the one about what it could look like...
September 4, 2017, 9:00 AM

Sermon from September 3, 2017

Text: Matthew 16: 21-28

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, in just a few verses separating them, the bold Peter disciple is at first declared the rock on which the church will stand (because he voices the disciples’ proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of the Living God) and then is called a stumbling block that is impeding Jesus’ ministry.

Talk about whiplash, right?

How do you think Peter felt in those moments? I know how I’d feel. First incredibly humbled and honored to be spoken to in such warm and loving terms by Jesus. The admiration speaks volumes as Jesus changes his name to reflect the honor he has received. No longer Simon, you’re Peter now.

Then, incredibly hurt. Saddened. Overwhelmed. The same Lord who changed your name. Who gave keys to the kingdom because of the words you voiced for the group, is now telling you that ‘you’re in the way.’

For the life of me, I couldn’t remember a story that seemed similar in my own life. I don’t know if I’ve gone from the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows quite like that. I don’t imagine many have.

Yet, as a church – whether that be specifically as Redeemer here in Newberry, the SC Synod, the institution of church in the country, or even the vast church of the world – it can seem pretty normal. Where in one breath it can seem like God is giving praise and honor to the work that we do – caring for the poor, opening our hearts to those who’ve lost so much because of natural disasters in our country and around the world, walking with those who are systemically tossed aside and looked past.

Where we see so much good that the church does.

Then, the bottom can drop out. All those good words, actions, and intentions can fall flat when things start to get more specific. Lord, you can’t possibly be calling us to go there. Lord, I love you and so do my friends please don’t tell me that those people love you too. God, I give praise and honor to you all my life – as long as you understand that ‘all my life’ mostly consists of little over an hour one day a week.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Peter is a great disciple and a true model of faith for the church. He has done more good for the building and forming of faith than most. He occasionally put is foot in his mouth. In many ways, the church is very much like Peter. On a whole – throughout the different flavors of the church – she has done wonders and miracles in forming faith, spreading the gospel, and serving those in need. Yet, occasionally the people that spread her reach and love have put their collective feet in their mouths.

Why? What’s going on?

I think for Peter and for us as the modern and historical church – we don’t understand. We don’t understand fully what Jesus means for the world. We don’t understand fully the lengths to which Jesus will go to show love, grace, and mercy. We don’t understand that sometimes, many times, the lengths we go to live out Jesus’ radical hospitality and love can cost us so, so much.

Take Peter for example. For him and most practicing Jews at this time, they saw the messiah as a fearless warrior. The one who would come to vanquish the enemies of God. The fierce leader who in one fell swoop would conquer those who oppress the people of God. Would drive them out. Who would show them – one way or another – that the God of Israel was the one true God.

That messiah, the image of the messiah that Peter and many had in their minds, wouldn’t die. Or at least, wouldn’t die such a dishonorable way that Jesus alludes to in our text today. He couldn’t imagine that.

You’re going to ‘win’ by losing? Not even in a dignified way? But, suffering the atrocity of a death on a cross? No. It can’t be Jesus. You must be wrong.

Peter cannot understand because it doesn’t make sense. Remember last week when I mentioned that Jesus told Peter and the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the messiah? It’s because of things like this. They don’t understand.

The church too at times doesn’t understand. We barely understand (if that) what it means to be raised, what a victory over sin and death means for us. Sometimes we can be overcome with that sense of love and grace knowing that God has done that for us. But, when we are confronted by where that love can spread – where it’s just a little bit (or a lot of bit) wider than we thought previously – we can become just like Peter. Indignant, exasperated, a stumbling block.

Sometimes the words and actions of Jesus don’t make sense. We would be fools to think otherwise. No one from before the resurrection would think that through death you could bring life. There are many here now who have trouble comprehending it. Even I at times have trouble with it. It doesn’t make sense.

As one of my favorite preachers wrote this week, “It is no surprise that Jesus died.” Even his birth was so troubling because of the prophecies and noise surrounding it that King Herod slaughtered toddlers and younger in an attempt to quash the would be king.

It is no wonder that Jesus was killed because of his ability to be a constant and persistent thorn in the side of religious authority and the empire. Turning their words against them, proclaiming the love for the outcast and the ones pushed to the side. Empowering all in their identity as children of God – no matter who they are or where they’ve come from. Those are dangerous words to the powers-that-be.

How Peter couldn’t see that is beyond me.

When you think someone is the messiah, you think that in spite of all that mess – they’ll rise above it. They’ll end up victorious over their foes.

Yet, what Peter had difficulty understanding and in which we have difficulty with as well, was that God is going to do something very different. God is at work to do something very radical. The surprising thing, is not that Jesus died, it is that God raised Jesus from the dead. That the power of sin and death had no hold upon him.

He did rise above it, even if it was in a way that we couldn’t expect.

So, what would it look like my sisters and brothers – what would it look like if instead of holding close the abundance we have – we shared it with those in need? What would it look like if we sought forgiveness instead of vengeance when we’ve been wronged in a myriad of ways? What would it look like if we gave second chances after terrible first impressions or stereotypes we’ve heard throughout our lives?

What would it look like if we denied ourselves and took up our cross?

Sure, it’s a hard sell. It really is. Taking up our cross. Following the path and life of our messiah – the one who dies on the cross – is harder, more painful, and could possibly place you at odds with your neighbors – even your country. It could possibly cost you your life. So, what would it look like?

The world might change. It just might get fixed. I could be a kinder place.

I think in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we’re seeing an inkling of what it might mean. The brothers and friends who go in search of those needing rescue and only two of the five return. The mother who gave her life so that her young child could survive the storm. The man who – with no knowledge or learned skills – became the leader of a shelter and helped people survive. Where the only reason he was there was because he dropped everything three months prior to take care of his dad. The countless pictures and stories shared of long lines – not to receive food, water, or shelter – but, to volunteer to help.

What would it look like…

All because we denied ourselves, and took up the cross. In the end it isn’t death, but it is new life we will find. New life for us, new life for the world, new life for the poor, the jerk, the widow, the proud, the humble, the lonely.

New life. Unexpected for sure. But, that’s what the resurrection brings. That’s what the resurrection has given us.

So, I ask again – what would it look like?

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