The Very Rev. Tom Callard – February 28, 2021
It has been a couple of weeks since Ash Wednesday, and as your Dean I feel like it’s important to keep before you the fact that this is Lent, and that Lent is important for Christians, and that if you are thinking of doing something for Lent, it’s probably time to start now.
I think if you ask people in our culture what Lent is, many will tell you that Lent is a time when you give something up. And probably what most people would say is that you give up meat on Fridays. That’s the thing you do. Not eating meat on Fridays in Lent has a long history which goes back to the middle ages. Thomas Aquinas basically said in the late 1200’s that you give up meat as part of your piety because the flesh of animals is just so tasty. And I agree. And so we are penitential when we eat the less desirable flesh of fish. Although fish can be pretty tasty too, but perhaps not in Aquinas’s time.
And Friday is the day of the Lenten fast because Jesus died on the Cross on Friday. So it is especially appropriate to give up something on Fridays in solidarity with him.
This practice of not eating meat on Fridays in Lent is reflected in the culture around us and the fact that restaurants offer Friday fish dinners, and supermarkets have discounts on fish during Lent, and even in schools in some districts, children are not served sloppy joes or chicken fingers during Lent on Fridays, but they are given fish sticks.
And so fasting by not eating meat on Fridays in Lent is this well known and well developed practice. But I think if you go deeper into this practice and you ask people how not eating meat on Fridays in Lent affects them, how giving up something like this changes them, I don’t think our culture really has a sense of that.
I remember years ago on a Friday, I was at a meeting with other clergy and it was around lunch time, and one of the people there brought out this big, delicious plate of shrimp which they ate with such happiness because it was their Lenten Friday meal. And maybe that’s your Lenten fast, to eat this big, delicious plate of shrimp instead of meat. But how does that draw you closer to the Lord?
What is it about a fast the draws us closer to God? And what is the fast that is be best for me, or best for you? Surely, we’re not all called to give up meat, or to give up chocolate? Shouldn’t our fast be as individual as we are? Because our appetites are individual. And our sins our individual. And our spirituality is individual. So our fast should be individual too.
Well, today in an attempt to understand the nature of fasting, and get a sense of what might be our own best fast, let’s take a look at the Gospel. Here in Mark chapter 8, we find Jesus is beginning to teach his disciples about the suffering he has to go through on the way to his death and resurrection.
And after Jesus says that he has to suffer, be rejected, and killed, Peter rebukes him. We don’t know exactly what Peter says. But we can imagine that it’s something like this, “Jesus, what are you talking about, you are the son of God. Don’t do this” In the section immediately preceding what we have today, Peter has just confessed to Jesus that he knows that Jesus is the Messiah. It’s the place where Jesus says, “Who do people say that I am,” and they say Some people say you’re this and some say you’re that. And Jesus says to his disciples: But who do you say that I am. And Peter says, “You are the Messiah.”
So because this has just happened, you can be sure that in Peter’s head as he goes to rebuke Jesus, he’s going to say something like: “But Jesus, you’re the Messiah. Just conquer the world, and smite those guys, and skip the suffering. You can do anything you want.”
And when you hear that rebuke, imagining what Peter might have said to Jesus, doesn’t it sound a little bit like what the Devil said to Jesus in the wilderness? Because that’s what the Devil said. You’re the Messiah. Just turn these stones into bread. Just jump off this cliff. Just control the nations. You’re the Messiah. You can do anything you want.” That was the temptation of the Devil, so it’s no wonder that Jesus calls Peter Satan.
Of course, Peter here is not doing these things to tempt Jesus. Peter doesn’t want to tempt Jesus. Peter loves Jesus. Peter wants to save Jesus. Peter has been with Jesus for some time now and I would guess that this is the best time of his life, way better than fishing and whatever else he was doing before Jesus came along. So Peter’s desire is not to hurt Jesus. His desire is to influence Jesus. To get between Jesus and the cross, which is the one thing that Peter doesn’t want to hear, that thing about the cross. Peter is trying to control Jesus.
