, here today, this also applies to us. Adultery here refers to something far more important than breaking of rules or engaging in illicit sexual activity, as hurtful and as painful as that is. In fact, prohibited sex is not the defining issue of the interior life of relationship that Jesus calls us to. Elsewhere, Jesus will talk about adultery being already committed when it is committed in our hearts.
Because when we are in relationship with God or our spouse, or in a committed relationship with anyone – our family, close friends or an animal companion we care for – we are not alone anymore. We no longer live just for ourselves: there is someone other to think about, someone other who has a place in our hearts, someone other who now also directs the course of our lives.
Having made a commitment to another person or to God, if we then reject their presence in our hearts and follow only our own desires, thinking just of our own pleasure, we break our covenant.
When we secretly, in our hearts, reject the beloved other, our spouse, our companion – when we reject God, we also reject the influence of our loved ones and God on our lives. We then position ourselves as masters of our lives, when in fact we are utterly dependent on God and interdependent on the whole of humanity and the whole of creation. We then become part of an adulterous and sinful generation, ultimately not so much by actions, but by the self-focused intentions of our heart.
And this is why Jesus – the Son of Man – or more accurately translated, Son of the Human One, will be ashamed when he comes – the shame here is quite specific. It is not a shame because of physical adultery or sin. The Greek word used, epaisxýnomai is shame for someone because they have misplaced their confidence and wrongly identified or wrongly aligned with something.
Jesus will be ashamed of those of us who place our confidence in ourselves and not God.
He will be ashamed of those of us who wrongly identify our own wants and desires as the source of our happiness, not the needs and desires of God and our beloved others.
He will be ashamed of those of us who wrongly align our faith with cultural prejudice which excludes people from the blessings of God in her church.
But whether we misplace our confidence, misalign our allegiance, whether we reject God or not, God is always in our hearts. After all, she made us, and she made our hearts – the physical flesh and blood heart that circulates our blood and the space within our spiritual hearts, which we can fill with whatever ideas or thoughts we wish. And being the creator of our heart and the creator of our heart space, moment by moment God is always there, calling us into being, moment by moment calling to us from within ourselves.
But more than this, the Good News, as our First Reading states, is that “God’s Holy Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.”
Even in the town square, even in the Hay St Mall, even in the busiest and the most self-serving aspects of our adulterous generation, Wisdom, God, herself is calling to us. Not just from within our heart, but from outside, from the street, from the people we meet in the street, in our home, here at church, God cries out. She is always raising her voice, waiting to be heard, waiting for us to respond to her.
And even if we run from the streets, run from other people, run from the church, run from God, escape into nature, go bush – the very universe itself brings God to us. Our Psalm today:
The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament proclaims his handiwork
One day tells it to another: and night to night communicates knowledge.
And so, in a way, in the most beautiful and delightful way, we are always with God, whether we like it or not. God is within us, within our hearts – even if we reject her. And she speaks to us from the streets, and from the sky, from the very fabric of the universe itself. We cannot escape God – and as Wisdom says, she will pour out her thoughts to us, she will make her words known, …..
In the name of Christ, Amen.