Sunday, September 13, 2015

Jesus Our Brother

Grace Church Van Vorst, Jersey City NJ
Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
September 13, 2015

Year B, Proper 19: The 16th Sunday after Pentecost
Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Jesus Our Brother
            I admit that when I first looked at today’s lessons I laughed out loud when I got to the opening verse from the Letter of James:
            “Not many of you should become teachers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes”
            Well, that’s for sure!
            Many of you know that in addition to serving as rector at St. Paul’s I am now also teaching Religion at St. Peter’s Prep, my alma mater and where I taught (History) for seven years before heading off to seminary.
            I actually haven’t taught yet – the first day of classes is tomorrow. Instead, we’ve had two weeks of orientation and meetings during which sometimes I’ve felt excited and other times overwhelmed. And, sometimes I’ve wondered if James would put me in the category of the few who should teach or the much larger group of those who shouldn’t.
            No surprise, it’s kind of weird to be back at Prep now as an Episcopal priest though it has its advantages.
            For example, on Thursday the school had its Mass of the Holy Spirit, an annual ritual in all Jesuit schools.
            I have to tell you that it was great to just sit and pray and listen and say the responses but not have to think about choreography or what I’m supposed to say next.
            Near the end of the Mass, the celebrant referred to “Jesus our brother.”
            And that expression really struck me.
            Of course, I’ve heard it before and even said it myself sometimes, but not that often.
            I tend to go with “Jesus Christ our Lord and your Son,” which, of course, emphasizes Jesus’ divinity.
            But, Jesus our brother was a good reminder for me of Jesus the human being – a human being just like us but without sin.
            And, actually, we’ve encountered Jesus our brother in our gospel lessons both last Sunday and today.
            Last week, you may remember we heard the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman – this Gentile who comes to Jesus asking him to cast out an unclean spirit from her daughter.
            And, how does Jesus react?
            Well, maybe he was having a bad day or maybe he was uncomfortable being in a gentile land, or maybe he was unhappy that his privacy had been interrupted but, for whatever reason, at this moment Jesus comes as close to sin as he ever does in the gospels.
             Jesus spurns her, apparently referring to the woman and her daughter as “dogs.”
            The brave – or maybe just desperate – woman goes back at Jesus, who has a change of heart and chooses to heal the daughter.
            And then today we have a lot going on in today’s gospel lesson.
            Jesus asks his famous question, “Who do people say that I am?”
            And then the follow-up to the discuiples, “But, who do you say that I am?”
            And, of all people, it’s Peter who gets the right answer!
            “You are the Messiah.”
            I can almost imagine Peter glowing like a freshman on the first day of school who gets an answer right in class.
            But, Peter doesn’t get to enjoy that glow of satisfaction for long because, as we heard, he gets understandably gets upset when Jesus predicts the suffering that awaits him.
            We’re told that Peter “rebukes” Jesus – a strong word, indeed!
            And then in another of the most striking moments in the gospel, Jesus does some pretty harsh rebuking of his own - Jesus really lets Peter have it:
            “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but human things.”
            At first glance, this does seem very harsh, doesn’t it?
            After all, Peter is understandably shocked at what Jesus has said. He loves Jesus and he’s determined that he’ll do whatever he can to prevent his friend – his Lord – the Messiah from suffering.
            Though, of course, we know that there’s irony here since we know that when the moment of testing comes, Peter will deny even knowing Jesus – deny him three times.
            But, still, why the harshness from our brother Jesus?
            It seems to me that Jesus is angry at Peter because in this moment Peter really is Satan – really is the tempter – tempting Jesus to turn away from the bloody fate that awaits him.
            Jesus is sorely tempted.
            Which may sound strange to us since I think many of us often think that Jesus had his forty days and nights of temptation in the wilderness, and that was that – that somehow for the rest of his life and ministry Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Lord, was free of temptation, walking in a straight line to the cross.
            Not so, of course.
            Jesus our brother was tempted right to the end.
            One of my favorite books is of The Last Temptation Christ. Have any of you read it?
            Anyway, in the novel Jesus is tempted even as he hangs on the cross – tempted to turn away from this painful and shameful death – tempted to live like an ordinary person – to have a wife, to have children, to have a little carpentry business - to live a nice, quiet life.
            That’s not in the gospels, of course, but I’d be willing to bet that Jesus our brother experienced that kind of temptation.
            I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t read it.
            So, what does all of this mean for us?
            Well, as the author of the Letter of James reminded us, we all make many mistakes.
             I’m going to guess that pretty much everybody here has one time or another been impatient with somebody asking us for help.
            Maybe it’s someone we don’t really like – maybe because of his personality, or her nationality or religion, or maybe just the tone of his voice. Or, maybe it’s someone who is constantly asking for help and we’re just plain tired of it – compassion fatigue.
            Well, thanks to Jesus our brother, we know that God really knows what that’s like.
            And, I’m going to guess that all of us know the power of temptation – probably only too well.
            Well, thanks to Jesus our brother, we know that God really knows what it’s like to be sorely tempted.
            So, when we make our many mistakes – when we turn away the person asking for help – when we slip and give into temptation – we know that God gets it – and God is quick to show mercy – and, if we’re open to it, God is quick to give us the grace we need so that the next time we’re more likely to say yes to the person who needs our help and more likely to resist at least some of the temptations we face every day.
            We know all of this – and so much more - thanks to Jesus our brother.