Getting Back on Track: Finding a Healthy Perspective
[audio http://www.opcbrookhaven.org/worship/audio/sermons/09-13-09.MP3]Old Testament: Psalm 19 New Testament: Mark 8:27-38
The overarching theme for the next couple months as we look at these texts from the gospel of Mark is the idea of getting back on track. We are in the Fall now. Summer is over. School has started back up. Many of us may feel like we're a little off kilter and need to get back into a routine. Maybe you feel like you’ve been knocked off track. Certainly there are those who are facing job loss and the possibility of job loss. Each of us know what we would like to be doing. But we’re not on that path, perhaps. What I hope we offer in these conversations are some ideas and thoughts that may spark a new sense of faith and how God might be calling us all to get back on track. Today we're talking about finding a healthy perspective.
Those of you that know me well know that I love my toys. I love my technology. About a year ago I got one of those GPS devices for my car. My problem is that I think I know where I’m going better than GPS device. When I was growing up, my dad and grandfather had a construction company which worked all over Atlanta, so they knew all the back roads. When you pop on the GPS, it’ll tell you to go down Peachtree, or hop on 285. And what's your first reaction? “Are you kidding me? This time of day with the traffic? That’s crazy!” So you jump on Windsor Parkway instead, or cut through Chastain Park. It makes Elizabeth wonder why I bought the thing in the first place. I just want to prove I can get there faster than the GPS says I can get there. But every now and then, I get in this place where there is traffic and I didn’t anticipate it. I may be on a side road and I'm trying to figure out a way around. I look at the GPS and I see roads that I never knew were there before. And so I’ll turn off and get around the road block.
There's something helpful about having someone, or, in this case, something, that can see the big picture. That probably means different things to each of us, when we get stuck in that traffic jam and we feel like we can’t go forward anymore, that we’re overwhelmed, or knocked off track. It could be job stress or family issues or shakeups or relationships or living with an addiction of your own or of someone that you love. It could be general uncertainty about an uncertain future. So what does it mean in those moments to have that kind of GPS device, to be able to get that someone or something that can give us a bird's eye view, maybe show us a way around, show us what we're facing, give us some live traffic updates for the road ahead?
I think there are some clues in the Mark passage. Caesarea Philippi quite a distance from the other towns and regions in that area. It is in today what would be called the Golan Heights. It’s this beautiful green mountainous area. It was this old Roman city called Caesarea Philippi. In that region is a place called Paneas, today Banias, a place of worship of the Greek god Pan, the god of shepherding. Banias is a secluded mountain spring. There's nothing around it. We know from the other gospels that they were, most likely, at that mountain spring. It’s a retreat. It’s a place where Jesus and the disciples have managed to get away. Think about how unique that is. Throughout the gospels Jesus is constantly trying to go away and to be alone and to pray. What happens when he does that? The crowds find him. He gets on a boat and goes to the other side, the crowds hear he’s there and come around and find him. It is almost impossible for Jesus to get a break, and yet here, in this story, in this moment, he has done it.
It’s this chance for them to reflect on what they’ve just been through. As they’ve traveled up and down the coast of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus says to the disciples, “Who do people say that I am? What have you heard? As we’ve gone around, you’ve seen me teaching and healing and proclaiming these things. What are the people saying about me?” They say, “Well, some say that you’re a reincarnation of John the Baptist. Others think that you’re the prophet Elijah, who’s supposed to come back before the Messiah. Some people think you're one of the other prophets.”
So Jesus changes the question: “Who do you say that I am? You’ve heard these things from all these different people, but I want to know what you think. Who do say that I am?”
It’s Peter, at that moment, who says, “You are the Messiah. You are the Christ. In the other gospels we know that this is the moment where Peter gets his name Peter. Up to this moment, he has been Simon. But this proclamation that Jesus is the Christ is the moment where Jesus says, “You are the rock, and on this rock, Petros, Peter, I will build my church.”
This is followed by that curious phrase that pops up again and again and again in the gospel of Mark that he told them not to tell anybody, the Messianic secret. Jesus was trying to be sure that the wrong message about him wasn’t getting around. There were plenty of faith healers around at the time. If people began to talk about Jesus as just a faith healer, he’d be one of many. There were many wandering rabbis, teachers of the Scripture. If they tell people who he is based on his teaching, they’ll get the wrong idea.
