Sermon Jesus and a Gun
Good morning. In case any of you read the title of my sermon and got a little bit nervous, don’t worry. This sermon isn’t about partisan politics or gun control. It’s about a little girl in vacation Bible school.
Full confession: vacation Bible school is one of those places in ministry where I’m completely out of my comfort zone. I have trouble getting into crafty activities and camp songs. More than that, I don’t have kids, so I’m always worried that I won’t know what to say or how to meet them on their level.
You all know me by now. I’m pretty nerdy. I go off on tangents. I go down rabbit holes. And that’s when I’m dealing with adults. To say that I’m out of my element in VBS? That’s an understatement. I’m scared out of my wits. But sometimes we have to confront our fears and dive in.
So, there I was, teaching a Bible story to a group of kids, ages 7-9, I think. I believe the curriculum was called Cave Quest, and it explored the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The lessons were designed to be age-appropriate; all I had to do was read the story and ask some questions from the book. It was a part of the story of the crucifixion, but I can’t remember exactly which part of the story.
As I was working through the questions with the kids, a little girl raised her hand and asked a question—the kind of question that makes me nervous. She asked: “Why didn’t Jesus get gun and shoot the bad guys?”
What do you say to that?
There’s an obvious answer: there were no guns back then. Some of the other kids told her that. But her question caught me completely off guard.
Where do I begin my answer?
The girl wasn’t from the congregation, so I had no idea what she knew about Jesus and the Gospel message—if she knew anything at all.
I tried to explain to her that Jesus had to die, and that he went willingly to the cross. The look on her face told me that the answer didn’t make much sense to her. Her look left me with a lot of questions and a sense of unease.
I wonder if Peter shared that same sense of unease when Jesus rebuked him, saying: “Get behind me, Satan!” Certainly, it’s amazing that Peter stays with Jesus after such a sharp criticism. If someone said that to me, I might sulk away and harbor fantasies of revenge—I’ll show him not to talk to me like that! Or more likely, I’d argue back. There might be some shouting. And then I’d reevaluate whether I wanted to keep following this Jesus guy.
Of course, the text doesn’t tell us what Peter was thinking. We don’t get to ask him why he kept following Jesus. And it’s really easy to come away thinking that Peter is an idiot, especially if we start the story with verse 31: “Then he 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.”
If we start the story there, then Jesus’ rebuke of Peter is right in the middle of the story. We scratch our heads and wonder how Peter could be so stupid. But if we begin this story just a little bit earlier—with Jesus asking the disciples who other people say that Jesus is, and then asking the disciples who they think Jesus is—Peter is the one who states that Jesus is the Messiah.
Peter gets it!
Peter gets that Jesus is unique, that Jesus is the Messiah. And maybe Peter enjoys spreading the message that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus and the disciples are on a glorious mission and great crowds of people keep turning up, whenever Jesus comes to visit. So, when Jesus says that he’s going to suffer and die; that Jesus is going to be rejected by the authorities, it doesn’t make sense to Peter. The logical thing to do, then, is to keep Jesus alive, so that Jesus can continue to spread the message, continue to heal the sick, continue to feed the hungry.
Jesus tells Peter to adjust his focus.
The crowds and the glory are human things. Protecting the life of the human Jesus is a human thing. Jesus draws crowds because he heals people, because he feeds people, because he teaches people that God loves them and that they are called to love one another, without exception.
That’s a radical message.
It’s completely the opposite of the message of the Roman Empire. Rome wanted to control land and people. Rome wanted wealth and power. Rome could destroy those who resisted, but the empire would rather get cooperation from the territories it controlled. It was easier and less expensive that way. It was logical.
The religious authorities in Jerusalem accepted that logic. They were willing to compromise with the Roman Empire. They held on to their status in society, their control over the temple and Jewish religious life, and they could claim that they were protecting the Jewish people from destruction at the hands of the Roman Empire. It was logical.
Jesus was a challenge to both of those world views. Peter wanted to protect the human Jesus from the consequences of challenging the power structure of the Roman Empire and the religious authorities. It was logical.
Why didn’t Jesus get a gun and shoot the bad guys?
It’s logical, right?
That question from that little girl stopped me in my tracks. I had no words.
Since that time, I’ve come to realize that we, as the Church, face an enormous challenge. We have to share the message of God’s love for humanity in a society where this message is foreign to so many people. We have to share the message of God’s love for humanity in a society that is obsessed with wealth and power, consumerism and materialism, and personal achievement.
And let’s not kid ourselves—we all participate in these aspects of society to a certain degree. We spend so much of our time and energy chasing after stuff! Bigger houses. Nicer cars. Better jobs.
We spend more time and energy arguing about politics than discussing the Gospel and Jesus’ call upon our lives.
