“Who’s the Boss?”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “Our Job Description: Change the World”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
September 16, 2018
Mark 8: 27-38
27Jesus 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?”
28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”
30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then 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, and after three days rise again.
32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
35For 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.
36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
I was trying to think about the best boss I ever had. In high school I worked in restaurants and on a ranch and as a security guard. In college I worked in different churches as well as at the campus gate house – the midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift, always right before my 8:30 a.m. Greek class. That’s how I learned to drink coffee. As a pastor in our denomination technically everyone in the congregation is my boss. It’s kind of complicated to pick a best boss out of all of that. Probably you have had good bosses and bad bosses and in many situations we have more than one boss: we have an immediate boss and then there is “The Big Boss,” the CEO, or more informally the Big Cheese, El Jefe, Numero Uno, etc., etc.
When Jesus asks the disciples who they say he is, Peter calls him the Messiah. That’s like saying “King,” which is a pretty big boss. Jesus doesn’t refuse the title he just orders them “sternly” not to tell anyone that’s who or what he is. We generally call Jesus our “Lord,” or “Savior” or “our Lord AND Savior.” This is really two different roles and one could argue both are bigger than “King.” But calling Jesus “Lord” to me is saying who is in charge of my life, who is my “real” boss no matter how many other bosses I may have or how many others may think they are my boss. I know most husbands understand that their wives are “the boss” and I don’t want to interfere with anyone’s marital relationships but I just want to be clear my wife knows Jesus is my boss. And, yes, I asked her permission to say that.
All kidding aside, what do we mean when we say “Jesus is Lord?” Do we act as if Jesus is really our Boss? And I don’t want to get into too fine a theological argument about whether God is really the BIG, BIG Boss and Jesus is under him. Too many theologians far smarter than me have spent far more time and theological reflection on that subject. Let’s just stick with Jesus as “Lord,” and talk about what that really means, ok? Because I am operating under the assumption that if someone is your boss then you better do what she or he says or you risk the consequences, right?
We’ve probably all had bosses that made that clear to us, right? My way or the highway? Bosses who have thrown their weight or title around to make sure everyone bows and scrapes appropriately. They say “jump,” we say “how high?” type bosses? But maybe that is a good place to start to think about what kind of boss Jesus, our Lord, is. Now my temptation is to jump right to how nice and forgiving and easy-going Jesus is, but this passage itself defies that immediate temptation.
When Jesus tells the disciples he is going to be rejected by the “religious bosses” and that they were going to see that he was executed, Peter immediately rejects this talk. Now, Peter tries to do the right thing. He doesn’t talk back to Jesus in front of the other disciples. He doesn’t openly dispute Jesus. He “took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Well, apparently that doesn’t play well with Jesus and he rebukes Peter out in the open, in front of the other disciples: “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind on human things, not divine things!” Whew! Talk about a tongue lashing! And in front of all the other kids!
But here’s the thing. All the stuff I read about good bosses says they have to have a clear vision of where they are going. They have to be able to stay the course when employees or external factors or other things tempt her or him to become distracted from that vision. Jesus knew that to complete his mission he would have to stand up to the limited vision of the religious authorities and the overreaching vision of Caesar. Caesar wanted everyone to call him “God,” “Son of God,” “Ruler of the Universe,” and such things, but he was not. He could command a lot of power, but he could not command Jesus to turn from his vision for a different kingdom than Caesar’s. He could not force Jesus to bow to his power, which Caesar used to cause those he ruled over to suffer injustice and oppression for Caesar’s glory and ego. And Caesar had the power to crucify anyone who defied or denied or endangered Caesar’s power, including Jesus. And he did. But Jesus’ power came from God, and God’s power is greater than Caesar’s. God overcame Caesar’s power over death to give life back to Jesus in the resurrection. To call Jesus Lord is to proclaim his power is greater than any Caesar, any ruler, any king, any Pharoah, any President or other false god that claims more power than God. God is the God of the resurrection and Jesus is the living reminder of that.