Jesus goes on to share with them what lies ahead for him and for them. From that mountain up there in the Northeast, they'll be going down through the Galilee, Samaria, into Judea, into the capital of Jerusalem. We know what's coming in the rest of the story. The disciples don’t yet, and Jesus tells them. There’s going to be a trial, crucifixion, and resurrection.
At that moment, the disciples have got to be thinking, “This is not what I signed up for.” Peter pulls him aside. He’s been named Peter, he’s feeling a little cocky. “Jesus, this isn’t what it. You’re wrong. This isn’t what’s going to happen.” And this has got to be the fastest move from hero to zero in history, where Simon goes from being Peter to Satan in a handful of verses. “Get behind me, Satan. Don't tempt me. This is what history needs. This is what the world requires. This is what I have been called to do. Don’t tempt me. I’ve been tempted in the wilderness before. Don’t you do it, too.”
There is this moment in the midst of this story where Jesus and the disciples are pulling back from the busy-ness of the ministry they have been called to, and getting perspective on where they are and what is before them. As we look at this passage, we can see several about finding perspective in our own lives.
The first one is that they are taking time away. Jesus successfully retreats from the crowds, gets a break, and time to reflect and talk with his disciples. And that leads us to the second point: getting outside input. He says, “Who do people say that I am, and who do you say that I am?” Hearing the voices of a multitude is helpful. Number three is that it’s still very honest, unflinching even, realistic. Jesus doesn’t get away with the disciples to hear what they have to say to tell them, “We’re going to avoid suffering altogether.” No. It’s realistic. He lets them know what awaits them in Jerusalem.
So take this back to us. Are these three things that we can do our own lives?
Getting away. Life is chaos. Responsibility weighs on our shoulders. There are things going on all the time. Is it really possible to get away? If you've done it, if you’ve managed to carve out time in your busy week – Sabbath, break, retreat, whatever you want to call it - you know it works. You know that the work is still there. You know you come back refreshed with energy to take it on. Or think of it this way: if you are going to exhale, you’ve first got to inhale. Ifyou're constantly exhaling, you're going to run out of breath. Let us also remember that there is no way we can compare the responsibilities on our shoulders with the responsibility of being Messiah. If Jesus can manage to get away and the world can go on, can’t we? So my challenge, and I offer it to you, is to try and find a time. Go on and schedule it. If you can take a day – or if a day makes you cringe, start with two hours – get away by yourself. That doesn’t count your blackberry. No technology. It doesn’t count when you’re sleeping. Find time that you can get away to begin to get perspective on your own life.
And the second thing: getting that outside input. Who is it that can tell you the truth and you can hear? Is it a friend? Pastor? Counselor? Is it that still small voice of God when you turn to prayer? Have you given anyone the permission to tell you the truth? I challenge you to go ahead and schedule that conversation, someone you know, someone you trust, who can give you that voice of the outside perspective and begin to help you see what you might not be able to see when you're stuck in a traffic jam.
And finally, be honest with yourself. Your perspective, when you gain it and begin to get some sense of the situation you’re in, it may not be as bad as you think it is. Now for some of us, that isn’t good news because we prefer to think of ourselves as always weighed down with the world against. On the other hand, it may be the reality that there simply isn't any way out of this traffic jam. You're stuck between exits on 285 and nothing to do until all those people go up 400. But that’s the time to recommit to number one and number two.
Find the time. Get away. Get your outside input. And be honest. Particularly if you recognize that it is rough going ahead, that’s the time you most need to realize you can't go it alone.
What is finally true in all of this, and Peter, for all his faults, is the one that names it, is that Jesus himself is the truest perspective we can possibly have. He takes that huge gap between our imperfections and God's perfect vision of the way the world ought to be. Jesus himself is the one that heals the breach. The truth is we may never fully get back on track. But the mercy, the healing, the peace, the grace, the comfort, is right there. We may just not see it.
I don’t know what you’re facing. I know each of us has the traffic jams in our own lives. Maybe it's not as bad as you think. Maybe all of the things will give you some sense of perspective and give you a renewed reality about what you are facing. Maybe it is rough. Either way, you're not the Messiah. None of us is. And thank God for that, that’s not all on our shoulders. Friends, lean into Jesus. Lean into that moment of time away, of listening to the voice of God through the voice of others. And maybe then we can begin to see Jesus himself is the way we have been seeking all along.