Titles & Word

Last night, I was speaking with a couple of friends who asked:
“What is your sermon title for tomorrow?”.

I replied “Titles and Words”. I did get a couple strange looks, but I continued “I know it sounds strange until you get to the scriptures.”

The heart of our scriptures this morning deals with our spoken words, the titles we hold, and what those titles mean.

Our James reading reminds us that our words are powerful. I think we tend to forget the power of our words, because what is said can never be taken back. Yet, in this age, our words tend to be harsh, negative, and without love.

Martin Luther was known for his not-always-so-loving speech against those who disagreed with him, especially on matters of church teaching and practice. In fact, there is a whole website dedicate to the insults he wrote about people.

Yet, a favorite quote of Martin Luther’s is “Peace when possible. Truth at all costs”.

We are called to speak and live into truth, but we can share that truth with love, compassion, and mercy while seeking understanding instead of seeking condemnation with anger and hate.

We witness this in our Mark text this morning.

Jesus is walking with his closest twelve disciples and he asks:
“Who do the others say I am?”. 

It is interesting to note that the title “teacher” in our Isaiah and James texts does not appear in our Mark text, instead the disciples jump to the great prophets of John the Baptist and Elijah.

The prophet is one who speaks the word of God, the truth of God, usually to people in positions of power and it is often not well received by said persons or even the crowd as a whole.

But, Jesus does not end the question there. He continues asking the disciples:
“Who do you say I am?”.

Peter, who is “the rock upon which the church is built” and a founder for our proclamations of faith, states:
“You are the Messiah. You are the Anointed One. You are the Christ.
You are the one we have been waiting for to rescue us.”

Jesus says that Peter is right, but turns the tables on his disciples.

We hold a false image that during the time of Christ there was only one type of Judaism and the Jesus movement. The truth is that there were many sects of Judaism and each were anxiously awaiting the Messiah, who would come and rescue them. However, their images of the Messiah differed because some envisioned a political leader (king) who would reunite the kingdom of Israel as one once again.

Peter, on the other hand, envisioned the Messiah as a great warrior, who would raise up armies from the common people and use military force to reunite the kingdom of Israel. Thus, Peter gets excited with the sense “YES! Time to rally the troops! Lets Do This!”.

Jesus, however, says:
“Whoa. Whoa. Sit down. I will be the teacher for a moment.
I will not be a political leader. I will not be a military leader.”

Jesus steps into the teacher role to explain that his teaching and leadership in the movement will have a different ending. It will include the most shameful death in the Roman Empire, which is crucifixion, and he will be raised again in three days.”

Peter will now show the other meaning of his name as the “rock”, because he can be as clueless and as dense as a rock in failing to understand Jesus’ teachings.

Peter pulls Jesus aside and speaks his truth to Jesus in love, saying:
“Jesus do not say that. It will not happen. You can not be crucified and die, because you are too important and mean too much to us as the Messiah”.

And we hear Jesus’ infamous line: “Get behind me, satan!”.
How many of you have heard this line?
I should see more than 2 hands…
Come on, even my non-Christian friends can recite this one back to me.

We tend to think that satan is the enemy, who is a red supernatural being with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork. This image is not the satan of scripture. That image appears later and is adopted by my undergraduate home, Arizona State University, and is named Sparky.

This satan is “the adversary”. It is a title, not a proper name.

The adversary (aka satan) arrives with the task of ‘testing’ us in order for us to doubt.

In our scriptures, we have titles.
In this passage, Jesus is a teacher with expectation placed upon that title.
Jesus is also a prophet with expectations placed upon it.
Jesus is also the Messiah with expectations placed upon it.
The adversary, or satan, appears with expectations placed upon it as well.

The expectations placed upon these titles and others are not contained to scripture.

When I meet people in public and private events, they act normally and thus depending on the situation there might be much swearing, adult beverages, or other behavior society as deemed as “un-Christian like”. These people will ask:
“What do you do for a living?”.

My response is always, “if I tell you, your behavior cannot change.”

Their immediate response is: “Why would I change?
There is nothing you could tell me that would change my behavior”.

{They are often holding an adult beverage in their hand.}

I say, “Okay. I am a pastor”.

{Drink goes behind their back. Their lips become sealed.}

I continue, “you promised”.

AND there are times I will say or do something and will hear “but you’re a pastor”.

Hmm, I am also a human with flesh and bones.
I have a shadow-side, like all people do because we are all sinners.

We, however, place expectations on ourselves and others based upon the titles we hold.

Peter and the other disciples projected expectations onto Jesus as the Christ/Messiah.

Jesus, however, tells his disciples to sit down and hold on to their seats because it is NOT what they expect.

Jesus continues to tell us to sit down and hold on to our seats because it is NOT what we expect.

Jesus says:
“You think you understand what it means for me to be a teacher, a prophet, and the Messiah. Sit down. Hold on to your seats. I will blow all those expectations out of the water and take you into a future that is better than even you can imagine, BUT it requires you to turn a blind-eye to those expectations, to have an open-mind, and to follow me as my disciples on this journey to the cross”.

As we ponder the titles in our lives and the expectations projected upon these and the power of our words in interactions with our fellow humans, may we be mindful of the warning to watch our tongues and check our expectations at the door; in order that we might be led into a future more powerful and better than we can even imagine. Amen.

The scriptures were Isaiah 50:4-9a; James 3:1-12; and Mark 8:27-38.
Originally preached on 16 September 2018 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

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