The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Mark 8:27-38

AS THIS GOSPEL PASSAGE BEGINS, MARK WANTS US TO KNOW JUST WHERE JESUS IS. HE IS GOING TO THE VILLAGES OF CAESAREA PHILLIPI, AND TO DO SO HE MUST PASS BY THE CITY ON THE ONLY ROAD UP TO WHAT IS NOW THE GOLAN HEIGHTS. CERTAIN CITIES OF TODAY EVOKE ICONIC IMAGES; PARIS AND THE EIFFEL TOWER, ROME AND THE COLOSSEUM, CAIRO AND THE PYRAMIDS. SO IT WAS IN THE FIRST CENTURY, AND CAESAREA PHILLIPI WAS KNOWN FOR THE PANIAS AND THE TEMPLE TO AUGUSTUS CAESAR. THE PANIAS, NOW KNOWN AS BANIAS BECAUSE THERE IS NO “P” IN ARABIC, IS A LARGE ROCK FACE OF 100 FEET HIGH AND 500 FEET WIDE, ON WHICH WERE CARVED SHRINES TO THE GOD PAN; THE GOD OF FERTILITY AND LUST, WHOSE WORSHIPERS LOST THEIR SELVES IN DRUNKEN ORGIES. THE CITY WAS BUILT ON TOP OF THIS ROCK, AND ON TOP, RIGHT AT THE EDGE, WAS THE TEMPLE DEDICATED TO CAESAR, WITH THE STATUE’S GOLDEN ARMOR SHINING IN THE SUN. AT THIS SPOT, DEDICATED TO CARNALITY AND OVERSEEN BY THE EMPEROR OF THE WORLD, JESUS ASKED HIS DISCIPLES, “WHO DO PEOPLE SAY THAT I AM?”

WE ARE AT THE MIDPOINT OF MARK’S GOSPEL, AND, UP TO THIS POINT, WHILE TEACHING, PREACHING, HEALING, AND DOING WONDERS LIKE WALKING ON THE SEA AND FEEDING THOUSANDS WITH TWO FISH AND FIVE LOAVES, JESUS HAS BEEN TELLING PEOPLE TO SAY NOTHING ABOUT WHAT HE HAS DONE. THERE HAS BEEN NO MENTION OF HIM AS THE MESSIAH, THE CHRIST, AND MANY HAVE BEEN WONDERING JUST WHO AND WHAT HE WAS, AND WHAT WERE HIS INTENTIONS. AT THIS PLACE, DEDICATED TO THE LIFE OF THE FLESH AND THE EMPEROR OF THIS WORLD, JESUS ASKED THIS APPARENTLY SIMPLE QUESTION OF HIS DISCIPLES; THE QUESTION TO WHICH THE ANSWER ONE GIVES CHANGES EVERYTHING.

THE DISCIPLES INITIAL ANSWERS TO HIS QUESTION ARE WHAT THE PEOPLE WERE SAYING ABOUT HIM; SOME SAID HE WAS JOHN THE BAPTIST BACK FROM THE DEAD, LIKE HEROD THOUGHT, OTHERS THAT HE WAS ELIJAH RETURNED, OR ONE OF THE PROPHETS OF OLD. JESUS UPPED THE ANTE WHEN HE ASKED, BUT WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM. I IMAGINE THERE WAS A BIT OF SILENCE UNTIL PETER BLURTED OUT, “YOU ARE THE MESSIAH.” THIS WAS THE RIGHT ANSWER, BUT WHAT THAT MEANS IS A WHOLE OTHER QUESTION. REMEMBER, THEY ARE STANDING UNDER THE SHADOW OF THE TEMPLE OF AUGUSTUS AND IN FRONT OF THE SHRINE TO PAN. THERE WERE MANY EXPECTATIONS OF WHAT THE COMING MESSIAH WOULD DO, AND PROMINENT AMONG THEM WAS THE BELIEF THAT HE WOULD CAST OFF THE YOKE OF THE OPPRESSOR AND RESTORE THE KINGDOM OF DAVID. NOTHING JESUS HAS DONE OR SAID HAS INDICATED THAT THIS WAS HIS GOAL, SO PETER’S CONVICTION, WHILE PROMPTED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, WAS OFF BASE BECAUSE PETER WAS LOOKING FOR A POLITICAL MESSIAH WHOSE POWER WOULD GIVE PETER STATUS AND GLORY.

WHEN JESUS TOLD THEM WHAT HE WAS REALLY GOING TO DO, IN THIS FIRST REVELATION OF HIS COMING DEATH AND RESURRECTION, PETER COULD NOT ACCEPT IT, AND REBUKED HIS LORD. JESUS TURNED TO HIS DISCIPLES, AND TURNED HIS BACK ON PETER, AND SAID, “GET THEE BEHIND ME SATAN! FOR YOU ARE NOT SETTING YOUR MIND ON DIVINE THINGS BUT ON HUMAN THINGS.” HOW POWERFUL THAT CHASTISEMENT MUST HAVE BEEN; NOT IN JUST WHAT JESUS SAID, BUT WHERE HE SAID IT. HUMAN DESIRES AND POLITICAL POWER HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE KINGDOM OF THE MESSIAH. THEN HE TOLD THEM WHAT HE EXPECTED OF THEM; “IF ANY WANT TO BECOME MY FOLLOWERS, LET THEM DENY THEMSELVES AND TAKE UP THEIR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME.” TO FOLLOW JESUS MEANS TO POUR ONES SELF OUT FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS, AS HE WAS GOING TO POUR HIMSELF OUT FOR THE WORLD.

