+ Lent 2 B
TEXT: Mark 8:31-38; Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
DATE: March 1, 2015
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Dallas
My parents named me
after my paternal great-grandfather, Charles,
and my maternal grandfather, Harold.
My father was given the same name
as the pastor who baptized him.
We didn’t name any of our children
after the pastor who baptized them…
But most of them do have a first or middle name – or both –
that honors their ancestors or family.
We name people for special reasons:
to honor important people in our lives,
or to describe what we hope for them,
or to describe a blessing we intend for them.
Maybe you were named like that.
In our first reading for today, from Genesis,
God marks the occasion
of a renewed covenant with Abram
by giving him a new name.
So, Abram, which means “exalted ancestor”,
is renamed Abraham, “ancestor of a multitude”,
because that is the promise God makes to him:
that he will be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.
And because she will be Abraham’s partner
in this covenant
and not her Egyptian servant, Hagar,
Abraham’s wife, Sarai, is renamed, too:
Sarah. Which means princess.
(The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 219)
It’s a new beginning for the nation Israel
that will come from these covenant partners,
Abraham and Sarah.
So God marks it with a new identity for them.
And what I’m sure you don’t realize –
you’d have no way of knowing
from our reading of the text –
is that God’s name is changed, too.
God introduces himself with a new name,
“God Almighty” in our translation.
This covenant and blessing is such a new beginning
that even God’s identity is expanded
with a new name.
But not every name given or changed
is an honor or blessing.
Jesus renames Peter in our gospel reading, too,
but it’s nothing for him to brag about.
When Jesus asked the disciples who they think he is,
Peter made a dramatic and bold confession.
“You are the messiah”, he declared.
But we know now
that Peter really didn’t understand
what that meant for Jesus.
We know that because of what happened next –
our gospel reading today.
Jesus announces what will happen to him,
but he doesn’t describe what Peter thought
when he called Jesus the messiah.
He doesn’t describe a triumphant entry into Jerusalem
and storming the castle,
taking the throne of power from the Romans.
Neither does he describe a covert operation,
infiltrating the palace, or the Sanhedrin,
and undertaking a subtle power grab
or a coup d’état.
No, Jesus describes a different future:
suffering, rejection by all the authorities
and subjection to them,
execution, and three days later, a resurrection.
That doesn’t match up with Peter’s idea
of what is supposed to happen to the messiah of God.
So to call Jesus back to his senses,
to play the nay-sayer and rein Jesus back in
to a sensible understanding
of what is supposed to happen,
Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him.
And that’s when Jesus renames him.
Satan, he calls him.
Neither blessing nor honor.
Satan, tempter and ruler of the world.
Jesus has seen Satan before
so he knows him when he sees him.
You remember, it was just last week’s gospel reading:
it was Satan who had tempted him in the wilderness.
And that is precisely what Jesus sees in Peter now.
In part, Jesus sees in Peter’s rebuke
a temptation to abandon the way and will of God
and do things Peter’s way.
It was just like Satan in the wilderness.
He sees in Peter’s action
a force alien to the word of God,
against the way and will of God,
counter to the way Jesus has set before him.
And that’s why he gave him the new name.
The hard part of hearing Jesus call Peter Satan
is that he gives him that name
because, he says, Peter has set his mind on human things.
It’s not that he was necessarily sinister,
or evil, or amoral.
It’s our human way of thinking,
our human way of doing,
our human perspective
that Jesus labels with the new name, Satan.
So, this is not just about one mistake by Peter.
This is not just about Peter.
This is getting personal.
But he’s right.
The accuser, the adversary, the tempter
rules the ways of the world, our own human ways.
It is the way of Satan, the world, and humanity
to value power, wealth, and fame,
dominance, prestige, and might,
control, glory, and self-sufficiency.
And we see the results all around us:
fear and anxiety, suffering, broken relationships,
war, need, bigotry,
terror, racism, and injustice.
Peter had assumed that Jesus, God’s messiah,
would lead him and his other followers
to the top of the world’s height and human power.
But Jesus revealed in his prediction
that God would work through weakness:
suffering, serving, giving, dying.
And when we think about it,
we realize that God usually does work
through weakness and suffering –
like old Abraham and barren Sarah,
and you and me.
So, Jesus’ accusation of Peter sticks to us and stings.
Our human ways – the world’s ways –
bear all the marks of that name, Satan.
Setting our minds on human things
rightly puts us there with Peter, behind Jesus.
And that is the beauty of it.
Jesus has called us there, too – behind him,
as followers and disciples,
even in our human ways,
even while we are still sinners.
Claimed by God and filled with Holy Spirit power,
called to follow and joined to his community,
forgiven and given life and salvation as a gift,
we are called by the Spirit of Christ
to enter into our own new covenant
in Holy Baptism.
And as a sign of that baptismal covenant,
we too, like Abraham and Sarah,
are given a new identity and a new name:
That’s our new name.
One who is of Christ,
one who is with Christ,
one who is behind Christ as a follower and disciple.
And that’s what he means
when he calls those who believe in him
and want to follow him
to deny themselves and take up their cross.
It’s not about putting up with bad things like a stoic,
or bearing burdens that overwhelm us
It’s about getting behind Jesus –
in the way we get behind a worthy cause –
getting behind Jesus
in the long line of saints across the ages who have followed him,
taking up the ways of loving service and sacrifice for others,
and losing our lives – our human, worldly ways –
the ways that want to be in control,
the ways that value power,
those ways Jesus called belonging to Satan –
losing those lives
to put the ways of God and his beloved Son, Jesus
Jesus calls us, too: Get behind me,
repenting and turning to his way.
Acknowledging our human, worldly way,
and losing it – giving it up –
for the sake of living according to the way
of our baptismal covenant,
according to the ways of a disciple of Jesus,
according to the name given to us
as a divine blessing: Christian.
One who belongs to Christ.
One who is behind Christ.
All the way.
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