Rocks Can Be Hard of Hearing

This sermon was prepared for Wesley United’s Sunday service on February 25, 2018 (Year B Lent 2, Mark 8:31-38).

Immediately preceding the Gospel text we read today, we see Jesus challenging his students, asking “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter seems to get it right when he replies… “You are the Messiah.” An astute answer.

Jesus then begins to teach his students about what will happen to him, he speaks about rejection, suffering, death and resurrection. He shares how…

…he will not be recognized as a political leader by the established powers…

…he will not be heralded as the instigator of a new Jewish kingship…

…he has not come to take on the colonizing power of Rome…

…instead, he will be rejected, suffer, and die.

Simon Peter, who had just gotten so much right, pulls Jesus aside, to say, “Surely, not like this?”

“Surely, this isn’t what a Messiah does?”

You see, Simon Peter, like the rest of the disciples, has a lot on the line here. Jesus isn’t just some spiritual leader whose inspirational videos he likes to watch after work while he’s on the elliptical.

Jesus is the man that he left his family, his livelihood, and his hometown for. Jesus is the man who was supposed to fulfil all of his expectations of political liberation!


We first see Simon, in the Gospel of Mark, fishing with his brother Andrew. Jesus calls them, and they drop their nets to follow a man who tells them he’ll show them how to “fish for people”.

We then find Jesus at Simon’s house, where he witnesses, first hand, Jesus’ miraculous powers. Simon’s mother-in-law is sick and Jesus heals her.

If Simon has a mother-in-law we can also presume he has more family—a wife, maybe some children. He then leaves to travel with Jesus throughout Galilee—maybe he leaves his family behind, or maybe them come with him—we’re not sure.

But, leaving your hometown is no small feat, in a world where family ties were the social welfare system; where livelihood meant life or death—it was a serious thing to unanchor yourself from your kin, and Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, spends time unpacking what it means to find a chosen family in Christ.

As he follows Jesus throughout the Judean countryside, Simon, who is renamed Peter, watches Jesus teach scripture, tame demons, command the weather, heal the chronically ill, and multiple bread!

Then we arrive at our text for today. Jesus has just told Simon Peter that he is not going to be the liberator that Simon Peter was waiting for. Can we blame him for his bewilderment? For his anxiety? How could this man, who Simon Peter gave so much up to follow, not be what he was expecting?

Have you ever taken a big risk, only to find it wasn’t what you thought it was? Do you remember the clammy coldness that spreads throughout your body when you realize what you’d done? What you’ve given up?

This is how I envision Simon Peter.

Because, he had good reason to believe Jesus was the person he expected: Jesus had taken on the scribes and Pharisees in religious debates, he taught with authority, and preached a radical message. Sure, he wasn’t from a royal lineage, he was some Carpenter from Nazareth—Mary’s son. And, yes he kept inviting the wrong kind of people to dinner—tax collectors and sex workers—but Simon Peter was also the wrong kind of person. He was an uneducated fisherman from a backwater town.

Jesus was going to usher in a new political reality! The oppressed were going to liberated from their chains of bondage, and Rome was going to be pushed back! Jerusalem would be restored to its old glory!

But here he was, here Jesus was, the messiah—the anointed one, telling Simon Peter that he wasn’t there to usher in a new era of liberation for Israel—instead, he spoke of rejection, suffering and death.

Is it any wonder that Simon Peter, who had just gotten so much right, pulls Jesus aside, to say, “Surely, not like this?”


Jesus rebukes Simon, harshly. He calls him “Satan”, which means adversary—but adversary isn’t the only name Jesus gives him.

Simon, his given name, means “he has heard”, but earlier in the story Jesus renames him “rock”. He is the thick-headed disciple, who never seems to get it right. Peter, the too eager. Peter who falls asleep in the garden. Peter who denies his teacher. Peter, the one who doesn’t listen. Mark’s Gospel doesn’t go easy on him.


