Get Outraged – Br. James Koester
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Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22: 22-30; Romans 4: 13-25; Mark 8: 31-38
Those of you who were here when I last preached will remember that I began by telling you how much fun I was having listening to, and preaching from the Gospel of Mark. Mark is fun because he is so breathless. He races us through one scene and then plunges us headlong into the next before we have time to catch our breath or ponder the significance of what has just happened. It’s like being doused with a pail of cod water, and before we have time to cry out in outrage we are doused with a second pail of even colder water. Today is no different. We have just been doused with cold water and almost before we have had time to register our shock, a second and third pail of equally cold and equally icy water hits us.
The first pail of cold water came in the few verses before our gospel appointed for today. Jesus and his disciples are in the region of Caesarea Philippi and as they walk, Jesus asks them a question: “Who do people say that I am?”1 The disciples then shout out the various possibilities: John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the other prophets.2 I can almost hear them tossing out the various options. But then I can see in my mind’s eye Jesus stops waking, he turns and looks at each one in turn and says, “But [you] who do you say that I am?” I can hear the silence and feel the reluctance but suddenly, probably unthinkingly, Peter blurts out: “You are the Messiah.”3 Again, I can hear the silence and the gasps. I see Peter biting his tongue wondering why on earth he said such a stupid thing. But I can also feel the hope hanging in the air, for in those four words are wrapped all the hopes and dreams and aspirations of the people of Israel. “You are the Messiah.” This is what God’s people having been waiting for, for generations. Can it truly be that the hope of God’s people is standing before them?
That’s the first pail of cold water, and while we stand there shocked, cold and wet, the second is on its way, and this is where our gospel for today begins. It is here that Jesus begins to teach about his Passion, “that the Son of Man must undergo great sufferings, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed”4 and Peter is outraged.
We have lost, I think, our proper sense of outrage. Sure we get outraged (although I am sure none of us do), when someone snaps up that one parking space we had marked out for ourselves or cuts ahead of us in line. But for most of us, most of the time, we have lost our proper sense of outrage. Perhaps of all the things the Occupy Movement has done is to restore a proper sense of outrage to the public discourse. And that is what happens here. Peter is outraged, not because someone has trumped him, but because Jesus has dashed his hopes. Peter is outraged, not because Jesus has predicted his Passion, but because Jesus has dashed the hopes of God’s people. Peter is outraged, so much so that Jesus must rebuke him: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”5
Peter and all the people of Israel are eagerly awaiting the Messiah who is longed for and who will be greeted by all (at least all the people of Israel); not only by fisherman and tax collectors but also the elders and chief priests and scribes. The Messiah is not to be rejected but welcomed! The Messiah is not to suffer but to rule. The Messiah is not to be killed but to restore all things. The vision of the suffering Messiah that Jesus holds up is outrageous and the second pail of icy cold water hits us dead in the face.
We have lost, I think, our proper sense of outrage, and what God does is often outrageous for no matter how much we think we know how God will act, God frequently acts in other incomprehensible and outrageous ways. And this is one of them: the Messiah longed for by all will be rejected by all, except by a few raggedy fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes and their unlikely companions. And that is outrageous.
But God has a habit of acting outrageously for what Jesus proposes here is not much different than what God promised to Abraham centuries before: for Abraham “as good as dead”6 and Sarah’s womb barren were to be the parents “of many nations”7. God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah was nothing short of an outrageous joke and “Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”8 God’s sense of humour seems to be a pretty outrageous joke.
But again, no matter how much we think we know how God will act, God frequently acts in other incomprehensible and outrageous ways. And this is one of them: that God indeed would keep his covenant with Abraham and Sarah and they would become “the ancestor[s] of a multitude of nations”9.
