Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: August 30, 2020
Year A, Proper 17: PPsalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Exodus 3:1-15; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Last week I indicated that the gospel lesson was sort of a prelude or introduction to this week’s gospel. Jesus had asked his disciples to reflect on who he is, what his significance is. “But who do you say I am?” Peter responded and he said, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God!”
Peter was, of course, correct. And Jesus tells Peter that Peter would be the foundation of the church.
Why is this important to know for today’s Gospel reading? Well, there’s that dramatic moment when Peter responds to Jesus telling him he must go to Jerusalem, suffer and die, by saying, “God forbid it, Lord!” and then Jesus says: “Get behind me, Satan!”
Wait a minute. What’s going on here?
Jesus has just told Peter he is the rock the church is to be built upon and now he’s calling him Satan. It feels a bit like watching a tennis or ping pong match with the ball zipping back and forth.
Think about it. Wasn’t Peter only trying to save Jesus from heartache? Wasn’t Jesus his friend and didn’t Peter act as any friend would to keep his friend from being hurt? I think Peter did act like any friend would who knew what the world around him was like. Peter was as some of us might say a realist.
“Get behind me, Satan!”
Jesus knows that Peter was responding from the position of the demons of this world – forces that push for untruth and avoidance of responsibility; those forces that easily accept the suffering of others to avoid the discomfort of encountering the truth.
Perhaps the reason why Jesus was so upset with Peter is that he is “setting his sights on human things.” Jesus knows that human things will never lead us to the kingdom of God. Human things will never overcome sin. Human things will always sell people short. Human things will keep up blind even when we are convinced that we see with 20/20 vision.
How true is that with respect to what is happening across our nation right now. People are dead because other people are so convinced that they and they alone are right. Many of us are convinced as Peter is that we alone know what is best. “Get behind me, Satan!”
It’s a challenge living, as we do, in the context of great wealth – you know the stock market erased all of its 2020 losses right, and when we hear over and over again that the basis of our value isin having things and money.
Buy those things are not life, money is not value. Jesus says it right here: “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?”
We heard this morning about Moses – a man who saw a burning bush, often translated as a mountainside, erupt into fire. We heard in our reading from Romans to hate what is evil and be devoted to what is good.
How do we do that in this world that is 2020? In this world that is full of hate? Pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, violence in the streets. It’s all just too much.
Is it too much? Or is this not so very different from the context and the tribulations faced by the peoples of our bible stories. If we were to read histories of the world in 2020, five thousand years from now might they not be reading like our biblical histories.
I absolutely believe that God speaks to us in the most ordinary of ways when we listen to God. As tired and overwhelmed as I sometimes feel in this world, when I look around me I know that we are being called to draw nearer to God, to turn our fears over to God, to remember that the love of God is before our eyes and that we can walk in faith with God.
I once read a wonderful book, “Why Not Become Totally Fire: The Power of Fiery Prayer”. It contains many wonderful examples of the powerful, sustaining imagery of fire in the Bible, particularly fire as love and fire as the symbol of the Holy Spirit.
What that book reminded me is that God’s love is amazing. Often, we miss the mark when it comes to showing other people this amazing love that has been given to us so freely, so unconditionally.
To set ourselves on fire in our lives as Christians is to live into the practical list of how to love one another that Paul gives us in today’s reading from the Romans. “Let love be genuine…live in harmony with one another…do not repay evil for evil.
And in living in that way, we are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus to live in that way of love.
Jesus knows that we are imperfect and fragile creatures. Jesus knows that we like Peter will falter, but that we can pick ourselves up because Jesus is there with us.
What we hear in today’s readings is that we are not offered any easy path in God’s eyes. Taking up our cross and following Jesus isn’t the easy way; it isn’t the hard way; indeed, it’s the only way. It is life-giving and meaningful.
There is so much good news in today’s readings.
The good news is that we in our own communities, in our own lives, can be the bearers of the cross, striving every day to hate what is evil and love what is good, to do what Jesus would do in a particular situation.
We can be totally fire glowing with the love of God.
We can do the utmost to live our lives by the example set for us by Jesus.
Sometimes we sacrifice honest and honesty for profit and self. Sometimes we sacrifice principle and Christian values for popularity and prosperity. Sometimes we sacrifice the values of God for the values of the world. Sometimes we’re confused by which is which and wrap them all up in symbolism that has nothing to do with Christ.
Today, Jesus shows us the way. Jesus shows us that doing right by God doesn’t depend on any special talent. Everyone is offered the opportunity to carry the cross. And today, we are given the opportunity to set our minds on the divine and not the human, on the love that is God in Christ Jesus. Let us have the courage to listen and respond to that love.
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.