Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
“You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Jesus says. No kidding. I wake up in the morning and my cat is meowing. I feed her then I read the news while I eat my oatmeal. I get my kid up and start getting him ready for school. We’re in battle mode again about toothbrushing and whether he will or he won’t and what way I can convince him to do it. I walk him to school, come home, and pull out of my driveway, ready to head to the church, and have my first thought of the day about God. I am focused on human things. I have shaped my life to be focused on human things, human priorities. So why am I surprised when I come to church and find we are focused on human things, building repairs, serving on committees, worship planning, complaining about being overcommitted.
Abram had his mind on human things. His wife was barren. He was old. They didn’t know who would care for them in their old age. Maybe because Abram was starting to realize that there was no going back and that this way of living was not going to work going forward, he dared to look up for a moment from the drudgery and isolation and shame of his life. There he saw the saw the stars which pulled at him and told him a greater story of himself. In that moment God spoke to him and showed him a vision beyond his little cares of this world, a vision that would blow his mind of relationship and God’s intention for God’s people.
The Disciples had their minds on human things. Before they met Jesus, they were focused on making a living, fishing, and tending to their families. Somehow, they let go of that layer of human things. Maybe they realized the futility of their labor, although I doubt it because they go right back to fishing after Jesus is crucified. Maybe they caught in Jesus a sense of hope that things could be different, so they opened their eyes to new possibilities and followed him. But old habits and ways of seeing the world are hard to break, and as they journeyed with Jesus, they fell back into their old patterns. Who would sit next to Jesus when he ascended on his throne? Who would be his best friend? Who would get the most awards? Who would have the most money? Where would they eat or sleep as they traveled? Who sinned this blind man or his parents?
Here in the Gospel we meet Jesus, who was present at creation, knowing the purpose and balance of all that God has made, in the middle of God’s creation destroying itself. How his heart must have been breaking every day. So he’s having this conversation with his disciples about what they see when they see him and what others say when they see him. He’s trying to compare the vision he has, with that of his followers. How did the Divine vision and the human vision become so different from each other?
Others see prophets of old or John the Baptist in Jesus. Peter sees the Messiah. Some can only see Jesus by what they can compare him to, the prophets that came before and told the truth about God’s vision, that at times led the people forward and other times were attacked and killed by the people for telling them the truth, but also were honored and revered. Sometimes we can only expect what we’ve already seen. Peter seems to move beyond the idea of a prophet like those who have gone before. He correctly declares that Jesus is the Messiah. I am picturing a prophet to the tenth degree. Jesus then tells him more what it means to be the Messiah, which would make sense if he is the Messiah. Wouldn’t he know more about who he is and how he would be treated? He tells them that it has nothing to do with fame or honor in this life, instead he will be mocked and killed. But Peter has his mind on human things, like thrones and scepters and castles and edicts and swords and chariots and riches. Although he calls Jesus the correct title, his vision is completely skewed by the expectations of the Messiah held by the world, held by religion. He is so wrapped up in what is important to humans, and what humans value, that he misses God’s vision of wholeness, God’s values of vulnerability and love. So Jesus tells him to get out of the way. He calls him the tempter—Satan. Peter stands against God’s vision.
I’ve read a little news here and there about the survivors of the shooting in Parkland, Florida. They are bold in speaking out. It seems to me, they are making even more of an impact on the conversation than the parents of the children killed at Sandyhook. I’ve been wondering what is it about them? First of all, they have a vision they have stated clearly—Not One More. No one else will be killed by gun violence in schools. It is a bold vision. Certainly we all believe in that ideal, however impossible it sounds, though we may disagree with the methods of getting there. Schools should be a place free of fear and violence. Not only should they be, but these kids believe they will be with hard work and pressure. They are vowing to work until this is the reality in our nation. The parents of the children who died at Sandyhook believe that. I believe that. You believe that. So what is the difference this time? Certainly, the survivors are motivated. They’ve just witnessed their friends killed before their eyes. They’ve just hid in closets for hours until the swat teams came and cleared them to leave the building. They still have texts on their phones telling their parents they love them, in case they didn’t make it out. That may be part of it, but I think the main part is that they haven’t run up against all the systems of this world, yet, that stand against their vision. I have to say, for me, I watch fight after fight in the legislature, I watch billions of dollars exchanged, I see who gets elected and I just give up. That’s my sin. These kids have something on their side, naivete, innocence. They don’t know how this world is supposed to work based on experience, so they tackle this disgusting mess we’ve made of this world, with their clear vision and their power, they are almost voters, and they push this world more toward God’s vision of peace and wholeness.
