Sermon Proper 19B
Quote from A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson
Mark 8: 27-38
Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford
September 13, 2015
A Reading from the Prophet Marianne Williamson from her work A Return to Love
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
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?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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.” 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. 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 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.”
When I was in eighth grade, I wanted nothing more than to belong to the popular crowd of eighth grade girls. I wanted to fit in. Unfortunately, that was not to be.
At my middle school, the popular crowd was made up of small blonde girls. As you might guess, I was never a small blonde girl.
Not only was I not small and blond, I didn’t have what seemed to be the “right” clothes: Izod polo shirts, tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, and thin stretchy gold belts.
My family didn’t have a whole lot of disposable income and I couldn’t seem to convince my parents that Izod shirts and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans were of the same importance as, say, groceries.
And to seal the deal on my unpopularity I was ahem… shall we say… socially awkward around boys, except for the ones who were on the debate team or in band with me. Yep – band AND debate.
So to sum up: tall awkward budding lesbian nerd in Sears jeans seeks to fit in.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, I was convinced that it was only the Gloria Vanderbilt jeans standing between me and instant popularity. I must have talked about them a lot, because one night my Dad came home with a pair for me. God knows where he found them or how he knew my size. It still makes me teary to think about my Dad finding me a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.
As I laid down on the bed the next morning to zip them up, I was convinced that I would instantly be transformed into … dun da da da!!!…Popular Eighth Grade Girl. I’m sure you’re all shocked to hear that that is not what happened.
Tall awkward budding lesbian nerd in Gloria Vanderbilt jeans STILL seeks to fit in.
At that time in my life I assumed that my identity was completely bound up in appearances. And so I knew no other way of trying to fit in other than to try to conform to be like the people around me. There was a constant question in my head – what are people saying about me? Who do people think that I am?
And of course the truth is that people weren’t thinking much about who I was. They were all wrapped up in their own 13 and 14 year old dramas, worrying about who THEY were. But that is not the case for Jesus. People WERE paying attention to him.
When he asks the disciples “Who do people say that I am?” it’s because he knows people are talking about him, and he knows that his identity is being questioned by others. I think it’s also because he’s trying to get a handle on his own identity as well. He’s been going around performing miracles: healing a blind man, an unclean outcast woman’s daughter, a deaf man, feeding thousands of people with a loaf of bread or a fish or two, confronting religious leaders… Jesus is attracting attention, and he knows it. So he asks his friends – who do people say that I am?
He gets various answers – all of them supposing that he is someone else – the reappearing of someone who came before – John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet. But when he asks Peter, he gets a different answer.
I imagine this as an intimate moment. I mean Jesus’ disciples must be all be half in love with him, right?. They’ve left everything to go following him around the desert. He’s their teacher, their mentor, their radical rabbi preaching an up-ending message that is hard to follow but so so so liberating! You know the kind of sexy charismatic leader I mean.
And so I imagine that when Jesus looks into Peter’s eyes and says “And who do you say that I am?” that Peter nearly swoons. But he knows, and he answers with absolute conviction “You are the Chosen One.”
In what must have been a wonderfully affirming moment for Peter, Jesus acknowledges the truth of what Peter said. Jesus is starting to understand that he is chosen by God for something special – he is becoming comfortable with his divine and human identity, and with the work that he has chosen to do to. He’s performing all those miracles, he’s confronting religious leaders and welcoming outcasts – he’s up-ending tradition and religious laws and he’s spreading his message of God’s preference for people on the margins of society rather than those in power.
He starts talking about where his work is going to lead. He tells his friends that he is going to be rejected by those in power, he’s going to be killed, and three days later he’s going to rise again.
Poor Peter. You can’t blame him for being upset. That part about “rising again after three days” must have sounded like some silly fairy tale to him. That’s not the sort of thing that actually happens in Peter’s world. But the part about rejection and being killed – Peter understands those things. Peter is focused on human things. He loves Jesus. He’s on board with what Jesus is doing, which can’t have been easy with all the boundary breaking. Naturally he’s distraught at the thought of Jesus’ death. It seems that the work has just begun! He takes Jesus aside says, look, this can’t be right. Don’t do it if it’s going to get you killed!
And poor Peter, who just a few minutes ago was feeling all intimate and close with Jesus, who had just gotten the answer about who Jesus is so absolutely right — now Jesus calls him Satan! Peter is focused on human things. He’s not ready to hear about death and can’t even imagine resurrection. Jesus is just starting to embrace his divine identity and do the work he’s chosen to do. And he can’t have Peter distracting him with his very human fears.
So Jesus tries to explain it – to Peter and to all of us – what it means to follow him. Here’s what he says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.”
Of all the misused passages in the bible, this is one of the most pervasive and insidious. It’s been used to try to convince black people that slavery is their cross. It’s been used to try to convince abused people that their partners are their cross. It’s been used on us – God’s queer people – to tell us that our sexuality is our cross. The theology of suffering pervades so much of our Christian culture that many of us don’t even recognize all the ways that we’ve been conditioned to put up with ill-treatment by the idea that we must suffer to be good Christians.
I’m here today to tell you that this is not the Good News of Jesus Christ. One paraphrase of the bible asks the next question this way, “What’s the use if you have everything but aren’t true to yourself? Can you put a price on being true to yourself?” This is the Good News. We are called to embrace our true identity in order to follow Jesus. This is what Jesus himself is doing – embracing his true identity – both human (he will die) and divine (he will rise again.)
Losing the life we think we have is usually painful and scary, but it allows us to find our true life. We WERE, all of us, born to shine. We WERE, all of us, born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. By letting go of our false identities, our conviction that we are somehow lacking – we can find ourselves and truly follow Jesus.
The cross is not Jesus’ identity. And despite what you’ve probably heard, the cross is not Jesus’ work. Jesus’ work is boundary-breaking healing and love. The cross is the consequence, and not the end point. And likewise for us. Following Jesus is not a call to perpetual suffering. It is a call to accept that there is often pain as a consequence of seeking one’s true identity as a boundary-breaker and a lover – yes. But it is a call to live into that true identity.
The call to follow Jesus is a call to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous. It is a call to be liberated from our fear, to live into our power and our light, and so to liberate others.
Song for Reflection After the Sermon