I know this may come as a surprise to some of you, but I am in need of correction from time to time.
I know this need for correction by the look that my spouse gives me when I have crossed that line with a comment made in jest in a public setting.
The dagger eyes of disappointment, the subdued expression of “did you really just say that out loud?” both tell me that I have broken covenant with some unspoken or unanticipated norm or rule.
I experience this need for correction by the sound of disappointment in the voice of a colleague or parishioner who had other expectations of me than what I am currently producing.
Certainly, I experience the need for correction when the flashing lights appear in my rear view mirror as I am driving down the highway.
Long before the police officer walks up my window to ask me how fast I was going, I have already gone through the check list of how to act and how to respond, and I have glanced at my speed and made note of my driving behavior to try to determine where I have been found lacking.
So, I understand both the Genesis story today and the story of Peter from Mark’s Gospel.
Covenant requires an occasional correction.
Covenant by its very nature is about relationship and relationships are about boundaries that have been established, territory markers that have been set up, and expectations to which we must hold one another accountable.
So, in the Genesis story of Abram and Sarai getting their new names, this moment comes after a particularly large “oopsie” in the relationship with the covenant God made.
God had promised that Abram and Sarai would have descendants “as the stars of the heavens” but they are both old and decide to take matters into their own hands.
In an unfortunate attempt to protect the promise, they decide that surrogate birth is “close enough.”
Abram and Sarai introduce Hagar to their relationship. The young Egyptian servant girl is to be the recipient of Abram’s affection. She’s young enough to have children. Abram and Sarai decide to use her to secure the promise of offspring for themselves. They decide on using the practices of this world to “help God out.”
In doing so, in taking matters into their own hands, they are cutting God and God’s power and promise out of the picture in deference to practicality.
They break covenant.
The birth of Ishmael to Hagar is what prompts God’s comment here, “Walk before me and be blameless….” God says.
Clearly, Abram has not been blameless!
That however does not stop God from coming to issue a reminder of the original covenant and to act in a faithful manner to the covenant already made.
Abram will soon be known by a new name. “Abraham” which translates “Father of multitudes.”
God has every intention of keeping God’s original promise, but correction is required! A reminder to trust and to walk this road with God is given.
“Walk before me and be blameless” is as much about God’s own decision to stick with Abram as it is about God expecting Abraham to act any differently in the future!
It is not God saying “no more mistakes!” to Abraham now that you have a new name.
It is God saying to Abraham “Walk with me in this no matter what.”
Which is the bridge to this Gospel lesson for today, and Jesus’ rebuke of Peter.
We often read this as a kind of failure by Peter, as if Peter had misunderstood Jesus, or not understood the trajectory of Jesus.
Surely Peter should have known the difference between divine things and human things by this time? He has been with Jesus for three years! Hasn’t he heard what Jesus has been saying?
But that is precisely the point.
Peter has heard Jesus talk about this Kingdom God that is promised! It is so close they can almost taste it!
Look at what Jesus has been doing these past three years!
The demons are fleeing!
The lame walk, the blind see, and those who are hungry are being filled with good things!
From every outward indication as Jesus has made his way from town to town in the Galilee, it looks like just over the next horizon the tide will turn and the world will be set right.
Surely when Jesus gets to Jerusalem, the world will become that better place!
Peter is speaking from his own sense of momentum about how things are going, nothing can stand in Jesus’ way now!
Not the religious leaders!
Not Satan himself!
It is a precarious place in which to be!
When you are so self-assured that you think you know how things are going to play themselves out, how they should go, — That is when you are ripe for breaking covenant, taking it into your own hands and leaving God out of the picture.
Jesus is the realist in this story.
Peter’s mind is set on human things.
Peter’s mind is set on how to get THIS world to work, in an advantageous way for those who have so long been disadvantaged.
No matter how pure one’s intentions may be, trading one oppressive ruler for another is just tinkering with the workings of this world.
Peter would make Jesus into yet another tyrant, imposing his will on an unruly population.
Don’t believe me?
Look at the history of Christianity.
See how time and again in the name of “Christ” things were undertaken by those grasping for power and authority, to make the world “better” that Jesus would never for a moment have sanctioned!
Conquest and conversion at the blade of a sword.
Genocide and manifest destiny.
Crusades, wars and inquisitions.
It is a short step from what God has promised to us — to what we would do ourselves to get that promise, and it is a line that is stepped over far too frequently.
It is the line that Peter is precariously close to by rebuking Jesus, saying “self-sacrifice is not for you, Lord! You are on a roll!”
That is what prompts Jesus’ rebuke.
This part of the teaching is what you have to understand, Peter, or it is not the Kingdom of God that comes in but just another tinkering with the way the world already works!
Those who hold the power, and who now enjoy the privilege, — the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes — they will not simply let the Kingdom come, it will be opposed tooth and nail.
Covenant requires an occasional correction, and this is Peter’s turn, as Jesus reminds Peter that the Kingdom of God is not so much about tweaking the structures of this world as it is bringing in a new reality!
If you don’t think that this world isn’t going to put up a fuss when it is required to change, you are being naïve, and a correction is needed.
Then (Jesus) began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly.
The “He said all this quite openly” is similar to the “Walk before me and be blameless” comment back in Genesis.
The promise will be kept, yes Peter!
The Kingdom will come, without a doubt! God will see to that! “and after three days rise again.” Jesus promises.
But this world will not go quietly or without a struggle, and so there are rough events to come as this world fights back against the reign of God.
You must understand that.
You must see that, so that when it happens you won’t think God has given up on the covenant or on you, but rather see it as God walking with you through it all, even the rough and unbelievable spots toward that promise.
Covenant requires an occasional correction.
It requires a reminder that God is the keeper of promises, and that God has a way of reminding us not to take on too much ownership of this ourselves.
When we think that we are the ones who have to act, to work, to protect God’s Kingdom, God’s church, or God’s promise, or it won’t happen…. Well that is when we are precariously close to cutting God and God’s power out of the equation in deference to our own practicality.
We (from our human perspective) don’t really know how it is that God will move and act to keep God’s promise!
Abraham and Sarah had no idea and could not imagine that God can and would make the old, barren woman bear a child to be named laughter to become a multitude.
Peter couldn’t really imagine how God would take the death of Jesus and transform it with resurrection power into a movement to bring about the promise of the Kingdom.
And we, well, we can’t really imagine how God will take the shambles of pandemic and exile from our buildings and use it to bring about God’s promised Kingdom either.
But the Kingdom is what has been promised, and the coming of it is in God’s hands.
That is the covenant made, that on this Rock God would build God’s church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Covenant requires an occasional correction.
I need it.
You need it.
“If any want to become my followers, (Jesus said) let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
Bringing in the Kingdom never happens the way you or I would do it, but this is the way the God who calls disciples says it will happen.
We need an occasional correction to remind us that we live and the Kingdom lives in the promises God has made. God does not live in our actions alone.