February 28, 2021

Get thee behind me Satan.

Passage: Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16, Romans 4:13–25, Mark 8:31–38 

The Indigenous people’s atlas of Canada is an English and French educational Resource created by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and funded by the Government of Canada. It was created to address calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, among them the development of "culturally appropriate curricula" for Aboriginal Canadian students. Its content includes information about indigenous lands, languages, communities, treaties, and cultures, and topics such as the Canadian Indian residential school system, racism, and cultural appropriation.

From that Atlas I learned that Residential schools operated in Canada for more than 160 years, with upwards of 150,000 children passing through their doors. Every province and territory, with the exception of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and New Brunswick, was home to the federally funded, church-run schools.  The last school closed in Saskatchewan in 1996. First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were removed, often against their will, from their families and communities and put into schools, where they were forced to abandon their traditions, cultural practices and languages. The residential school system was just one tool in a broader plan of “aggressive assimilation” and colonization of Indigenous Peoples and territories in Canada.
This is what the Truth and Reconciliation said about the Residential School system in Canada.

The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources. If every Aboriginal person had been ‘absorbed into the body politic,’ there would be no reserves, no Treaties, and no Aboriginal rights.
( Truth and Reconciliation Commission Canada, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, p. 3)

The Presbyterian Church in Canada was one of the churches that helped run the Residential School System and in 1994 the Presbyterian Church in Canada issued a formal apology for our part in the Residential School System.

And there was a lot to apologize for… Children were taken from their homes and sent off to boarding schools for ten months of the year, and sometimes they didn’t even get home for the two months in the summer. Often this was against the will of the parents and the children. They were not allowed to speak their own language. They lived in substandard conditions and many endured emotional and physical abuse. There also have been convictions for sexual abuse.
One of the unintentional yet horrible consequences in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s in western Canada, is that healthy children were place in institutions where disease would transmit easily, and about 10 percent of the children each year would die from diseases with tuberculosis being the most prevalent.

How did this happen?

It is actually the same thinking that made the Holocaust happen or any genocide happen.
It is rooted in a worldview and a social imaginary in which some people’s way of life are imagined as being more valuable than others- or worse, where some people’s and ways of life are imagined as not being human and thus not valuable at all.

In fact, the doctrine of the Christian Church around the year 1500 basically was that lands not inhabited by Christians were empty, unowned, and available to be discovered and claimed. This doctrine is now called the “Doctrine of Discovery” and one of the terms used was “terra nullius,” literally meaning “nobody’s land” and this was applied to the North America.
In other words, the indigenous people living in Canada were believed to be non-humans.

The colonialism of which I am talking about, the idea that countries in Western Europe are free to go and subjugate other countries and lands, because the people there don’t have the same rights and values, can be clearly seen in a 1452 papal declaration of Pope Nicholos V where it reads:
We grant you full and free permission to invade, search out, capture and subjugate, the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms… and other property… and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude. (https://presbyterian.ca/justice/doctrine-of-discovery/)

This laid the groundwork for our treatment of indigenous peoples… a sad history.

And I can imagine what Jesus might have said to us, Canadians, us Christians and even us Presbyterians: “Get thee behind me Satan.”

I really want to connect this colonial narrative, with our gospel lesson today, because Jesus and the Jews were no strangers to Colonialism
They were no strangers to Empire, and the dangers of a strong dominating empire.
At the very time of Jesus’ preaching, teaching and ministry Judea was a province of the Roman Empire, ruled by a Procurator Pilate, who gave most of the day to day duties to the Sanhedrin which was ruled by the High Priest, Caiaphas. And Galilee was a territory of Rome, ruled by tetrarch, Herod’s son called Herod Antipas…the same Herod who would interview Jesus prior to Jesus’ death.
As one might imagine most of the people were not too happy to have to pay taxes to a foreign government, which government was quite brutal to any who opposed it. And which government gave less rights to the oppressed people that to its own citizens.
The cross that Jesus talked about and Jesus died on, was a common way for Rome to execute criminals or more specifically people who opposed them and did not give their allegiance to Caesar.

And while the Jews were under domination by the Roman Empire at the time, there was a long history of domination by foreign powers.

