September 12, 2021

Damn. I missed

Preacher:
Passage: James 3:1–12, Mark 8:27–38

There was a minister who went golfing one day. When he got to the golf course, he was alone so the club pro asked if he wouldn't mind playing with another man.

The minister said: Not at all.

And so, they started their round of golf.

However, on the very first hole, the minister was appalled to find out that the other golfer was quite a swearer, and when he missed his putt, yelled out, "damn, I missed."

 

This went on quite a bit. The other man sliced his driver. “Damn, I missed.”

The other guy put his ball in the water. “Damn, I missed.”

The other guy fluffed his shot in the sand trap. “Damn, I missed.”

 

Finally, the minister in desperation said. “All right, enough with the swearing. I am a minister and if you swear one more time, God is going to open up the heavens and send a lightning bolt down and strike you dead.”

 

This seemed to cause the other guy to settle down, whether from respect for the minister or whether he actually believed that God would do such a thing...

and everything went well until the last hole and the last putt. He had a three-foot putt to win the day and the ball lipped out. He totally lost it, screaming at the top of his lungs: “Damn. I missed.”

 

Whereupon the heavens opened up and a lightning bolt came down from heaven and struck the minister dead.

 

There was a few seconds of silence while the man looked on in astonishment and horror and then there was a big voice from the sky.

 

"Damn. I missed."

 

Of course that is just a joke and not what I believe about God at all…

But the point of that is this. In all my years of studying the human condition, and in understanding spirituality, and in listening to people’s understanding of the divine, I do not think there is a phrase that sums up better the human condition than this phrase: Damn. I missed.

 

I don’t know a one of us who can’t say that.

Maybe Paul the apostle says it in more churchy language “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” but in the vernacular, a good paraphrase is: “Damn. I missed.”

 

The Greek word for sin is “hamartia” and its literally meaning is “missing the mark.”

Damn, I missed.

 

One of my favourite writers Frederick Buechner in one of my favourite books; Telling the truth: The gospel as comedy, tragedy and fairy tale makes the point that the gospel first of all, is tragedy or bad news. That tragedy or bad news is that all of us are sinners. All of us screw up. All of us make mistakes. All of us hurt others, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. All of us have moral failings. Some of the greatest human beings who have done great things; upon minute examination have faults, moral lapses, bad theology, prejudice or other failings.

Whose statue couldn’t we pull down? Who is without sin? Who doesn’t miss the mark?

 

Buechner writes that the good news or comedy that comes along after the bad news is that God loves us anyway. God loves us slobs, no ifs, buts or maybes. That is the love and grace of God

And Buechner writes that the fairy tale quality of the gospel, is that amazing transformations happen to people, that are every bit as miraculous as any miracle in the bible.

 

But for now, I want us to think a bit about “Damn. I missed.”

You could think about the ways you have missed the mark in the last few days, the thoughts you had that were unkind, the prejudices you still hold in your heart, the people you wish would just vanish from the earth, the lust, or greed, or selfishness, or pride, or hate that lurks in your heart.

You might have a specific event or story that you could tell of a specific failing, or interaction with someone when you were far from your best self.

I golfed about 8 days ago, so I know I said some things a minister shouldn’t say. I know I lost my temper over at least one terrible shot.

And I have to confess that I have had less than charitable thoughts towards certain protestors who swear at the prime minister and make obscene gestures and throw gravel, because the prime minister is holding to a position that vaccinations are good and make this country safe, and some jobs require safety, and therefore require vaccinations.

 

We don’t have time to go into all the ways I and you miss the mark.

 

But I want you to know that in this crucial passage from Mark’s gospel it is Peter who misses the mark. It is Peter who could say: “Damn, I missed.”

Because Jesus says right to him; “Get thee behind me Satan, for you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.

 

So let me set some context in Mark’s gospel. The first half of Mark’s gospel has Jesus ministering and teaching and casting our demons and performing miracles, and the crowds are astonished.

Who is this guy?

Who is this that the winds and waves obey him?

And then culminating at chapter 8 with these questions that Jesus asks the disciples.

Everybody is wondering who I am? Who do they think I am.

And then “who do you think I am?”