But even as we stand shivering, shocked and cold from the second pail of icy water, the third is on its way. For we have barely had time to comprehend what Jesus means when he declares that the long anticipated Messiah is to be rejected than he calmly informs us that “if any want to become [his] followers, [they must] deny themselves and take up their cross and follow [him]”.1
As outrageous as it is that the Messiah is to be rejected; or that Abraham and Sarah are to be the ancestors of many nations, this admonition to take up our crosses is equally outrageous. It is one thing for God, but now we too must act outrageously. No matter how much we think we know how God will act, God frequently acts in other incomprehensible and outrageous ways, and now so too must we. And all through the ages God’s people have taken up their crosses and acted outrageously as they have followed the only One who gives real meaning to life.11
Peter and the other disciples acted outrageously when they left families, homes and jobs to follow Jesus. Antony of Egypt acted outrageously when he sold all his property and gave it to the poor so that he could spend the rest of his life wrestling with demons in the Egyptian desert. Francis of Assisi acted outrageously when he stood naked in the market square having abandoned wealth, and power and family in order to “rebuild God’s church”. Oscar Romero acted outrageously when he stood by the poor and dispossessed of El Salvador. The Occupy chaplains acted outrageously when the declared that the church belonged in the tent cities of the Occupy Movement in Boston, New York and London and not just in the churches and boardrooms before which they encamped. And each time God’s people have acted outrageously they have suffered, and been rejected and sometimes even killed. And the third bucket of ice cold water has been thrown in our faces.
We have lost I think, for the most part, our proper sense of outrage. But I think we should be outraged for no matter how much we think we know how God will act, God frequently acts in other incomprehensible and outrageous ways. Just look for a moment at the history of God: Creation, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Salvation. All of these are ultimately outrageous because each time we think we know how God will, or should, or must act, God acts in other incomprehensible and outrageous ways. Sometimes they are so outrageous that they make us angry. Other times we fall on our faces and laugh. But perhaps the truly outrageous thing is that we are expected to follow suit, and to take up our crosses and follow.
Just when we think we know how we should, or must or need to act God intervenes in our lives and we act in ways that are incomprehensible and outrageous, especially to those who love us most. Yet it is when we take up our crosses and act most incomprehensibly and outrageously that our lives become full of meaning in union with God.
Like Abraham, like Peter, like all those who have gone before us in the way of Christ, we think we know how God will act, yet God frequently acts in other incomprehensible and outrageous ways. We only have to look at the life of Jesus to know that it true. Like Abraham, like Peter and the other disciples, like Antony and Francis and Oscar Romero, God sometimes asks us to act outrageously, even to the point of taking up our cross and following Christ, and when we do we discover that our lives become rich and full of meaning.
So here are a couple of questions for you to ponder today:
Just when you think you know how God should act in your life, how has God acted incomprehensibly and outrageously?
And what incomprehensible and outrageous thing has God asked you to do? Maybe that is where you will find both your cross and your life’s meaning.
11 SSJE Rule Chapter 19: People are hungry for good news that life is full of meaning in union with God.
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Here I am reading and listening to this eye-opening sermon seven years later, and it still speaks more loud and clear than when I first heard it. My life has been doused with icy cold water this year. It has been hard for me to accept my old age gracefully, as I have seen so many do. I was used to jumping in my car and going to church, grocery store, post office, etc. Now, since a bad fall, low heart rate, high blood pressure, and other conditions within the past few months, driving is no longer an option, and taking care of my financial business. My independence has taken flight! This has been a bucket of cold water for me in a personal way. But I must say I have learned a great deal about coping, about “blooming where you are planted”, about using the options available and accepting what I cannot change. I have so many many blessings and am so very thankful for them. Your sermons is one I treasure. Thank you.
Sometimes, it seems to me, ”outrage” is the only word that captures the righteous indignation that caused our Lord to vilify religious hypocrites in his day. May we go and do likewise, guided always by the Holy Spirit and not our own little minds.
We are all offended by poverty, racism, substance and sexual abuse, materialism and militarism…if not, we should be. Praying for help is good. So it shouldn’t surprise us when God hands us a shovel to move those mountains. If we expect the next generation to be able to carry the cross we need to show them we are not afraid to ask for help as we get dirty or bloody carrying ours. I am heartened when I see the diversity of age and color stepping out for truth & justice! I believe the majority of us want to be able to do what Jesus asks …but have been silenced or felt thwarted by other, perhaps louder Christians with agendas based on fear. When we ask God to open the door to inclusive, responsive, empowering love not only for fellow believers but for those we count as enemies we might need that shovel to start moving stuff as that door opens. Doing so we might look foolish and outrageous …just like Jesus.
