We May Be Wrinkled and Weatherbeaten But We Are Worthy.

28 Feb
Mark 8:27-38 
I often hear people
say that they don’t believe in God. When I hear that I wonder who the god is
they do not believe in. Teenagers, in their rebellious desire for certainty,
are quick to say they don’t believe in God, and instead of asking them to
explain what they mean, I give them a sheet of paper and ask them to draw a
picture of the god they don’t believe in. It is very revealing.
Without fail their
god is a caricature of all the negative ideas about God currently loose in
society. When I have looked at the picture I usually say, ‘You know, I don’t
believe in that God either’, and proceed to unfold my understanding of God for
them.
This is the
conversation Jesus has with Peter and the disciples. As Bishop Spong suggests;
Jesus ‘asked who they thought he was. They responded, ‘You are the Christ of
God’, and then they proceeded to tell him what kind of Christ he had to be for
their sakes.’ No wonder he said ‘Get behind me Satan.’
Caspar Green says
that “For those, like Peter, who are hoping for a knight on a white horse to
sweep in at the last moment and save the day, the messianic expectation is
bound to end in disappointment.’ How often do we either experience that for our
selves or see the consequences of such an understanding of God in the lives of
others? Bitterness, anger, loss of faith, railing against God and the
institutions that represent him, and more.
From personal
experience I know such consequences. When tragedy struck in our own lives, I
could not understand why God had not been the kind of God I had created for
myself – one who rescues, saves and ensures we avoid the contrariness of being
human.
Wrong ideas about
God, and for the disciples and Peter about Jesus, lead to expectations that are
certain to fail. Expectations such as a life with out tragedy and death, full
of success and the modern day panacea called happiness, and more. Where did the
expectation that life and the purpose of life is happiness? Not only should we
expect happiness, it is our right to be happy. Parents want their children to
be happy and do everything to help their children to avoid anything to the
contrary. Yet this is a project doomed to failure.
I received a phone
call in the middle of the day from the Director of Pastoral Care that the
father of two of our students had collapsed with a clot in the brain. Their
life went from wonderful to terrible in an instant. I sat in the hospital and
watched as these 3 young people, the oldest 17 and the youngest 24, struggled
with making the decision to turn off the life support system, all the while
listening to the harrowing sounds of grief and loss. And I thought, no matter
how much we try protect our young people and ensure their happiness, life comes
along and throws a spanner in the works.
For these young
people and their classmates, this was the second major tragedy in their young
lives. 2 years before their best friend, a Kenyan student, went for a swim and
drowned. The questions of why it happened, how could God let this happen, and
more, filled the school community. The adults didn’t know what to say and all
the old clichés were trotted out.
Yet these moments
were the moments of greatest learning for these young people. Individually and
in chapel we talked about the brutality of providence, how God does not promise
an incident free life, that we learn when all we know fails us and we have to
go deep inside to find a new narrative, a new story to underpin our lives. That
was the evolving experience of the Jewish people all the way through the Old
Testament up to, and including, the Holocaust.
New life comes
wrapped up in death. Jesus tried to explain that fact to Peter and the disciple,
but they didn’t want to hear it, just as our modern world doesn’t want to hear
that we who are a little older are still real people. Societies fetish with
youth and young people as the saviours of our world’s future misses entirely
the fact that we do not come into this world fully formed. We are beings who
become, grow and put down roots into our soul as we age.
Instead of
relegating older people to the edge of society to make way for the young, we
need to be embrace those who have discovered wisdom, nurtured the soul and
lived down into the depths of their being to meet with and be comfortable with
the God who sits within. Let us celebrate being who we are and sit at the
centre of life and not on the edge.
Barbara Beskind
always wanted tobe an inventor since the age of 10. A little while ago she
spent to months honing her cv and application letter which she mailed to Ideo,
a Silicon Valley company that funds new ideas. She was accepted for her dream
job. Barbara is 91! I will repeat it, Barbara is 91. She says being old gives
her time to sit, think and be creative as she works to solve mobility, sight
and other issues facing older people. The nursing home also provides her with
an ideal testing lab for her ideas. (http://bit.ly/187he6f)
Peters rebuke to
Jesus is all about the expectation the society he lived in had of a Messiah. A
rescuer, a revenger and a warrior who could not be defeated. It was about
happiness and safety. Jesus says, bluntly, ‘Peter, stop following the false
ideas you are hearing all around you and listen to me.’ The kingdom of God is
not a Disney creation, it is real life and real life is dangerous, harsh and
full of unhappy experiences but there is always God’s grace.’
Over the last couple
of weeks I have been busy chopping and pruning trees and roses in the garden
across the road. In some cases I have been brutal, cutting the plants back to
the bare minimum. Yet they haven’t died in protest. Instead they have put forth
new shoots and begun the journey of resurrection.
Jesus points to this
as his and his follower’s future experience, and reminds them not to be side-tracked
by the expectations of society. In just the same way we are to celebrate who we
are, individually and as a congregation, slightly older, slightly greyer, a
little bit unsteady but significantly wiser, more soulful and ok with not
having answers to all our questions.
When we are
comfortable with ourselves and are living our lives from the centre of life,
not from where we have been parked by our prevailing culture in favour of
youth, others will come and join us, to see what this Good News is all about.
You see, no-one is the future of the church, young or old. We short change
everyone when we refer to young people, for example, as the future of the
church.
In God’s economy
there is only the present. Living life to the full now is the best
advertisement, and our challenge as a society and as a congregation is to find
ways to celebrate both our age and our faith, despite the pressure to defer to
youth. AMEN.

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