“And His Name shall be call-ed, Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”
The time is drawing near when we will all sing those familiar and beloved words from Handel’s Messiah, describing Jesus as a ‘mighty God’, a royal ‘Prince of Peace’ – underlined with tympany drums and trumpets, exaggerated and joyous rhythms!
We hear in the Gospel that when Jesus asked his disciples who they thought He was, Peter was the first to answer, identifying Jesus as the ‘Messiah’, the Hebrew word referring to the expected ‘Prince of the Chosen’, anointed by God to redeem his people, and foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament. The Jews, who were then under the subjugation of the Romans, looked for a ‘savior’, a ‘Messiah’ to release them from their bondage.
Peter had great hopes for Jesus’ future. If Jesus was the ‘Messiah’, Peter wanted Him to assume the role of God’s Anointed, and become the long-awaited powerful leader of the Jews. Jews believed that
- the ‘Messiah’ would drive out the oppressive Romans through power and war;
- the ‘Messiah’ would defeat all the enemies of the Jews;
- the ‘Messiah would provide justice in the land;
- and the ‘Messiah would restore the general welfare of the Jewish nation;
– meaning, in reality, the Jewish people would at last rule the earth.
Peter envisioned a great and glorious future for Jesus the ‘Messiah’.
But this wasn’t why Jesus had come. Jesus almost immediately began to teach his followers something completely different about the world, the Kingdom of God, and what His real power was. Rather than coming as a triumphant conqueror, Jesus would face great suffering; many prominent leaders of his own people (the Pharisees and Sadducees, the chief priests and scribes) would reject him. Jesus went on to shock His disciples by saying that he would be killed. Yes. Actually slain. They would see him die.
Jesus told Peter, and the rest of the disciples:
“You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33)
He reminded them that divine things were not power, domination, wealth, or status, but peace, love, generosity and caring for all of God’s children. Those were stunning, stinging words, but they were words they needed to hear. And they are words that, more than ever, we need to hear. It is human nature to get so caught up in our own desires and wishes, our own agendas for ourselves and our loved ones, that we do not spend much time focusing on divine things, especially the message of God as taught by Jesus. But the truth is that it is only as we seek to know and do the path of God in all things, that we discover happiness in our lives.
Yet, if our main focus is often upon the marvelous dreams and hopes we have for our loved ones and ourselves – what can be wrong with that? An argument can well be made that we should have great hopes and visions for ourselves and our family members and friends. Surely there is nothing wrong and everything right with setting a goal to strive for.
There is only one caveat, one warning we should heed. Our goals and strivings need to be in line with the path God shows us. If they are not, in spite of whatever we might achieve, there will always be a feeling of something missing, something not quite right, in earthly status, power or wealth without inner joy.
It is quite clear that God wants us to choose carefully where we focus our minds and action. When Peter rebuked Jesus, Peter was focusing on his desire that Jesus be the militant and powerful ruler who would set things right in the world. Jesus, however, was intent on following the divine plan, the path to the Kingdom of God wherever that led. Even if the short-term future promised to be frightening and full of pain and suffering; even if a cross was in His future, Jesus taught and lived the path toward God’s Kingdom.
There is a great lesson here. When you and I make the proper choices, when we truly seek the mind of God as we travel down life’s road, we will find that we can handle whatever comes, even death itself.
However, if we decide instead to center on human things — on the temporary rather than the everlasting — we will find ourselves headed toward chaos and disappointment. Sometimes we may discover our life totally out of control and in a desperate condition. Our lives will only be truly fruitful and meaningful as we center on the path to God set out 2,000 years ago by Jesus. As we go from day to day, we would do well to develop a pattern of seeking the mind of God regarding each choice we face.
In his first sermon, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminded us:
“God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the Way. He came to show us the Way to life, the Way to love. He came to show us the Way beyond what often can be the nightmares of our own devisings and into the dream of God’s intending.
This is the Jesus Movement, and we are The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement in this world.”
Perhaps we would do well to follow something like the guidelines for daily Christian living developed by the Trappist Monks in the Abbey of the Genesee. They remind us:
This is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good. What I do today is important because I’m exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving in its place something I have traded for it. I want it to be gain, not loss; good, not evil; success, not failure; in order that I shall not regret the price I paid for it.
You and I are free to live our lives as we please, if we choose. But those who are spiritually wise know that the precious gift of a free will is only truly meaningful and joyous when we surrender completely, day by day, to the One who knows best how our lives are meant to be lived.
Rather than as a powerful ruler, Jesus spent His life as one in service, of humility, of sacrifice. Jesus came to earth to serve, not to be served. His service ultimately cost Him his life. And in so loving and dying – as a humble and loving servant – He showed us the way to find salvation – and joy and meaning in our lives!
“Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)
That’s the question Jesus asks each one of us. He doesn’t want to know what we would like Him to be, or want Him to be … or even need Him to be. Jesus wants a relationship with us so that we can know “who” He is.
We answer that question each day of our lives with our choices and priorities.
The lyrics of a popular contemporary song, You Raise Me Up, by Brendan Graham and Rolf Lovland communicates what Christ is ready to do for us and through us:
“When I am down and, oh my soul so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Until You come and sit awhile with me.
There is no life, no life without its hunger.
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly,
But when You come and I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.
You raise me up so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas,
I am strong when I am on Your shoulders,
You raise me up to more than I can be.”
Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, is here for each of us, his suffering, death, and resurrection has assured us eternal life. We are beloved children of God, all brothers and sisters of Jesus. If we live His way, as His people, our communities, nation and planet will be a brighter, happier place – and our lives will be more full and rich than we ever dreamed possible!
Let us go forth into the world each day, being ‘Jesus People’.
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 19 September 2018