THE WORD Mark 8:27-38
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
MESSAGE “The World is Tipping!” Rev. James Renfrew, Pastor
Here’s something that happens to me from time to time. I came up with a great sermon title for today a few months ago, “The World is Tipping”, but by the time I actually sit down to compose my thoughts the brilliant insight that lead to that sermon title has faded and I’m not sure what I was thinking!
“The World is Tipping”. What could it mean? Maybe I was thinking of the change of seasons. The earth’s axis is slightly tilted and around September 21, the vernal equinox, we mark the shift from summer to fall. Get ready to rake leaves. Look for the hats and gloves that you’ll soon be needing. Fall will soon be in the air.
“The World is Tipping” might mean something else. Well, if you are a table server at a restaurant that title would be good news, the whole world is going to be tipping and tipping generously. My primary source about tipping is my wife Robin, who served tables for a time and she has definite opinions about it, and she can tell you plenty of stories about bad tippers and good tippers. So maybe I was thinking that if all of us tip more generously an entire class of hard workers can live just a little more comfortably. Have any of you ever served tables? Would you rather have good tippers or bad tippers?
What else could the sermon title mean? “The World is Tipping”. I’ve been on the phone with my Mom and my sister who live in North Carolina over the last several days and their whole world is tipped on its head with the powerful hurricane that has been passing through, not just the wind, but evacuations, rain and flooding. Now, when I came up with the sermon title no one know about Hurricane Florence, so that’s probably not what I was thinking.
But maybe I was thinking more broadly than the hurricane. Maybe I was thinking about global climate dangers, and how our nation has recently been retreating from a variety of important agreements to reduce the impact of climate change. A tipping point would happen when a certain threshold is crossed and the damage is so great that we can’t get back to where we once were.
I had four face cords of fire wood delivered a few weeks ago. It came in a dump truck. As the bed of the truck rose up nothing moved at first, but all at once the wood slid out the back end of the truck and formed a big pile in my driveway. One tiny change in the angle of the truck bed, and all the wood came crashing down onto my driveway.
Here’s another example. For centuries cod fishing was a huge enterprise in Canadian Maritime waters. When it became more and more apparent that the cod were being depleted the Canadian government established a fishing moratorium to give the cod a chance to replenish themselves. But the problem is that with the cod depleted other species are on the rise and there’s no room for cod anymore. A tipping point had already passed, and there’s no going back now. The cod will never return.
I could talk about the environmental tipping points that I worry about concerning water quality with oceans full of plastic, air quality with atmospheric pollution, and depletion of scarce resources like oil. But looking more carefully at the text in Mark’s Gospel I’m realizing that this is not likely what I was thinking when I came up with my sermon title.
“The World is Tipping” In fact, there is a tipping point in our Gospel story about Jesus and Peter. When asks his disciples point blank if they really know who he is, they propose all kind of answers, but only Peter comes to a startling new awareness about Jesus and that opens the door that countless others have passed through.
As a child playing on the beach in North Carolina I used to build these dams made of sand and with my pail I would keep adding water until finally a few grains of sand would shift and the water would suddenly break through and return to the ocean. All it took was a few grains of sand to move slightly.
It’s like a tree branch in a snow storm, one flake after another lands on the branch and sticks to it. How much does one snowflake weigh? An old story claims that a snowflake weights “nothing more than nothing”. Yet just one snowflake, nothing more than nothing, when added to all of the other snowflakes, breaks the tree branch.
There are many stories about Jesus, his journeys, his stories, and his miracles. Jesus is a good man, a helpful man, a generous man, but in this story we learn that there is a lot more to learn about Jesus. Here Peter names him “Messiah”, the first one of Jesus’ followers to do so. “Messiah” means “chosen one” or “anointed one”, and it is a powerful moment when Peter sees Jesus for who he really is, not just a teacher or a healer, but the one God has sent to lead us all to salvation and eternity. Peter was the first, and because of him you can be the next one.
You can be like Peter, not just passing through the door that he opened but opening your own door for your children and grandchildren to pass through as well.
Naming Jesus “Messiah” lifts him high above us as the powerful Son of God, but Jesus is Messiah in a very surprising way. He is lifted up not by himself or for himself, but to lift all of us up, closer to God, and closer to God’s purposes for all humanity. We lift the bread and the cup high not just to exalt Jesus but to be raised up with him.
*WHAT WE BELIEVE Who is he? We believe he is the Christ, the son of the living God. Amen!