Today’s message is brought to you by Saint Peter.
That’s right. A lot of people don’t know this, but the Gospel of Mark and the two letters which bear Peter’s name have long been believed to represent the teachings of the Apostle Peter himself.
In today’s lessons, Peter tells us that Jesus is the Christ – the Lamb of God – who fights a war of cosmic importance.
Peter says that Christ fights this war between good and evil on the frontlines. Not only against beasts and devils – but against all the forces of sin which threaten God’s creation with a sentence of death without parole.
Peter says that Christ has gone to where the Wild Things are. And that place is right here!!! – where you and I live everyday.
Peter knows this about this battle, as his whole story is about the struggle between holiness and pride, between humility and arrogance.
Peter’s message has to do with the Way you and I can reach atonement with God. How we can become “at One” with Christ.
Peter grew up in a Jewish religion in which every year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would sacrifice a goat in the Temple. This sacrifice was believed to bridge the gap of sin which had grown between God and his People each year. This sacrifice would make the People at One with God.
The sacrificial goat was called Azazel. The same name, interestingly enough, the Jews used to describe the devil of the desert. As the legend of First Enoch states, Azazel was one of the leading angels to rebel against God. For his rebellion against God, Azazel was cast down to dwell forever in the deserts of this world.
It is this devil – this goat – this beast – that the Lamb of God meets across the baptismal river of Jordan. The Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world – and the Goat of Sin.
It is worth noting that this meeting between Lamb of God and Goat of Sin takes place in no metaphorical underworld, no lake of fire. But in the wilderness of this world. In the deserts of despair where we live.
The Bible says this is why you and I struggle every day.
For on this side of Jordan, you and I are free – but we are not excused from the fight between good and evil. We are free, but we are also enlisted to fight on the frontlines. We are called to fight for those who are not free, as the agents of Christ in a bent and fallen world.
Peter’s literary metaphor for spiritual captivity is Babylon. Whether Babylon is Rome or Richmond, you and I must take up arms of Love, and serve Christ wherever spirits are imprisoned by sin and unforgiveness.
This week the United States and our allies may invade the land of ancient Babylon. We may go into that prison nation in the desert beyond the River Jordan. But I am not here to equate the sometimes necessary battles we engage in as a nation, with the cosmic war between good and evil.
I’m here to talk about you and me. Our nation may need to go to a warfront where we will hurt and kill dangerous enemies. But you and I are always called to the spiritual warfront to help and to heal.
For there are a great many souls beside us in this desert world, who are struggling with sin and death, and they are in need of our help. You and I are called to serve those struggling souls just as the angels did who ministered to Christ when he was in the desert.
Last Friday I visited my old friend in prison. He’s got a prison haircut and a beard, and he’s been working out so much that he’s become something of a huge beast. He’s been there well over a year now – and my friend is still deep in a desert.
He brought me to tears last Friday when he told me of the deep guilt and anguish he felt. He lost his wife because of his crime. He lost his job and his profession. He feels like whatever good he did in his life would be undone in the memory of men because of the fact that he committed his crime. He never got to see his father as he lay dying, nor after he died. He never got to hold his family in his grief.
He told me that he was wondering recently if he was a monster – a wild beast — who could never be loved again. He said, “who’ll love me?” “Who’ll forgive me?”
I said, “But man, I’m here to tell you that you are forgiven by God for whatever you did. You are loved by God no matter what you did. That’s the Good News.”
I’m not sure if he is ready to accept this yet, but I know that I am called to tell him this, as I meet whatever other needs of his I can meet in the name of Christ. I guarantee that those of his friends who do go to him, who do still love him, who do forgive him – they will be the ones who get this holy message of God’s love across.
I have another friend who got something for his 56th birthday – a stroke. Then cancer. Yes his body is riddled with cancer, he’s had a stroke, and he’s fighting for his life. I talked to him this week and he told me that he never understood before what he now understands. He said, “I’ve learned something pretty huge in the past few weeks. I’ve learned that I’m loved by God, and that Jesus’ blood has guaranteed it.”
I said, “Wow. How did you learn that?”
He said, “It was one of my nurses.” She helped him to see the love of Christ, by holding his hand, taking care of his needs, ministering to him in body and soul through his many hours in the desert of cancer and illness. I asked her if I got had done this to me to punish me. She said, “no baby, you’re body is a battleground, but you have been made right with God by Jesus, regardless of whatever you’ve done.” And while he was in the desert, she attended to his needs.
Peter says that Jesus goes where the Wild Things are. And that place is right here!!! – where you and I live everyday. Let us go there too – and let us minister to those Wild Things in need – let us bring the presence of God to them – and above all let us show them and ourselves that we are at one with God through the power of the Lamb of God. Amen.