I spent a long time in meditation this morning and these “buckets of cold water” were just what I needed at just the right time. My prayer is for the next steps.Thank you.
Wow! This is my takeaway for today:
Just when we think we know how we should, or must or need to act God intervenes in our lives and we act in ways that are incomprehensible and outrageous, especially to those who love us most. Yet it is when we take up our crosses and act most incomprehensibly and outrageously that our lives become full of meaning in union with God.”
How many times I expected God to turn events in ways He has not. How many times I was amazed at the way God turned events!
This message is a great revelation. We make God too small. He constantly reminds us of who He really is and I am always astounded by what He does that is so unbelievable to me!
Br. James, your last two sentences were a bucket of cold water in my face today: “And what incomprehensible and outrageous thing has God asked you to do? Maybe that is where you will find both your cross and your life’s meaning.” I have struggled mightily for a while over something outrageous that I believe God has asked me to do. I was stunned when I read your words. I do believe I have found both my cross and my life’s meaning! Why did I think that would come without a struggle?? Thank you for the bucket of cold water, which truly opened my eyes to God’s outrageous plan. Maybe now I can stop fighting it and rather surrender to it.
I too have recently experienced how God is working in my life in ways that I did not expect. Recently, I heard someone mention that our expectations are ego-driven. I try to remember that.
Here three years later I reread this message and have a new comprehension. Thanks for an eye-opening sermon. I do know that God does not always act as we expect him to act. I so agree with each and every paragraph. Thank you, Br. James.
I think one thing which justifiably frightens non-religious people is that religious people often assert that they know what God intends or what God is “doing” in the world and that can be used to justify ANYTHING, and has been used and is used to justify truly horrifying acts. Currently it is used to justify anathematizing and persecuting gay people. (I despair “when will christians just stop persecuting people over issues of anatomy?!”) Thank you for your time.
This day and this message paused me to think on my dad, recently departed, who became outraged over the situation of a homeless man who had been robbed of all identification after he had paid someone to smuggle him into the NL. Our EU Christian relatives were outraged my father brought this man home against NL laws as my dad supported him with his own small retirement pension and sometimes asked his church for money or jobs for this man. He tirelessly called and petitioned the government for his behalf. This was not easy for this man also had serious language and depression issues. My dad persevered in the face of our outrage ….as we felt my dad was being used. It occurred to me halfway through that my dad was being Jesus as best as he could and I was ashamed at my lack of faith. My dads outrage over one mans plight showed me Christ in todays world. I pray I will be able to channel my outrage as well and be as courageously loving as my Jesus loving dad. Happy Father’s day Papa.
Rhode, I pray for a small portion of the courage your dad showed in living the Gospel and caring for and about a marginalized child of God. Far too often, my fear and my ego leave me seriously in need of a dousing with Br. James’s icy cold water.
Bless your wonderful, merciful, compassionate father. I hope and pray that his efforts on behalf of this “alien in our midst” were rewarded in his lifetime. For now, how lovely to know that he is with his loving Lord.
How perfect for this time.
Thank you, Br. James.
This sermon spoke to me this morning. Particularly these words:
“Just when we think we know how we should, or must or need to act God intervenes in our lives and we act in ways that are incomprehensible and outrageous, especially to those who love us most. Yet it is when we take up our crosses and act most incomprehensibly and outrageously that our lives become full of meaning in union with God.”
Are those of us who live unremarkable lives graced with tiny outrages?
I see outrage as something negative and/or offensive. To be shocked or extremely surprised seems to be a better description in my mind. But who am I to question a Biblical scholar? I like your comparison to being hit with cold water! So much of the gospel does exactly that! We have to shake ourselves and take a second look! Perhaps the message from Jesus was indeed outrageous to those unaccustomed to such a message! Thank you for this food for thought.