Sermon for 12 September 2021

By Revd George Mwaura

Isaiah 50: 4–9a and Mark 8: 27–38

Lord, speak to the quietness of this place; speak words of consolation, healing, and wisdom by your Spirit,
for your children await in eagerness.


In the musical show, Jesus Christ Superstar (ya’ll remember it?), Judas mocks Jesus saying, if you had come today you could have reached the whole nation – Israel in four BC had no mass communication. Jesus Christ Superstar, do you think you are what they say you are? Makes sense, doesn’t it? Judas’ line of thinking indicates that God should have hired someone to handle public relations before sending Jesus to earth. At the very least God should have waited for the advent of television, twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms, since that would have made it so much easier to get the message out to the world. In today’s passage, Jesus and the disciples were on their way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way Jesus asked them, who do people say that I am?

They answered, John the Baptist, Elijah; and others said, one of the prophets. Then Jesus asked them, but who do you say that I am? Peter answered him: You are the Messiah. Now notice the next verse. ‘And he ordered them not to tell anyone about him’. What was all that about? Why did he not want people to know who he was? Today, we have satellite channels praising Jesus’ name 24/7. But there he was telling the disciples to be quiet about it? If this had been the only time that Jesus told people to keep quiet about him, it might not seem significant. However, just before this event, we read about Jesus opening a deaf man’s ears and ordering him not to tell anyone. Interesting, the more he ordered people not to say anything, the louder they broadcasted his wonders.

And to be fair, some things are too good to be brushed under the carpet, even though it is clear that Jesus preferred to do his most spectacular work in private. Today, we know from the great commission that Jesus wants you and me to spread the Gospel. So, why the secrecy then? One reason is that Jesus believed in the church. He had a very specific plan for saving the world. He taught the masses, helped the needy, and confronted the religious leaders of his time. But none of these were his priority. His priority was to create a community of faith: the Church. It is clear that his central mission was to teach the twelve disciples so that they would faithfully continue with his work after he was gone. In that way, the chain of influence would continue through the ages until the time came when, in St Paul’s words, every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. That is why, Ade and Tuttan, you brought Neriyah here to be baptised; you are part of that chain.

I wonder though, do you all believe in the Church? I know the Church is not always, what it should and could be, but Jesus depends on the Church, because we are the key to his plan for redeeming the world. Several centuries ago, a wealthy nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his village. He decided to build them a church. No one was permitted to see the plans or the inside of the church until it was completed. At the grand opening, the people gathered and marvelled at its beauty. Then someone noted: it is very dark in here, how will the church be light? The nobleman pointed to some brackets on the walls, and then gave each family a lamp, which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship. ‘Each time you are here, he said, the place where you are seated will be lighted. When you are not here, that place will be darkness. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God’s house will be darkness.’

Do you get the logic of this? Certainly, Jesus came to die for the sins of the world, but he also came to found a new community. That community is charged with the responsibility of delivering the message of the Cross to the world. If we fail to do our part as witnesses to the light of the world, then the world will remain forever in darkness. Jesus did not engage in public relations because he wanted to spend as much time as possible training the disciples for ministry ahead. And because of that, Christian ministry has continued throughout history to reach you and me and young Neriyah today.

But there is a second reason Jesus told people not to broadcast his good works. He knew that people often attend church for the wrong reasons. After he had fed the five thousand, the multitude followed him and, in a confrontation, Jesus said to them: I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you witnessed the miracle I did, but because you ate free bread and now you want more. Ouch, Jesus!

Right there we find a great temptation about Christian witness. We live in a consumer society. People go to places that cater to their needs. I go to the restaurant that serves the kind of food I like, with a staff that treats me the way I like to be treated, and even has the kind of music I prefer playing softly in the background.

Suppose people selected a church using similar criteria. Suppose they like how the minister preaches. Suppose the rest of the congregation looks and talks like them and they love the music the choir sings. OK, admittedly these are good reasons to go to a church you know; but do you see the danger inherent in this? If people only listen to ministers who reinforce their existing prejudices and fellowship only with people who are like them, then nobody is growing into the likeness of Christ. In a consumer-oriented society, this is the greatest danger facing the Church. Instead of influencing our culture, we are allowing the secular culture to influence us.

Finally, Jesus did not hire a public relations company because there is a difference between projecting an image and providing a faithful witness to love. Nothing that I have said today was intended to be disparaging toward the public relations companies. There is a place for them. They help businesses get their message out to the consumer and public. If I thought it would help get our message out, I would endorse hiring a PR guru for our church. In fact, some of the fastest-growing churches today depend heavily on PR. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as they do not sacrifice the integrity of the Gospel and the Church for the sake of growth.

But the Church is not about manipulating an image to look good; oh, no! It is about loving, serving, helping, and healing. It is about changing lives. It is okay to use secular means to get our message out, provided that our message doesn’t get lost in the process. This is what Church is all about. It is about people being made new by the power of the Spirt. It is the reason you and I must do our part to see that the Church is all Christ meant it to be. Jesus did not hire a PR company. He simply gave his life for what he believed. And look what came out of that one life; not bad hah?