Monday, September 01, 2008

A sermon for Aug 31...

Matthew 16:21-28
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

"For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

The poet and prophet of recent years, Bob Dylan, sings this hymn in support of Our Lord’s call:“you’re gonna have to serve somebody/yes indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody/Well it may be the devil/Or it may be the Lord/But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Of course it is not so literal in our own lives as it was for Jesus that day…but we are often too focused on work, or hobbies – things of our own making and not of God’s.

We come into our bible story today with that question being posed to the disciples. What is the next stage of our journey together? What will it mean to follow Jesus, to serve him, from here? Before he will take them any further, Jesus asks his followers to tell him who the people say that the Son of Man is, who he is. Peter is the one who steps forward and says what all have been thinking and hoping for…that this Jesus, their country rabbi, their wilderness prophet, their friend, is the One. “You are the Messiah, Lord…the Christ.” After all, they have seen miracles…lepers being cleansed, thousands being fed with a few scraps of food, the blind being given sight, even the dead being raised. So, where do we go from here? Everyone is talking. Everyone is wondering. Everyone is anticipating great things, for the victories and achievements to continue to rack up. More healings, more miracles, more…hope.

In the midst of this joyful noise, Jesus gathers his disciples around him and begins to tell them just how it was all going to work out. It was time to go to Jerusalem. It was time for the messiah to be revealed. And the time had come for the ultimate act of love. Moments later, Peter is in an argument with Jesus as our Lord begins to teach what it will mean for God’s messiah to complete his work in this world. All Peter can hear is death. Peter does not want to hear what is said…it betrays his and his community’s expectations. This can’t be God’s plan for Jesus, for us. So overwrought is Peter, he can’t even begin to hear, to wrap his mind around what Jesus is saying.

If Jesus is the Messiah, why would he willingly go up to Jerusalem to be handed over to the Chief Priest, the scribes and the Romans? He is not to die on the cross. This is defeat, not victory for Israel! Would you have that courage? To confront Christ with your own ending to this story? Would you tell Jesus that he is wrong and that you have a better plan? I couldn’t. But as Peter does…he receives a swift check from Jesus: “Get behind me Satan. You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” The cross, says Jesus, is the key to this story. Not your assumptions about what a messiah is supposed to look like, act like, sound like. The cross is the key. From this point, to be a follower of Christ is to pick up a cross.

Peter had very specific expectations of what the word “messiah” means. That messiah is expected to lead Israel to victory over their oppressors. That messiah is to be the bridge between God and humanity; and that bridge will not allow anything of this world to prevail against it.

Instead, this Jesus says that sacrifice and death will be a victory for all. Peter says lead us, but not to Jerusalem and the Cross…instead, anywhere else. Take us into the hills to fight the Romans and draw followers to you so we can build an army. Take us into the wilderness and help us to form a community to study the word and practice the law without defilement. Take us ANYWHERE but up to Jerusalem! Certainly all followers of Christ have doubts and fears of their own. I confess that I identify with Peter in this story.

But Peter’s doubt does not change the Lord’s plans…and the Gospel continues: Jesus sets his face to the holy city. Jesus readies himself for the Cross. He is clear, and we are left in confusion. What does it mean to follow Christ? What does it mean to live in community with him and with each other, when the clear and direct command from him is to risk-to surrender-everything to the way of the Cross? To serve Christ, to follow him, means that all the things we consider success in this world are human things, and were never the goals set down before us by God.

Our challenge is simple, to love God with all that we are…and to see God in each and every person we meet. To embrace our role as servant to God…means a life of growth, change and challenge. That is not an easy answer to hear. For Peter…or any one of us. As we hear this story, Jesus challenges Peter. But He is also challenging each and every one of us. When we choose to write our own story instead of being willing to wait for what God has planned for us then we are choosing to serve ourselves instead of Christ. When life does not work out to our satisfaction; that is when the savior calls to take up our crosses and to set down our own personal goals to strive to be one with him on the path he takes.

As with Peter, Jesus teaches us that the right thing is not always the easy thing. Do we have that strength of experience or wisdom, that we can second guess God? From time to time, like Peter, our actions work directly to human desire instead of to accord in God’s plan. When we get a handle on that…when we confront ourselves and begin to work to align ourselves with each other and with Christ in community, we live out God’s hope for humanity: that we work daily to honor Christ’s ultimate gift of love to us—his own life. As Bob Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody.”

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