If you want to follow him

St. Mark window, St. Paul’s Anglican Church of Canada, Terence Bay, NS

Homily for the Anglican Church of Canada Parish of St. Timothy’s and St. Paul’s, Hatchet Lake and Terence Bay, Nova Scotia

16 September 2018

Book of Alternative Service, Proper 24

Proverbs 1.20-33; Psalm 19; James 3.1-12; Mark 8.27-38

Audio link: https://soundcloud.com/stsp-sermons/proper-24-september-16-2018-message-by-postulant-douglas-beck


Let us pray. 

 Come, O Holy Spirit, come. Come as the wind and cleanse; come as the fire and burn; convict, convert and consecrate our lives; to our great good and to your great glory. Amen.

A central theme of Mark’s Gospel is this. Mark affirms the true nature of Jesus.  Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. He is the anointed one, the sent one from God. This theme comes up twice in the first chapter.

First, it is God who reveals the true identity of Jesus when he is baptized by John. How does God reveal Jesus’ true nature? The Spirit of the Lord comes down like a dove. “And, a voice…from heaven (says): ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’”[Mark 1:10b-11].

And later in chapter one, Jesus’ identity is revealed for a second time. This time it is an unclean spirit that reveals the true identity of Jesus.  Mark tells us that Jesus is teaching on the Sabbath day in the synagogue in Capernaum. The people are amazed at his teaching. He teaches them with such authority beyond what they are accustomed to hearing. In the crowd is a man with an unclean spirit. The unclean spirit cries out: “Who are we to you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the holy one of God.” (Here we’re reminded that “Even the demons believe and shudder.” [James 2:19]) What does Jesus do, but turn to the man. He rebukes the unclean spirit and it leaves the man. The man is healed. The people are utterly astonished.The people recognize that something new has come to them and they ask themselves, “…‘What is this, but a new teaching with authority. He commands unclean spirits and they obey’”[Mark 1:21-28].

First, it is God’s revelation. Then, it’s the unclean spirit’s recognition in the midst of the people in the synagogue.  

Now…here come the disciples in today’s Gospel. Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter pipes up, “You are the Christ — the one sent from God.”

The disciples, after all, were with Jesus. They were the eyewitnesses that saw Jesus silence the wind and the waves that day on the lake [4:39].

And, his followers were with him that day when he made the radical statement that, beyond his biological family, whoever does the will of God’s  — well, they are all members of Jesus’ family [3:34,35].

Remember the day when the disciples and Jesus were just getting out of the boat when they were approached by a man possessed?  This time it is the unclean spirit Legion. Jesus addresses the unclean spirit directly. It leaves the man and enters into the herd of pigs. The herd runs  down the cliffside into the lake to drown [5:1-12].

And, more amazing is this.

Jesus empowers his followers. Jesus sends the Twelve out in pairs to go out and proclaim that people should change their hearts and lives [6:7-13].  And, how they go — casting out many demons and anointing the sick and healing them. Is it any wonder that Peter responds, “You are the Christ — the one sent from God?”

The disciples are starting to get it. They’ve seen Jesus true identity revealed with their very eyes — what it must have been like to have been there with Jesus and the Disciples on that day.


And, here in the middle of Mark where we are today, the story shifts. Here is where the story of Jesus begins to project forward to coming events.

Jesus, for the very first time, reveals to the Disciples that he must suffer, die and be raised from the dead. Unbelievable! Unthinkable! Unimaginable!

No wonder Peter responds the way that he does from his limited human point of view. I can just hear him pleading, “No, Lord. We love you. We want you to be here with us always, serving right here beside you the way we are already doing.” You see, the disciples were expecting Jesus to be made king of a worldly kingdom. 

So, they wanted to put any thought of his dying away. I wonder if we ever do this.  Does it make us uncomfortable? Do we ever push the cross to the edges of our minds? It’s just too much, thinking of Christ’s suffering. It’s all too easy to push the cross to the margins where it could be forgotten — that awful, ghastly image of Roman punishment, the worst kind of death right there in public view for all to see. No way!

Still, Jesus calls to us to take it up. Why? Because Jesus still saves.

Jesus rebukes Peter and calls together a crowd. Can you see yourself among them? Jesus addresses the crowd and the disciples: “If you want to follow me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. If you lose your life for my sake and the sake of my good news, you will find it.”

Might we hear Jesus’ words as a call to personal obedience and dedication? Yes. But, we can’t stop there. Remember that Jesus called together a crowd that joined the disciples in the hearing of his call. Hear Jesus’ words today as a call to be active disciples in all of life no matter what may come. That includes life in this community of Jesus that we know as St. Timothy’s and St. Paul’s. [In today’s Parish Meeting, no doubt, the Holy Spirit will nudge us to take up our cross personally and as a community. How will we respond?]  Jesus has called us into this community, to share our burdens and our joys with one another; and also to embrace struggles on behalf of others. This is the way of discipleship as followers of Christ. The way of the cross.

The message of the cross is the power of God for those of us who are being saved [I Corinthians 1:18]. When we find ourselves on the cross-shaped road of our lives, everything is lifted up with it, and we find that we are being gathered into the very heart of God.[1]


[1]This last thought is taken from The Reverend Fleming Rutledge’s closing to her Introductionin her book “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ” published by Eerdmans, 2015.