Mark 8:31-38

Originally preached for the Kimberley Ecumenical Shared Ministry on Sunday February 25, 2024. 

This morning I want to invite you to consider one simple question: 

What is one thing that I need to know - what is one thing that people who are not a part of your congregation need to know - in order to understand it? What brings you delight? 

As you think about that, take a moment to write down your thoughts. 

What is one thing that I need to know in order to understand the spirit and delight of this congregation, this group of people, as you seek to join Jesus on the way of love? 

Perhaps you’ll remember a few weeks ago when we found ourselves at the very beginning of Mark’s gospel. You’ll remember a rapid succession of events that led to Jesus’ first public act of ministry. A riverside baptism is followed by testing and trial in the wilderness, leading in turn to a seaside walk where Jesus calls his first followers.

After calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to abandon the economic security of their father’s fishing boat, Jesus invites them to put their bodies on the line for his emerging mission.

And so, when we pick up the story this morning–halfway through Mark’s gospel narrative, we do so in the wake of Peter’s bold proclamation that Jesus is Messiah. This is a hinge point in the story. Jesus’ healing, liberating mission gains new focus as he and his beloved disciples set sights on Jerusalem and the heart of religious power. 

In Mark’s account, Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as Messiah reveals what we have been longing for. Peter puts into words our growing suspicion that this very same one who called us from our fishing nets, who called us from our previous way of life, is indeed the Messiah.

There have been hints, of course. The healings. Confession leading to restoration of relationship in community. Jesus’ imaginative stories of a world we can scarce imagine, and the miraculous feedings that help us know in our very bodies that this more than an abstract vision. It has real world consequences. 

Jesus enters into the muck and filth of everyday life, walking and talking with us, hearing our stories, listening to our cries and longings deeper than words. And what does Jesus do? He responds with compassion. Not arms-length charity or spiritual platitudes. Jesus’ authority comes not as a result of power and position, but as a result of his deep willingness to dive right into the real lives we lead, not the sanitized versions we present on Sunday morning.

The hungry are fed, the sick are healed, and the storms of our hearts are quieted as we realize he’s in this for the long haul. Jesus. Emmanuel. God With us. 

When Peter proclaims that Jesus is Messiah, he smiles and nods, with a gleeful twinkle in his eye, telling Peter and those of us eavesdropping on the conversation this morning, that this is exactly so. “Yes, you’re right,” he says. You’ve figured it out.”

But here’s where it gets messy. Here’s where it gets challenging. 

Here’s where we, like Peter, can find ourselves reeling. Here’s where we, like Peter, grab Jesus in protest. Here’s where we, with the other disciples, find ourselves wavering, wondering what to believe. 

I try to imagine myself into that crowd. Imagine myself in Peter’s shoes. Imagine myself as one of the disciples. I imagine what that moment would be like, with Jesus here amongst us today, saying the same things to me - to us - if only we’d have ears to hear. 

You’re right, Peter. You had it right. I am the Messiah. And here is the work ahead. This is what salvation looks like...If you’re going to journey with me, there’s going to be personal cost. But the community gains are worth it. Here’s what salvation looks like.

Salvation looks like restoration to relationship in community. A community not of exclusion but of embrace. Not a false community where people have to pretend to be something they’re not in order to belong. This isn’t high school, afterall. It’s not a community where some people call the shots, telling us who is in and who is out, based on their practices, the way they worship, the way they look. Not that kind of community, but the kind where all people show up as they are, making space for others as they are, knowing that they are all beloved of God. 

Salvation looks like a community that extends love and grace. A community of prayer and listening. A community that seeks God’s dream for themselves, for each other, their neighbours, and the world God loves. A community where people step into and help shoulder the burden of each others’ pain. A community that assumes the best of people. That addresses conflict face to face, and in so doing embodies hope that another way, a way of honour and respect across difference, is possible. A community that doesn’t fight against one another, but that fights for one another. Individuals and community that fight for belonging, making sure no-one is left behind, that everyone has enough, a community dedicated–in all they do–to reminding themselves, each other, and all whom they meet, that they are beloved too. Not just with words. But with actions. With bodies and reputations on the line. 