Now, again, that sounds great but to have resurrection there has to be a death. And Jesus, our Lord, our Boss, tells the crowd, and his disciples, and therefore us, anyone who wants to save her life or his life has to lose it; and anyone who loses his or her life for his sake and for the sake of the good news of God’s power and God’s reign will save it. This doesn’t sound like good news. Maybe soldiers understand when their boss – their sergeant or their commander – orders them into battle knowing they are going to possibly die, but most of us aren’t ready to take orders like that from our boss. This does not sound like a good boss. Yet we claim we call Jesus our Lord, our boss. What must die? Perhaps it is the values we hold that are not the values or vision of our Boss, Jesus.
Sometimes (and in some ways all the time) that means being ready to sacrifice everything. There is a big debate about a certain football player and his efforts towards greater social justice. Now there is a commercial featuring him that talks about being ready to sacrifice everything. Whether you think he has or not, Janet H Hunt, [ “Then and Now: Picking Up Our Crosses,” dancingwiththeword.com, 2018 ] talks about reading about the work of the “Underground Railroad” in DeKalb County, Illinois where she lives as an example of risking losing everything for Christ’s vision of a world where people aren’t enslaved because of their skin color. These people were willing to lay down their lives to bring the good news of God’s reign. She talks about the people in churches around that area, mostly farmers, who took up an heroic effort to change the world. “These were men and women who built their homes with hidden rooms and under-ground passageways, and constructed haystacks with hollow cores and wagons with false bottoms … to shelter those who had risked everything for a chance at freedom.” These everyday people were willing to ‘pick up their cross’ to follow Jesus.
She admits that these weren’t sinless heroes. They had benefitted because the land they owned had come by “the forced removal of the Native Americans who had inhabited that land” before them. These farmers ancestors had “massacred or driven west” those Native Americans. Those “heroes in the Underground Railroad” were able to farm that land because of an injustice that caused a whole race of people to suffer. She goes on to say, wisely I think, “We will never do it perfectly. But that must not, cannot, stop us from doing it at all as we attempt to follow the One did: who picked up his cross and suffered and died for us all.”
We may say, oh, that was a different time, there is no need for that kind of thing today. Not true. There are still those who are enslaved by injustice for their race, or religion, their sexuality, their ability or disability and more. We may not need to create an underground railroad but we need to work for that world that Jesus calls us to see – his vision for a world where all are treated as beloved children of God.
That will require us to change the world. Our Boss calls us to be part of his mission to change the world. To turn from the “vain worship” of our own power and glory or that of our particular political party, or even nation, to a concern for the world and all the people in it. Jesus did not call us to put ourselves before others, or our party over what is good for every person in the nation regardless of their party, or our nation over other nations and peoples. In fact, he called us as Christians to the very opposite value: The one who is greatest in God’s Kingdom, or Reign, is the one who is servant of all!
The Catholic Church’s teaching on Biblical justice says it well: “there cannot be two parallel lives in [our] existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual’ life, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social relationships, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture.” We cannot separate our Sunday values with our Monday through Saturday lives. Our Boss, Jesus, did not say, take up your cross on Sundays and come worship me. He said, those who lose their lives for my sake and for the sake of the good news of God’s reign and God’s love for all people and for all of Creation will find real life, authentic, valuable, world-changing life.
How can we settle for anything less? Who would you rather have as your boss – the values of our culture which seem to lead to hating others, getting what’s “yours,” and telling everyone else they can go to you-know-where, and to crushing the life out of everyone who is powerless, poor, or cannot “pull themselves up by their bootstraps?” Or would you rather live in a world where the love of Christ demands us to remember that every person is our sister or brother – a child of God worthy of everything that we are worthy of.
When it comes down to it, that is what my Boss means when he talks about the Good News, the gospel – a world where we see every person’s worth as equal to our own and to do everything I can to honor that, because that is what my Boss would want. Who’s your boss? AMEN.