Our expectations can cloud us from seeing things as they are.

My mother used to like experimenting with recipes when I was little. And, I remember distinctly this bright orange soup she made us once. She explained that it was called Four Potato Soup. Obviously, it had carrots in it because it was pylon orange, and I tucked into a bowl, taking a big spoonful. …it was awful. It was really gross tasting, and I told her. She was very used to this because she was always concocting new foods.

“Mom, this is the worst carrot soup I’ve ever tasted!” …she looked at me, puzzled. “It’s potato soup…there’s no carrot.”

It took a few moments for the cogs to turn—for me to realize that it was orange because of the sweet potato! …I took another bite… it was really delicious potato soup.

Mark’s Peter is too preoccupied with how he thinks Jesus should be, to be able to see him fully as he is. He isn’t listening to the “Son of Man” statements in Mark, these are the statements where Jesus reveals who he is.


Now, it can be hard to read this story and not want to criticize Simon Peter—I believe the author has written him as a foil for us. But we’re watching it all unfold on the page, from a distant place. We have a different understanding of messiahship, crafted from two-thousand years of Christian reflection.

But, we do carry our own expectations of who Jesus is—expectations that filter how we see him. We privilege some stories over others. It’s pretty easy to ignore the parts we don’t like—the things we’re not comfortable with.

Things like…

“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.”

I don’t want to hear that, that’s hard, that’s uncomfortable. I want to skip the rejection, suffering and death, and move right on to resurrection!

But, we are in the season of Lent, and in Lent we make space to focus on the uncomfortable parts—it is when we reflect the most on rejection, suffering, and death.

It is easy to become like Simon Peter, whose last words in this gospel account are “I do not know this [Jesus] you are talking about”. It is easy to ignore the parts we don’t like, that don’t match up with who we see Jesus as—instead of wrestling to hear him in the text.

We miss hearing him say that to follow him is also to be rejected, to suffer, and to die—but that new life is found there—an unexpected liberation is found there.

Can you hear these words being read aloud in an early house church, where believers were experiencing persecution and death at the hands of Rome?

Can you hear the words now, as Jesus proclaims that we can be made whole by exchanging the expectations of this world, for those of our creator?

My hope is that throughout this Lenten season, your ears will be attuned to the difficult things—but that by wrestling with them, you will experience more fully the liberation of Easter. Amen.


Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up

This sermon was prepared for Wesley United’s Sunday service on January 28, 2018 (Year B Epiphany 4, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13).

When first approaching this text, the obvious thing is to preach a sermon about the idols we have in our lives. Since there’s ample fodder there for conversation.

We could talk about the devices that distract us… concerns that seem all-too-important in the short-term… We could talk about how social media puts us in an infinite loop of comparison, leading to depression and anxiety… We could also talk about how, sometimes, we get more caught up in the institutional church than the communion of believers (since last week was the Week for Christian Unity). Yes, there are lots of idols, big and small, we could talk about.

But, then would we be missing the point?

This epistle has a lot more to say about mature Christians supporting their immature siblings than it does about meat or idols. Paul assumes his readers know what to do when it comes to that issue—he’s not worried about diets.

You see, there was no confusion for this community of believers about what was an idol.  There were Roman temples where people would go and worship local and national Gods, and their idols. Now, we remember in the Hebrew scriptures that Yahweh made it very clear—there would be no idols, representing pagans Gods or the Israelite god. To Yahweh, the Israelite people were his representatives on earth–He didn’t need statues of wood or stone when he had idols made of flesh and blood.

This early Christian community knew all of this–they knew they weren’t supposed to worship other gods or idols. The issue, which it seems they wrote to Paul about in a previous letter we no longer have, was whether it was acceptable to eat meat which was bought from the local market and had been sacrificed at one of these Roman temples.

For Paul, though, this isn’t a question of whether eating that meat is problematic–it is the question of whether the house church in Corinth is caring for one-another in community.