 

When Jesus asks the first question the disciples answer that some think is he John the Baptist come back from the dead. And some think that he is Elijah come back from the dead.

Some think he is one of the other prophets or maybe a new prophet.

 

So, the first half of the gospel, people publicly see the extraordinary character and person of Jesus and wonder just who this is…speculating that he might be some kind of prophet called by God.

 

And then Jesus puts it to the disciples: “Who do you think I am?”

I am not sure what they all think, because they really don’t get a chance to think much or express what they are thinking.  In fact, I am sure the disciples have been wondering just who Jesus is, themselves.

 

But out comes Peter: “you are the Messiah.” The Greek word for Messiah is Christ. In some biblical translations it is translated: “You are the Christ.” It means the anointed one, or chosen one. In Matthew’s gospel Peter adds these words “the son of the living God.”

In Luke’s gospel Peter puts those two together and says “ you are the Christ of God.”

 

Jesus is not just anyone. Jesus comes from God and is anointed by God to be the one saves us.

 

You would think that Jesus would say, “ Well done Peter. Top Marks. You got it right. I am the Christ. So let the whole world know.”

Instead in Matthew, Mark and Luke the first thing Jesus does is tell them not to tell anybody. Jesus tells them to keep it a secret.

And the next thing Jesus tells them is that if is going to suffer and be rejected by the religious leadership and that he is going to be executed and then rise after three days.

 

 

This is where Peter jumps in and says; “oh no, Lord,” and Peter kind of tells Jesus off, for thinking that the Messiah or Christ would suffer and die.

All the Jews knew that the Messiah was going to come and throw out the oppressors with power and might and then establish peace and prosperity.

Messiahs didn’t suffer and die.

And Jesus says: Get thee behind me satan. I know in the scriptures the word Satan is capitalized as if there is a person Satan and Peter is that person. The word satan in its original understanding didn’t mean a particular malevolent being, who maybe was a fallen angel. You will find the first use of the word satan in scripture when the angel jumps in front of Balaam’s donkey as a satan. As an adversary. So, Jesus is using the term satan in a more generic sense as one who opposes God or that which opposes God.

 

And Peter could basically say: “Damn. I missed.”

 

It is one thing to talk about God, it is another thing to really recognize and know who God is.

 

Peter’s problem is not that Jesus is not the Messiah. It is that he has no understanding of the true nature of the God, and the divine, and the way the Messiah will be on this earth.

Peter is thinking human thoughts. The Messiah will come with force and beat up the bad guys and put the good guys in charge.

Peter is thinking power and might and control and winning.

 

That is what most of us like to think. Frankly I sometimes wonder if most of us Christians for a lot of our lives have not had the same thoughts.

We know that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for all of us, but we still get in our minds that the nature of God is punish the bad guys, burn them in hell, and reward the good guys in heaven, we being the good guys because we are Christians.

 

But let me say this as plainly as can be said. Being a Christian does not make you or me a good guy.

Even Paul said that “Christ came to save sinners of whom I am chief.”

Paul said that he was the worst sinner.

 

Being a Christian doesn’t mean we are not sinners.               ….doesn’t mean that we don’t screw up,

…doesn’t mean that we don’t fail, or don’t hurt people.

Paul himself said that he did things he didn’t want to do.

 

Being a Christian though does mean we acknowledge that fact and that we are working on it and that we are relying not only on God’s grace and forgiveness, but that God is in the process of transforming us to be more like Jesus; and we are committing ourselves to follow Christ.

 

The second half of Mark’s gospel is finding out all about what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah or the Christ.

It is finding out that a Messiah suffers. A Messiah sacrifices. A Messiah comes to serve and not to be served. A Messiah reaches out to all people even those who are different, or bad, or even enemies.

A Messiah forgives. Everyone. A Messiah loves everyone. A Messiah includes everyone. A Messiah dies for everyone. A Messiah rises for everyone.

And a Messiah is a Messiah of peace and is non-violent and doesn’t hurt anyone.

 

I don’t think Peter or the disciples could grasp that.

In Mark’s gospel, the disciples are portrayed in not the most favourable light. They don’t understand who God is or who Christ is.

