Sermon: Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
Sunday 3 September 2017
The Revd Canon Rosy Fairhurst, Canon Chancellor
It’s been Pride weekend in Leicester. This year, our neighbours St Nicholas have been participating very fully with Canon Karen – and Cathedral community members have been getting stuck in helping organising that. Friday night’s talk by, a stall at Pride up at Victoria Park yesterday, and Rainbow Eucharist this evening at St Nicks.
One of the things which struck me listening on Friday night to Liz Edman was the question, what do Christian LGBTQI people have to witness to all Christians and beyond through the process of Coming Out. After all, Jesus told Lazarus to Come Out from his graveclothes. Well, I’m going to talk about the gospel passage today. Whatever you feel about pride or the theology of human sexuality I think this is a powerful metaphor for understanding it.
Jesus, following Peter’s declaration that he is the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi (in the jaws of hell) is in a sense ‘coming out’ at this moment. He’s coming out about the full nature of his identity, something he’s been at pains to keep quiet in different ways up till now.
But here he goes. . . ’From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’
Ok, so he’s coming out first to his disciples – well, you start with your friends don’t you. He’s already been doing miracles, exorcisms, teaching in public to large crowds. But after this encounter, we have the transfiguration, when Jesus ‘comes out’ in a vision of his glory’ – something to sustain the disciples following him through the way which leads from there to his exodus in Jerusalem, his passion, death and most bafflingly of all, his resurrection – all the events which this passage prophesies.
But Peter, moments after, in a sense, he has outed Jesus by recognising his true identity, gets it so wrong about this identity that Jesus calls him Satan. What is going on?
Binding and loosing – who’s in charge?
Peter has just been given authority to bind and loose sin by Jesus, taking up the Jewish language of binding and loosing in relation to the interpretation of the law and re-orienting it in relation to sin and forgiveness. It’s as if, inspired by that authorising, he tries it out on Jesus. Because what he says is, ‘God forbid it, this must never happen to you.’ Peter rebukes Jesus – and he ‘binds’ this idea of how he should understand being Messiah. Yes, of course its motivated by a desire to see mercy triumph and Jesus not get hurt, but he doesn’t yet understand the full implications of how sin must be bound by Jesus, let alone the resurrection life that will be loosed. So he ends up trying to tell Jesus how to understand his calling. ‘Come on, I’m binding that awful language about suffering and death, apply your own principle of forgiveness, surely that needs loosing in terms of how you will fulfil God’s path for you.’ Well, it might look stupid to us here, in the light of what happens next, but how often do we end up, one way or another, trying to tell Jesus what to think or what to do – or telling others what we think Jesus is telling them.
Jesus is having none of it. ‘Get thee behind me Satan’. Not only does he rebuke Peter – in no uncertain terms (this is the man who rebuked the wind and waves remember), but he calls him a skandalon, a stumbling block. Remember this is the term he has used for those who cause suffering to little children or stop the blind from coming to Jesus.
Peter, you’ve gone from a rock to a stumbling block in 30 seconds.
So, Jesus’ rebuke is stinging but straight away he offers Peter a chance to regroup, as he addresses all the disciples: Come on, get BEHIND me. Behind me but WITH me, FOLLOWING me, taking your authority in my slipstream.
Jesus is calling us to a different orientation. Let’s look more closely at what Jesus is asking us to do, in losing our life and taking up our cross. He is asking us to move beyond self centredness or self hatred – the polarities of our generation – to decentre ourselves and re-orient ourselves to follow him. Don’t you agree that our generation is one with self at the centre – that whether its loving or loathing ourselves – or a volatile bouncing between the two – it’s all an expression of ‘me me me.’ So often we imagine that to lose our lives is to hate ourselves, and sometimes Christians have done a pretty good job of demonstrating what that looks like in a rather tortured way.
The cross for Jesus will be torture, will be a sacrifice, where he takes upon himself the scandal of all the sin of the world, all the violence, self-hatred, narcissism and pain of our broken and confused and oppressed identities. Because of course it’s not only gay people who struggle with admitting they truly are. We all do, each for a unique combination of reasons. But all of us ‘come out’ as we admit who we are to Christ, and find at the cross the place where we can let go of our false selves, and find our true selves begin to be affirmed and strengthened – especially where they have been hidden in the shadows and seen by us as part of our weakness. Sometimes the struggle is in accepting our sexuality as part of our god givenness, sometimes it’s a whole bunch of different things which we struggle with – including the limitations of our bodies, our gender, our backgrounds. We begin a journey of discovering our true identity and purpose reconciled to God.
Who knows what ways we will be asked to go. Taking up our cross will involve constantly remembering that we are at a crossroads. Because the decentring of ourselves and finding our true north following Jesus is a radically different way of living, which we have to practice to make habitual.
If we tear up our old maps Jesus will lead us by roads we never imagined. Roads where we will find our lives and those of the people we encounter on the way – if we don’t forget the bit about the resurrection.