When I consider our congregation and the state of religion in our country and I wonder in what ways are we standing against the vision of Jesus of wholeness and balance for this world. In what ways to we decide that God’s vision can’t be, so we just give up. When we sit around in meetings all day, when we just want to sit in our comfortable sanctuaries and sing our favorite hymn, when someone complains to me about a kid being noisy in church, when our favorite pet church activity is coffee hour, we can hear Jesus say to us, get out of the way! God’s bold vision, coming through. And the sad thing is, I know I stand in the way of God’s vision, even though I have glimpses of it. I stand in the way of creative, visionary people in our own congregation and I say, “This congregation is not ready for this yet. Give them time.” I am Peter. I am Satan. And I know better. Because every day, my heart is breaking that we are not in many significant ways following our hearts, following Jesus in taking risks for a better world for anyone. Forgive me God, for standing in your way.
It is no wonder our churches are in decline. We refuse to take real risks to follow Jesus, to let go of anything we like, in order to take hold of Jesus’ bold dream for us. We refuse to see human things for what they are, temporary, wicked, selfish, vain, in order to see divine things, which are good for those who are unloved and discounted. Because of our human view, we crucify Jesus every single day, when we let by complacency or otherwise the values of this world continue to rule our lives. We crucify Jesus when we accept that children will be killed at school, that the elderly will go hungry and homeless, that people will die of easily preventable diseases, that the best we can hope for is for families to sleep in their cars and please let it be that other church that lets them do it in their parking lot.
I know that you wouldn’t be here, if you didn’t see the wickedness of this world, too, and even your own participation in it. I know you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t see in Jesus a chance to turn this ship around. So how can we get out of our own way? How can we risk being changed by people different from us? How can we look not to build up our own congregation, but build up the body of Christ? How can we move beyond loving ourselves to loving the whole world? How can we let Jesus move us toward his vision and values? I believe we can. But we have to face what we have done and change our ways. We have to build real connections, speak the truth to each other in love, use our power together with other voices to tell the truth to this world. We have to believe. We have to take a step in faith and another and another, not knowing everything, but following our savior. And certainly we will be crucified, but crucified for a good cause, God’s vision of wholeness, a better world for generations to come. Our own wants and needs may be crucified, and we may be hated by our own family and friends. And we will be resurrected in new abundant life living Jesus’ vision. New life is a promise, for those who have faith.
First let’s get out of the way. Get moving. Do something. Volunteer at a warming center, where people on the streets go to stay alive, and where privileged people go to realize how much they take for granted. Bring a meal to the program Sheltering Our Neighbors that meets at different churches during the winter. Hear there someone’s story of escaping abuse, of children who can’t sleep because they have no stability in their lives, of losing everything in order to start all over again. Come and worship at Church of God of Prophecy. Learn what it is like to give hope and education to your children by leaving your home and family and traveling to a hostile land. Come with me to visit Coffee Creek Correctional Institution and choke back tears as you watch an incarcerated mother hug her child for the first time all month. Come and visit someone who is homebound and know that someday you too will have difficult choices, but you won’t be alone, because you have a community that loves you. There are countless ways to break us out of our human values and vision, but we have to be willing to let go of our assumptions and patterns.
We have to occasionally look up and see the same stars that Abraham saw, and know that when he saw those stars, he saw us, and it gave him hope and courage to leave everything to follow God in faithfulness. When we look up, do we see ourselves included in the promise? Do we see the future generations that God is blessing through us, we don’t know how? Are we going to listen when Jesus says not only Get behind me Satan, and out of the way, but also, on this rock I build my church? Will we let Jesus be the cornerstone of a vision that is promised and coming to be? Will we live that vision in faith? Please tell me the answer is yes and how I can help you, how I can get out of your way. Please tell me God’s Kingdom is coming.