They can’t heal a sick boy. They cannot drive out a demon. They argue amongst themselves. They want to be the greatest. They don’t understand when there is a big crowd and Jesus wants to go somewhere and pray.

They don’t understand when a woman touches Jesus and power is transferred. “What do you mean, who touched you? Everybody is touching you?”

 

And at the end they all betray Jesus and desert him and leave him to face the cross alone. They cannot bear their cross, because even though Jesus told them to take up a cross, they don’t understand what he means.

 

In 1901 a fellow by the name of Mr. Wrede pointed out the fact that in Mark’s gospel Jesus keeps telling the disciples to be quiet and not tell anybody that he was the Christ. And Jesus told them not to tell other about miracles and that he was to die and rise. Mr Wrede called it the Messianic secret.

 

Why did Jesus do that.

Well, there are a bunch of theories. But the one I like best is this:

You cannot understand who Jesus really is until you see him on the cross. You cannot understand what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah or the Christ until you see him on the cross.

You cannot understand what it means to take up a cross and lose your life until you understand Jesus on a cross.

In Mark’s gospel Jesus is on the cross and that is when the centurion says: “This man was really the Son of God.”

 

The disciples do not get it until Jesus dies. One might argue that they don’t even get it then, and it isn’t until the Holy Spirit comes that they really understand the nature of God and the nature of the Christ and the total and complete love of God.

 

And I am aware of even though I know the story, and go to church, and am a minister, how easy it is to forget what is means to take up a cross, and forget what it means that the nature of Jesus, the Christ, is to suffer, to serve, to die, to forgive and to love us all.

 

 

A couple of weeks ago my friend Ron and I came out Harvey’s into a little minor confrontation. A couple of women dressed up in rainbow clothes were protesting against a couple of street preachers.

They said that the street preachers were practicing hate by preaching against gays and lesbians.

We had a conversation with all of them. And I said that I was a minister and there were many Christians that don’t hold the same views, that they believe the message of the Christ is about love and inclusion, including gays and lesbians and that the Presbyterian Church in Canada now allowed gays and lesbians to marry and be ordained as ministers.

And I know not everybody shares the same understanding of marriage.

But the point is that the message the street preachers had was one of pain, of judgement, of God getting us, of God destroying people, of God burning people in hell, when the cross, I think gives a totally different message.

…A message of love and inclusion and forgiveness and reconciliation and service.

I know that I used to think the same way as that street preacher. Damn, I missed.

I know think that few of us understand totally the depth of love, the commitment of Christ, the totality of God’s grace, the largeness of God’s mercy…

Because it is like trying to count the stars, or grains of sand in the beach.

God is so far above and greater than we can ever imagine.

 

 

I am totally aware that it was 20 years ago and a day that 9/11 happened.

I think a lot of sad and tragic things not only happened on that day but since.

 

It is tragic how much violence has happened, how much retribution took place, how there has been 20 years of war in the Middle East and specifically in Afghanistan, and how it seems that 20 years of war has not made things a whole lot better, and some might even argue that some things are worse.

 

I think the world could say. Damn. We missed. It seems that the world doesn’t get it. What the nature of the divine is. To love, to include, to forgive, to reconcile.

 

Yes, but what those people did on 9/11 was evil. Yes, it was. But how do we get rid of evil when we ourselves are evil? We ourselves are broken and fallen and miss the mark. Who is without sin? And, do we get rid of evil by using the same evil methods we think that evil uses?

More than 335 thousand civilians in the Middle East have died as a result of the fighting since 9/11.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers wounded and living with disabilities.

God doesn’t have to bring judgement on us. The judgement is that we humans do it to ourselves, when we do not live in peace with one another.

 

The cross is the proof of God’s peaceful way.

Jesus is killed on the cross and yet he still loves the ones who kill him and Jesus forgives them.

Is that what taking up a cross means? That we don’t get back at the ones who put us on the cross, that we love and forgive them, that we serve them and help them to change.

You may think that I am naïve and simplistic and even foolish on this subject and I probably am.

But when I think of taking up a cross, I don’t think of killing the enemy, I think of loving the enemy.

I think of grace for all.

 

Foolishness, I know.

But it seems to me that is what Jesus did. Amen.