This is one part of a longer section where he offers them instructions on how to worship together in Christian community. It culminates with the oh-so-famous section, which has been read at every wedding I’ve ever attended:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


This text is not a prescription for marital bliss, but for healthy community. Paul, actually, isn’t a huge fan of marriage, he sort-of relents and says if you have to it’s better than falling into sexual immorality but he really wishes you’d just commit your entire life to evangelization and mission work. But I digress…

Returning to our text for today: “‘[All] of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

This is a love that has empathy for where each of us is starting from, and the faith journeys we are taking in community.

Can you reflect on a time when you were “immature” in the faith? A time before you learned that idol meat was just meat?

Do you remember what a painful process it can be to work through the theology that’s been embedded inside of you, passed down by well-meaning family members and Sunday School teachers?

I remember—and it makes me feel embarrassed just to think about it. But, before I ever came to terms with my own sexuality, I was a homophobe. I grew up in a community that was certain about how Jesus, and God, felt about gay people (bisexual people weren’t even on the radar then)—and they passed those beliefs onto the children in the community—onto me.

Eventually, I met amazing people whose lives were inspirational, and they happened to be gay. They tricked me, by having me fall in love with who they were as people, as loving partners, as mentors to me in my own faith journey. That changed stuff for me, but it took a couple years and a lot of thinking before I became affirming. And, then it wasn’t until I was affirming that I could think about my own sexuality and come to terms with my orientation.

Thinking back makes me uncomfortable. I don’t have a lot of grace for that version of myself, and so I don’t have a lot of patience for people who are still in that place. I forget how hard it was to get from there to here. But, that means I sometimes make it harder for folks to work out their own feelings on the subject. I push them in my own arrogance and anger, and they push back, entrenching themselves further.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t challenge one another and speak out against harmful ideas. But, I do think Paul speaks to a responsibility we have—to support one another on our journeys with love. It is an orientation of its own, to allow each of us to take the journey at our own speed, from our own starting point. It is a caution against arrogance; and, a call to patience, kindness and self-control. We want to support others, in their theological dilemmas and wonderings, so that they draw closer to God, instead of pushing them father into polarized factions.

We’re working to dissolve the boundaries of us and them—to make space within the we of Christian community. It is an exercise in seeing Christ within the other, and recognizing that their faith journey won’t look like our own.

The Creator made our world expansive, vibrant and diverse—God’s children, are just as varied; and God speaks to them all in different ways, according to their personalities and needs. What’s good for your journey may not be good for mine, and vice versa. We have an opportunity to support one another and to engage one another in conversation. What a gift to learn the different ways God is speaking and moving in creation. What a gift to have community members who share their struggles with one another.

May the experience of supporting one-another help you find a better way of journeying with God. Amen.

The Upside-down Kingdom

This sermon was prepared for Wesley United’s Sunday service on November 19, 2017. The church has pushed Advent ahead by one week, so the readings for the day were for The Reign of Christ the King (Year A Proper 29, Matthew 25:31-46, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:15-23).

Let me start off by saying—wow. The Gospel of Matthew, once again, delivers us a hard-to-swallow image of the end of time, and eternal punishment.

A lens I use when reading texts like this is to remember that this genre of the writing, is meant to be encouraging.

How? You might ask me. Because it doesn’t feel encouraging!

Well, it’s an image meant to encourage the early Christian community—a community that was experiencing persecution, and struggling to find its identity in the midst of the polytheistic Roman Empire. It’s also a community who believed Jesus was going to return soon—in their lifetime soon. So, this style of writing focuses on that… telling the reader that the bad guys will get what they deserve and the small community will be vindicated in the end.

But what about you and me, in 2017? Well, today we celebrate the king of an upside-down kingdom. Before the beginning of Advent, we take a moment to close our church year by celebrating “The Reign of Christ the King”. And this is the lectionary reading we’re given to do that.

