I feel like shouting “Get behind me” to the Revised Common Lectionary divining rod that decided we need to hear the whole “Who do people say that I am?” story on a regular basis. Honestly, it feels like we hear this lesson at least twice a year, which makes it so hard to preach. I’m fully aware that most people can’t remember what the sermon was about before Sunday brunch is over, but that doesn’t ease my soul. I want to offer something fresh every Sunday, but how many different ways can you spin this story?
Over the years, I’ve preached this sermon in various different ways. One year, I spent some time unpacking what it meant that this story takes place in Caesarea Philippi. Mark is notoriously sparse on details so when he tells us that this encounter between Jesus and his disciples takes place in Philip’s Caesartown it is worth noting. There are strong political ramifications that come along with Jesus first being called the Messiah in a city built on a whim by a Roman Tetrarch to honor his boss who happened to carry the title, Son of God.
If political intrigue isn’t your cup of tea, then perhaps you might want to preach a sermon on the second paragraph in which Jesus first predicts his impending arrest, crucifixion, and the promise of resurrection that doesn’t get heard. You might want to preach a sermon about evangelism, following the model of Jesus who said these things “quite openly.” Maybe you’d rather look at the exchange between Peter and Jesus and dig into what it means to set our minds on divine things rather than human things. There’s plenty of material to tackle grace, faith, sin and redemption through the lens of Peter, if you were so inclined.
Or, you could read still further, and unpack the famous third paragraph. What does Jesus really mean when he says we should deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him? How do we lose our lives while we are still very much alive? Better yet, in a world where politics have overrun religion, how do we discern what God’s will is for our lives while the left and the right are trying to draw and quarter Christianity for their own purposes? The bravest of preachers might even tackle the last sentence, and what Jesus means when he uses the word “ashamed.”
There is lost of material to pull from in Sunday’s Gospel, and even though most of it feels pretty stale, I’m certain there is something to be gleaned from it. Even in a short preaching week, with prayer and study, the Gospel can come alive again with a fresh word for God’s people seeking to live the life of faith. Send your Spirit, Lord, and open the minds, hearts, and lips of your servants as they seek to speak your word. Amen.