WHEN I RETIRED FROM MY POSITION AS THE COMMANDANT OF THE ARMY CHAPLAIN SCHOOL, WHERE I WAS THE THIRD MOST INFLUENTIAL PERSON IN THE CHAPLAINCY, WHERE MY WORD WAS LAW AND ANY WISH I EXPRESSED WAS MADE TO HAPPEN, A PARADE WAS GIVEN IN MY HONOR, A MEDAL WAS PINNED ON MY CHEST, AND, THEN, MY DRIVER TOOK ME BACK TO THE SCHOOL AND LEFT ME STANDING ON THE SIDEWALK. I ACTUALLY SAID TO MYSELF, SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI: “SO PASSES WORLDLY GLORY.” I EVENTUALLY CAME TO TOPEKA, AND BEGAN SERVING AS A HOSPICE CHAPLAIN. SHORTLY THEREAFTER, I WAS ASKED TO RETURN TO GERMANY FOR A MONTH TO TRAIN THE CHAPLAINS OF THE 35TH DIVISION (KANSAS NATIONAL GUARD) FOR THEIR DEPLOYMENT TO KOSOVO.

WHILE THERE, I RAN INTO A CLASSMATE FROM WEST POINT WHO HAD RETIRED ABOUT THE SAME TIME AS I DID; BUT HE RETIRED AS A FOUR STAR GENERAL. HE KNEW WHAT I HAD BEEN DOING IN THE ARMY, AND ASKED WHAT I WAS DOING NOW. WHEN I TOLD HIM I WAS A HOSPICE CHAPLAIN, HE SAID, “WOW! WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT?” I TOLD HIM I BELIEVED I HAD TO SIMPLIFY MY LIFE, AND GET BACK TO WHAT I WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED TO DO. HE DIDN’T GET IT, AND SAID HE WANTED TO TALK WITH ME MORE ABOUT IT, BUT WE NEVER DID. SOMETHING MORE IMPORTANT ALWAYS TOOK UP HIS TIME.

TO BE A FOLLOWER OF THE CHRIST MEANS TO FOLLOW IN THE WAY OF THE CROSS. THIS DOES NOT MEAN WE ARE TO BE DOORMATS FOR THE WORLD, BUT THAT WE ARE TO BE DIFFERENT FROM THOSE TO WHOM THE WORLD BLINDS WITH VISIONS OF GLORY OR THE SELF GRATIFICATIONS OF THE FLESH. THE WAY OF THE CROSS IS SEPARATE FROM THE WAYS OF THE WORLD, FOR THE WAY OF THE CROSS IS THE WAY OF THE DENIAL OF THE SELF IN FAVOR OF OTHERS. SOME HAVE TAKEN THIS TO MEAN THAT ONE SHOULD WITHDRAW FROM THE WORLD INTO THE CLOISTERED LIFE, OR TO LIVE AS A HERMIT. YET, JESUS WAS ON HIS WAY TO THE TOWNS AND PEOPLE OF THE REGION, AND HE WILL EVENTUALLY SEND HIS FOLLOWERS OUT INTO THE ENTIRE WORLD FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD.

WHILE WE LIVE IN THIS WORLD, WE MUST CONSTANTLY INTERACT WITH THIS WORLD; AND, IN SO DOING, IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO KNOW WHO JESUS IS, AS DID PETER, BUT TO FOLLOW IN THE WAY JESUS LEADS US. WE MAY FIND OURSELVES IN POSITIONS WHERE WE EXERCISE GREAT POWER, OR WE MAY LEAD ORDINARY AND SIMPLE LIVES. IN EITHER EVENT, IT IS HOW WE LIVE AS THE FOLLOWERS OF THE CHRIST THAT DEFINES US. WHAT EVER IT IS THAT WE DO, WHETHER WE ARE A POLITICIAN, A JUDGE, A SOLDIER, A POLICE OFFICER, A PASTOR, A SHOPKEEPER, A HOMEMAKER, A PARENT, WHAT WE DO IS NEVER FOR OUR SELVES AND OUR OWN GLORY, BUT SHOULD BE FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS. THE WAY OF THE CROSS IS THE LIFE OF HUMILITY AND SERVICE TO OTHERS. THAT IS HOW WE FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE CHRIST, AND GIVE GLORY TO OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.

I DID TAKE SOME PHOTOS IN GERMANY, AND HAD ONE TAKEN OF ME LEANING ON THE FRONT OF A HUMMV. WHEN MY THEN NINE YEAR OLD GRANDSON SAW IT, HE NOTED THAT THERE WAS SOMEONE IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT, AND ASKED WHO THAT WAS. WHEN I SAID IT WAS MY DRIVER, HE LOOKED AT ME AND SAID, “WOW! DID YOU USED TO BE IMPORTANT?” I JUST SMILED AND SAID NOTHING. I SHOULD HAVE SAID, “AT ONE TIME I THOUGHT I WAS, BUT, NOW, NOT SO MUCH:” BUT HE WOULDN’T HAVE GOT IT EITHER.
AMEN

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