8/31/2014 Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost. The text for today’s sermon is Matthew 16:21-26.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This has been an amazing turn of events! Last week, Peter was proclaimed by Jesus to be rock…the building block from which the church would take shape. This week, well this week, Peter is the agent of Satan…the stumbling block to those who might come to profess the same faith. This transformation from building block to stumbling block comes quickly – so quickly, in fact, that the two passages occur back to back in a continuous narrative of events.
But let’s not be too hasty in judging Peter to be a fool. For, right after Simon Peter answered enthusiastically, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Jesus changed the subject. Jesus began to tell them that the crowds would soon turn against him and that he would be crucified, and on the third day he would be raised. Peter didn’t know what to make of this, so he took Jesus aside, saying: “Forbid it, Lord, that these things should happen to you.”
Peter may have made a wonderful confession, but Peter was not ready to hear or to understand what that confession would mean to life. Are you? Are you who confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, ready to accept what this confession means? One minute we may profess Jesus to be the Christ and then, once we realize what that means for Jesus and for us who follow him, we too may be quick to say, “God forbid!” For if Jesus is the Christ and we are to follow him, then that means that we are cross-bearers.
Deep down, we know that there is a price to pay for proclaiming Jesus as the Christ. The price is our life…our life lost so that we can find it again in Christ, the one who frees us to serve. But I am no fool and neither are you – as good as all this Christ stuff may sound if it means carrying a cross, the instrument of our death and a sign of our willingness to sacrifice everything for others, then we may have to think it about it. We may find ourselves jumping to Peter’s side, proclaiming, “God forbid!”
Now, Jesus’ response to Peter is as harsh as any words in the New Testament: “Get behind me Satan! You are not on the side of God but of man.” These harsh words to Peter, who seems sincerely interested in sparing our Lord any loss or suffering, hold little back as they reveal that Satan himself is at the heart of such thinking and behavior. For Satan offers the easy way – a life of self-interest – and in today’s world, where self-fulfillment, accomplishment, personal enrichment, and enjoyment are the goals in life, we have to admit that Satan’s way is appealing. It is nearly inconceivable that anyone would choose to take up the cross and be willing to sacrifice, suffer, and be humiliated for the benefit of others. And yet the building blocks which form the foundation of who we are as disciples, the basement upon which a house stands or falls, is Peter’s confession and a life which picks up a cross and makes choices which by the world’s standards makes us losers.
One of the funniest skits that Jack Benny did took place the basement of his house. It was there that he kept a vault, protecting his valuables from everyone. All of a sudden, in came a burglar. And the burglar shoved a gun into Jack’s ribs and escorted him across the alligator-filled moat toward the vault. “Your money or your life!” the burglar menacingly threatens. And Jack stand there with that well-known blank stare on his face, with one hand propped under his elbow and the other under his chin. After a long silence the burglar shouts, “Your money or your life!” Again still more uneasy silence fills the air. Finally, the burglar gets antsy and shoves the gun tightly against Jack’s ribs, and says, “Your money or your life!” And at long last Jack speaks…”Wait a minute…wait a minute…I’m thinking it over!”
We all laugh at Jack Benny, but I think that we are really chuckling at a bit of the truth which is part of all of us. There are some things in our basements that we all hold as just as important as life, if not in some cases, as even more important. There are just some things we will not let go of in order to grab hold of a life-changing confession.
The kind of choices that we make with our values and morals and priorities are critical choices for the hearts of those who would follow our Lord. We’ve known people – we’ve known moments in our own lives – when choices have been made for the sake of gaining things. We all struggle with this. We struggle with choosing safety over risk, comfort over sacrifice, self-interest over caring for others. And yet, we are called to share, to forgive, to be merciful, to be obedient, to be righteous, even though these things may not profit us as the world defines profit. We are to pick up the cross and willingly sacrifice everything for others.
Now, sacrifice is not a word we use much these days. The only place we may hear it is at a baseball game. If you sacrifice, you’re out, but you helped someone else score a run. If you sacrifice, you lose but the team still gains. Jesus sacrificed everything for us on the cross. We may not want to hear it, but we need it. We may not want to live it, but we must – if we are to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
Are you prepared for what it means? Are you prepared to confess Christ as the Son of the Living God and follow in his footsteps? Or do you join Peter and say, “God forbid!” The choice is yours and it’s a choice that each of us must make each day.
On this Labor Day weekend, may we choose to labor for the Lord. May God give you the courage and the strength to choose the cross. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.