They were of course slaves in Egypt under Egyptian domination. They at times were dominated by Assyrians, the Baylonians, the Medes and the Persians, and then the Greeks, first under Alexander the Great, and then by the Seleucids who were the Greeks who took over in Syria after Alexander’s death.

The Jews knew all about evil empires, who took and dominated and didn’t treat everybody equally.

And one of the things that many if not most Jews believed at the time of Jesus was that a Messiah was coming. The Greek word for that was Christos, which we call Christ. A Messiah was coming, or a Christ was coming that they believe would throw off the yoke of domination by the empire.

And in today’s gospel lesson we actually have the first confession of a human that Jesus is the Christ.
And then some strange things happen.
The first is that after the confession Jesus tells the disciples sternly not to tell others who he is.
He is the Christ, but he doesn’t want others to know?

And then he tells them that he is going be arrested and rejected and killed, before he rises.

And Peter rebukes him. Why? It doesn’t say Peter questioned him or asked for an explanation. The scriptures say Peter rebuked Jesus. He chided him or he reproved him or he censured him, or made a claim that Jesus wasn’t telling the truth.
Because everybody knows that the Christ is here to dominate the dominators and throw out the empire.
Everybody knows that the Christ doesn’t suffer, and be rejected and end up dead.

And yet, Jesus comes and is different than the Christ they expect.
I think this is made clear in Mark’s gospel.
Mark’s gospel follows a structure. In the first half of the gospel the question is raised. Who is this guy? Speaking about Jesus. Who is this guy who teaches with authority?
Who is this guy that even the winds and waves obey him?

And halfway through the gospel we get the answer. This is the Christ.
And yet Jesus tells them not to speak of who he is.
Because the second half of the gospel is learning all about what kind of Christ this is because this is not the Christ everyone is expecting.
And when Christ is put on the cross, and dies the soldier says. Truly this man was God’s son.
Mark seems to keep the identity of Jesus the Christ under wraps, because for Mark, one doesn’t really understand Jesus or know what a Christ is until you see the cross.
When you see Jesus on a cross, you know more fully what it means for us to say Jesus is the Christ.
And we know more fully what it might mean to take up a cross.
And simply put.
The reason Jesus says to Peter, “Get thee behind me Satan” (I like the King James here)
…is because Peter’s view of Jesus and the Christ is that of a new dominating empire.

Peter’s view of the Messiah, or the Christ, is the one who would vindicate the Jews and say that they were the good guys, God’s chosen, and that the Christ would at the very least defeat by power the bad guys like the Romans, and maybe even destroy them or send them to hell…
And there would be a new empire with the Christ and the Jews in charge.
A better empire where there was peace. Where the wolf would lie down with the lamb, where everyone would sit under their fig tree or vine and drink wine and have good crops and live happily ever after.
Everyone that is, except the bad guys like the Romans and the Greeks and everyone else who wasn’t a child of God.

And that is why Jesus said: “Get thee behind me Satan.” Jesus has not come to set up a new empire with new Oppressors, the Jews, and new people to be oppressed, the Romans, Greeks, or Gentiles.

Jesus had come for all people. And his way was not the way of the Empire, to kill, to force, to threaten, to subjugate, to forcibly enslave and to dominate…
But to suffer, to love, to forgive, to understand, to pray for, to intercede, to heal, to include, to free, to reconcile, to empower

The sad history of the church after a few hundred years is that it allied itself with government and became part of a new Roman empire.
And when it did that it used the tactics of empire, controlling, dominating, subjugating, and treating those who were not so-called citizens of Christ, as less than others.
That is the kind of thinking that led to Colonization and cultural genocide, not just in Canada with indigenous peoples, but all over the world.

And that is not what Jesus wanted. Jesus wanted love for all people. Jesus wanted to love our neighbours. He invited us to take up our cross and deny ourselves in an effort to forgive, reconcile, heal and teach people universal love and radical grace.
Jesus wasn’t trying to set up a new empire with the Christians in charge, subjugating the non-Christians. He was trying to set all people free.

Now the hard reality is this: It is hard to live without empire. It is hard to live without government.