That’s what it is to take up the cross.

That’s what it is to shoulder the burden that Jesus is calling us into. To step into another’s shoes, and say “that’s hard, that’s painful, and you shouldn’t have to walk that road alone.”


“That’s exciting, that’s joyful, and we want to celebrate that achievement, that milestone, that hopeful diagnosis with you. You shouldn’t have to do that alone.” 

Sometimes, like Peter, we take one look at Jesus, and what’s our gut response? We stare Jesus full in the eye and say

Sir, you’ve got to be kidding me. This isn’t the religion I grew up with. When I grew up, I learned that there was a God somewhere out there who made the world and watched over us. I learned that God wants us to be nice and fair. I learned that God wants everybody to be happy and to feel good about themselves. But otherwise, I don’t think about God too much, unless I’m facing some sort of problem. That’s when I turn to God in my life.

What you’re saying, Jesus, the road you’re mapping out doesn’t sound anything like that. It’s not based only on vague assurances of God’s love. That’s there of course. But it requires something. Demands something of me too. Not just my relationship with God, but with my fellow parishioners. With my neighbours too. 

And that can feel challenging

I have these roadbocks, and maybe you do too. These things I’ve learned. These things I’ve internalized. This sense, like Peter, that if it’s not going as I planned, that God is not faithful. I know for myself, anyway, that I–like Peter–regularly encounter limits to my trust and belief that God will be faithful. For some of us, the roadblock to believing in God’s faithfulness shows up especially when we look at the shifting size of our congregations.

We remember when times were different. Sometimes we blame things on the young people who no longer come. We wonder how much longer we can go on like this. And, when someone brings up an idea we don’t like, we tell them we’ve already tried that, and it just didn’t work.

And yet today? Today Jesus calls our bluff. Jesus asks us to step out in faith. Jesus invites us to discover what fidelity to the Gospel looks like, in real and tangible ways. 

I’ve recently been reading a study of thriving congregations in Canada. One of the first things this study points out is this:

When we become obsessed with what’s wrong, we become part of what’s wrong, we have trouble seeing anything else. 

But what do thriving congregations have in common with one another? 

  • They are communities that embrace saying “yes!” rather than a chorus of “no!” “no!” “no!”
  • They have a strong sense of identity, of who they are 
  • They are willing to take risks in embodying the gospel
  • They are committed to learning and spiritual formation
  • They embrace and encourage leaders, those who are already leading, and nurture those still in discernment and formation
  • They are willing to be turned inside out for the sake of the world God loves

All of which was particularly resonant as I was reading it this week, because this is exactly what Peter’s unfolding story looks like as he encounters Jesus. Peter's story does not start and stop with this moment when he pushes back against his dawning understanding of Jesus' God-breathed vision for the world as it ought to be. 

At first encounter with Jesus, Peter jumps in with two feet. He's all in. And then he drags his heels. When he hears Jesus’ prescription, his immediate response is a definitive no! And yet, over time, in community with Jesus and the other disciples, he is changed, transformed. He starts to understand the mission, he practices taking small risks and then bigger ones. He learns and is formed in the way of action and contemplation. He is nurtured as a leader, and, even though he and Jesus (and later he and Paul) don’t always get along, they encourage and spur one another on in faithfulness. 

The good news, friends, is that what Jesus does with Peter, can also happen for us. We too can find our way, we too will find our way.

And while there may be challenges we need to address – and indeed we must – we also need to start obsessing over what’s going well, what’s right about our communities.

So. Where should we begin?

What if you started by reflecting on and telling someone else what you think the world needs to know in order to understand the spirit, and the delight of your congregation?