It’s a funny celebration too, because in a world where we hold-up the strong, the powerful, and the ambitious, it’s counter-cultural to follow a man like Jesus.

Someone who didn’t exalt himself, but made himself low.

Someone who didn’t demand sacrifice, but invited it by modelling it even to his own death.

Someone who didn’t tell you what to believe, but instead invited you to come and see.

Today, we celebrate the undereducated, blue-collar, nomadic, brown, king of an upside-down kingdom.

And, when we come together, as Christian community, we gather as citizens of this upside-down kingdom. We talk about God’s vision for our world, we sing songs, read prayers, and share ideas about how God calls us to live this ideal out in the world.

But, we’re also citizens of other communities: NDG, Montréal, Québec, Canada. We’re members of companies, organizations, groups and movements. We give our loyalty to many causes, to different leaders, and to diverse ideologies.

Because, we no longer live in a world that is anxious for the imminent return of Christ. The author of Matthew, and the community he writes to was sitting on pins and needles waiting for the return of Jesus and the breaking in of his kingdom. The Ephesian Christian community too was anticipating Jesus’ return—the Apostle Paul genuinely believed Christ would come back within his lifetime.

But he didn’t.

Christianity, as it has continued throughout history, needed to begin asking questions about what it means to live the urgency and power of the gospel message—a countercultural call to justice and reconciliation—while living in our world, as it is.

We have moved from a future-focused vision of the kingdom to something already present and not yet.

We no longer live with the kind of abandon that Christian martyrs in antiquity lived with. Some of our Christian siblings in areas where they experience fierce persecution do. But life, in North America, is pretty comfortable—we’re ok to wait around for a while longer. Jesus can take his time.

But… what would it look like for you to live a life of urgency, with the kinship of God as your focus?

Not everyone can live a life of wild abandon—I’m not encouraging you to go out tomorrow and sell all your possessions to give to the poor (albeit I know someone who might). But, I do think we can still cultivate a kind of urgency here, now. A sense that, the instructions Jesus gave us are important (not because we think he’s going to descend down from heaven any moment) … but because he taught us that every life matters to God—to see his face in the face of those around us.

Those who are hungry… those who are thirsty… those who are lonely… those who don’t have enough… they all matter deeply to God.

There should be a sense of urgency to the way we embody the Gospel because our work brings people closer to God because we are God’s hands and feet in this world. The kinship of God is revealed only in so much as we feel called and are willing to reveal it.

The kinship of God is revealed only in so much as we feel called and are willing to reveal it.

A kinship where the marginalized are given the best we have to offer, where the privileged take a back seat. A kinship where children are highly regarded and have so much to teach us about our own faith journeys. A kinship where caring for the immediate needs of another takes precedence over whether they’ll listen to us first.

And, we’re part of a long tradition of people, trying to figure out the best way to go about it—a community of messy, normal, imperfect people trying to figure out what living as part of the kinship of God means in our context.

If we profess that Jesus is king, albeit in a way completely unlike any other monarch in history, what does it look like to live that out as you, or me, today?

I want to invite you to take a moment, to think about the ways you see the kingdom of God being built in our community, right now. We need to remember and celebrate these moments, because, kingdom-building is hard work.

Take a moment to think of a person, a program, a group, that is doing the work you see Jesus calling us to—it could be in these walls, at your workplace, or in our city.

Now, let’s think about what else God might be calling us to do. Is there a particular group, activity or idea that God has been percolating in you? Do you feel like, as a community, there is a need we’re overlooking? Is there a way we can better live out our citizenship in the world and in the kingdom of God? Where do you see urgency?

Now, think of one thing you can do to make a start, right now. Is there a conversation you think you should have? An organization you want to support? A story you might need to hear?

My hope, and prayer, is that as we go out into the world this week, God will begin stirring us anew and equipping us to continue the work that has already been started, to strength us and refresh our vision for the kinship of God in our homes, our schools, workplaces and communities; revealing it a little more, each day through our lives.