I am reminded of a scene from Monty Python’s The life of Brian where a group of first century Jew are plotting against the Romans:

REG: They've bled us white, the bastards. They've taken everything we had, and not just from us, from our fathers, and from our fathers' fathers.
LORETTA: And from our fathers' fathers' fathers.
REG: Yeah.
LORETTA: And from our fathers' fathers' fathers' fathers.
REG: Yeah. All right, Stan. Don't labour the point. And what have they ever given us in return?!
XERXES: The aqueduct?
REG: What?
XERXES: The aqueduct.
REG: Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that's true. Yeah.
COMMANDO #3: And the sanitation.
LORETTA: Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like?
REG: Yeah. All right. I'll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done.
MATTHIAS: And the roads.
REG: Well, yeah. Obviously the roads. I mean, the roads go without saying, don't they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads--
COMMANDO: Irrigation.
XERXES: Medicine.
COMMANDO #2: Education.
REG: Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough.
COMMANDO #1: And the wine.
FRANCIS: Yeah. Yeah, that's something we'd really miss, Reg, if the Romans left. Huh.
COMMANDO: Public baths.
LORETTA: And it's safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg.
FRANCIS: Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let's face it. They're the only ones who could in a place like this.
REG: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
XERXES: Brought peace.
REG: Oh, Shut up!

It is kind of hard to live without empire, with government, but we all know that empires can be unfair and not treat everyone equally and at times, the poor, the outcast, the criminal, the different, the outsider, those with differing mental or physical abilities can be treated as less than other.
Sometimes those with different religion, or faith, or beliefs, or sexual orientation or gender identity, can be treated as less than human.
We have come a long way. But one of the reasons the Presbyterian Church in Canada has a statement that separates church and state is that the church should never forget its mandate to love all people, and when it allies itself with the state inevitably it becomes an empire that dominates, subjugates and even sanctions violence, punishment and exclusion.
There are a couple of very crazy stories in the bible. One is that there was the old couple whom we call Abraham and Sarah. They were too old to have children, and yet God promised that not only would they have a child, but that child would go on to be a great nation.

And to a couple well beyond child-bearing years, a son was born. New life came into being.

And then in the New Testament there is the story of a young woman called Mary. An angel appeared to her saying that she was going to have a son and his name would be Jesus.
And she said: “how can this be?” I have never been with a man.
And yet it came to pass that Jesus was born by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Both of these stories are basically beyond scientific explanation.
And yet we think these stories are central to our faith. That God brings new life where things are dead.
Paul the apostle uses the words:
the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that don’t exist into existence.

Jesus himself is the embodiment of that very fact. God gives life to the dead and calls things that don’t exist into existence.

And the church, we are the custodians of this outrageous promise.

And so today I want us to think about the things that don’t exist and how God is bringing those things into existence.
Against empire, that says, the few chosen should get the good things and the others are meant to serve the chosen…

Jesus says:
Can you imagine a dinner where everyone is welcome and everyone is fed and everyone is accepted, including, the unclean, the sinner, the criminal, the sick, the poor and the excluded?
Can you imagine a rich Pharisee, one of the collaborators and benefactors of the Empire, reborn into love for all?
Can you imagine universal health care, universal pharmacare, universal dental care, universal education, and decent jobs for all?
Can you imagine people blinded by hate and prejudice, opening their eyes to see that all people are children of God and have worth?
Can you imagine a world where there are no physical, spiritual or emotional lepers, and nobody is ostracized for their race, creed, colour, conviction, sexual orientation, gender, or physical and mental differences?
Can you imagine a missile free world, or a nuclear weapon free world?
Can you imagine a world where the divorced are reconciled, where prodigals are welcomed home, where all churches get along in harmony, where there are no wars, or revolutions because everyone and every country treats others with respect, and works out their differences and allow for there to be differences; and can you imagine a world where justice and truth are as natural as rain falling?

God is bringing to existence the things that weren’t in existence, the things that empire often overlooks, or doesn’t do, or doesn’t care about, or says is impossible.

Sometimes in my prayers I have I said to God, that it will never happen. Love for everyone, no prejudice, food for all, justice for all, equality for all, and the end of empire subjugating the powerless…
And then Jesus turns to me and says” “Get thee behind me Satan. I am the resurrection and the life. With God all things are possible.”