I think this is one of the passages in the Bible where we see clearly that there are two worlds: there’s a Godly world and there’s a Human world, that there are things of God and there are things of humanity. And Jesus is in both. On one hand he’s your friend, he’s your traveling companion, he’s the one you eat with, the one you go to for advice, the one who calms and inspires you, the one who heals you, and the one who loves you no matter what. And most of the time we’re perfectly content to have this Jesus in our life.
What a friend we have in Jesus. What a friend Jesus has been to Peter. And this may be the Jesus you know and you love. Except, and this is what we see today, except when we try and control Jesus. He’s still going to be your friend, but what he’s really doing to his friend Peter is reminding Peter, and reminding us, that we are not God. We are not on God’s level.
I had a great teacher in Middle School named Mr. Skibbe. He was fun, entertaining, engaging, and you felt like he was one of the gang. Not one of the teachers, but he felt like one of us. And I still remember one day when we were joking and I said something, I don’t remember what it was, but I said something that crossed the line, and he rebuked me. Just like Jesus rebuked Peter. But he didn’t call me Satan. He did it in a gentle way, yet in a way that I still remember all these years later. He reminded me he was the teacher and I was the student and that there was a line.
Peter crosses that line with Jesus today, and Jesus puts Peter back in his place, telling Peter and telling us that it’s not about trying to control God, control the things you cannot control. I can imagine Jesus saying: The Devil tried to control me. The Scribes and Pharisees tried to control me. Herod tried to control me. The forces that will put me on trial tried to control me. Demons and powers and principalities and tried to control me. And even death tried to control me.
The best thing you can do, Peter, is not to try to control me, but within me let go. When I’m with you, you can let go. When I come to you, you can let go. When I say follow me, you can let go.
All of this talk today in Mark after Jesus rebukes Peter is Jesus saying in so many ways, to Peter and to us, just let go and find yourselves on your side of the line, not trying to control these things that are out there. For you are not God. You don’t get to do what you want all the time, or perhaps much of the time. You don’t get to take what you like. You don’t get to use people the way you want to. You don’t get to use the resources of the earth the way you want. You are limited. You have limits.
If our culture truly followed a Lenten fast, we would practice giving up trying to control things, trying to manage things, trying to manipulate people and the world around us to our liking. We would give up holding on to the dynamics of power over other people. We would give up trying so hard to hold onto what we have, like Peter does today, just holding onto what he has.
Think of how the political struggles of late have been all about holding onto control, holding onto this image of what we used to have, of how America was once this great nation and let’s just get back to that and get everyone on board with us. And think of how people are so afraid to let go and let things change and accept the reality of now.
And think in our own lives of all the things we want to control and hold onto and influence, things that are not ours, like other people and the events and actions of God. Our perspective, the limited, human perspective is really just one big ball of fear. Peter was just one big ball of fear. I am just one big ball of fear. And that leads us to want to make everything out there be just the way we want it.
And so our fast must be to stop trying to control. Whatever discipline we take up for Lent, it must be to let go of fear and the attachment we have to the me and allow ourselves to draw closer to God, to harmonize with Jesus, and to live in peace with the world around us. od. How can I give up myself for Lent? That’s the question. How can I give up the me? We can tighten our belt and forgo meat or chocolate or whatever. We can take something on. But whatever we do, we must do in the service of really giving up this.
Where in our lives are we desperately trying to be in control? What things and people and outcomes do we want to manage. In other words – Where are we trying to be God?
Here’s a suggestion: sit down today and write 5 things you really, desperately want to control in your life right now that you can’t control, places where you want to be God? Write them down, and then offer them, one by one, to Jesus. And then every day, for the next thirty days, give them to Jesus, again and again.
The discipline of Lent is the practice of aligning ourselves with he who is in the desert, who lives with no sin, who desperately wants to love every human being, and who is willing to sacrifice everything he has for them, and for us, even his life. The discipline of Lent is a call to be free of all those things that separate us from him, and to focus on how we might live into him, and open our hearts to him, open our lives to him, and just to give up. Give up.