We want other people to change. We want people to come back to the Church. We want people to like us. We want the status quo. Maybe not the actual status quo, but the status quo of the Church as it was twenty or thirty years ago. We want Church to be pleasant and comfortable. We want Church to conform to the logic of the world, but we’re called to teach the logic of the cross.
That’s no easy task.
Jesus’ mission of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, preaching release to the captives, and sharing God’s love for all of humanity—that mission, that message put Jesus on a collision course with the Roman Empire and the religious authorities in Jerusalem. That mission and that message threatened the power structures of Jesus’ day. That mission and that message were counter to the logic of the world and the cross was the inevitable result of challenging that logic.
Yes, that cross represents Jesus’ victory over sin and death. It also represents what happens to those who follow Jesus in his mission and preach his message. It is that cross that Jesus calls us to pick up as we follow him. It is that cross that Jesus calls us to carry as we continue in his mission of healing the world.
It is extraordinarily unlikely that any of us will actually lose our lives as we share the mission and message of our Messiah. Even less so, that we may share in the actual, physical crucifixion of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
So, what are we afraid of?
Perhaps the cross is also a reminder to us that we are called to die to our old selves. We are called to transform ourselves and renew our commitment to Christ, constantly. It’s a reminder that death is necessary for renewal.
I love this story from the Gospel of Mark. It seems like Peter is constantly getting things wrong. But this story reminds us that Peter also gets some really important things right. Peter understands that Jesus is the Messiah, even if Peter doesn’t fully understand what the Messiah really does. In fact, Peter can’t possibly understand the Messiah until after Jesus has died and is resurrected from the dead.
Peter didn’t get it right the first time around. Or the second. Or the third. He made lots and lots of mistakes. He missed lots of opportunities. Yet Jesus knew that he—Jesus—would build his church upon the rock named Peter. Then, after Pentecost, Peter continued to follow Jesus, all the way to the cross.
So, we need to have some sympathy for Peter. We also need to practice some grace for ourselves and one another. We’re not always going to get this right.
Like Peter, I missed an opportunity in that vacation Bible school class. My opportunity wasn’t to teach that little girl the entire Christian story in one night. It wasn’t about knowledge or information, though. I missed the opportunity to find out who she was. I didn’t follow up with the church members who organized VBS. Perhaps I could have found out more about the girl and her family. Perhaps there was an opportunity to invite those folks into relationship with the congregation.
Do you notice a pattern—either in the story from my experience in vacation Bible school, or in Peter’s story?
First, there’s an opportunity, but we miss it. And maybe later, we realize we missed an opportunity. Or maybe we don’t realize that we missed an opportunity until someone or something gives us a sharp rebuke. Later, we get something right, like Peter recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah. But then we get the next thing wrong, again, like Peter.
We won’t always have the clear and obvious rebuke, as Peter gets from Jesus. But we always have the power to examine the opportunities we’ve had and recognize patterns. This can help us to see old opportunities that we’ve missed, as well as new opportunities that are before us.
To do this, we have to meet people where they are. We have to engage with people who don’t understand the language of the church. This requires us to take risks and get outside of our personal comfort zones. It also requires self-awareness. By that, I mean that you don’t have to take the most drastic option available when you decide to get outside of your comfort zone.
For instance, if you’re over 80 years old, you have a heart condition, and you have to take a number of different medications at very specific times of the day, then maybe a mission trip to Africa or Latin America isn’t for you. But if you’re 45 and in good physical health and you’ve always been curious about what the Church is doing in those places, maybe that sort of missional experience is right for you.
Maybe you’ve had opportunities to work with the poor and homeless in your own community, but you’ve had other things going on in your life, so you said, “I’ll do this another time.” Or maybe your adult children have drifted away from church. Or maybe it’s a close friend who drifted away. Maybe it’s someone who left this church. Maybe you sense that this is the right time to get more involved in this church, or in some organization that serves the needs of the larger community.
Look for those opportunities that you’ve missed in the past. Look for the opportunities that are outside of your comfort zone. And then, before diving into the deep end of the pool, talk to people. Talk to friends and family. Talk to your church family. Talk to your pastor.
Find out if you know anyone who has followed Christ’s call in the same way you’re contemplating. Search out people who can equip you for this ministry. You might find someone else who’s looking to follow Jesus, but who isn’t sure how. You might find that the work is easier and less frightening when you have someone working with you.
Also, as you look for new ways to follow Christ’s call, pray! Pray to the Holy Spirit and ask for wisdom and discernment. Ask the Spirit to show you the opportunities you’ve missed. Ask the Spirit to show you new opportunities. Tell God the things that weigh on your heart and the fears you have when you’re considering new things.
Simply put: pray for wisdom and discernment, and keep talking with one another. Then the way forward may become clear. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Beloved, as you go forth into the world, take up your cross! Listen for the call of the Holy Spirit and follow the logic of the cross. Go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!