The 13th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 17A (9/3/2017)

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Saint Matthew 16:21-28

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b

Prayer of the Day:
O God, we thank you for your Son, who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world. Humble us by his example, point us to the path of obedience, and give us strength to follow your commands, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

16.21 From that time on, 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. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 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.”

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 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?

27 “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. 28 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.”

St. Matthew 16:21-28, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Cross to Bear

Common wisdom asserts that we “all have crosses to bear.” Poor health. A cruel boss. Disobedient children. A snoring spouse. Bad luck. We claim these crosses as a way of deflecting the challenges in our lives. “I’m so sorry to hear that.” “Oh well, I guess that’s just my cross to bear.” The notion is that life can be unfair, some aspects of living are just plain miserable, and since there isn’t much we can do about it anyway we just suffer through it, trying not to complain too much.

Let’s be clear: this is not what Jesus is saying in this week’s Gospel lesson.

To set the scene: Peter has just made a remarkable testimony as to who Jesus is. We read about it last week at worship. He says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” It is the profession of faith on which Jesus will build his church. But almost immediately Peter reveals that he doesn’t know what he is talking about. Jesus begins “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.” Immediately Peter protests. God forbid it! Never!

Peter’s objection shows that he doesn’t yet understand what it will mean for Jesus to be Messiah. But Jesus knows. He knows his ministry will draw the ire of the powerful in religious, social and political culture. He knows his radical message of love, grace and faithfulness will be such a strong contrast with what they now believe, that they will respond in a show of fury. Jesus is committed, though. And he will continue to announce this good news as long as he has breath. No matter the cost. Even if it costs him his very life. (And, indeed it will…)

What’s more — and here Jesus raises the stakes in this conversation — the same will be true for his followers. Do you want to follow me? Then you shouldn’t expect to be treated any differently than I will be.  Do you want to proclaim this good news to the world? Well, you had better be ready for any opposition that comes your way. Even if it comes in the form of the cross. This is what it means to set your mind on divine “things” instead of “human things”

We are a fortunate people: there is very little chance that agents of the Empire in which we live will put us to death on a cross (or by any other capital means) for speaking publicly about our faith in Christ. But this doesn’t mean we won’t face opposition. Much of what we believe runs counter to the prevailing winds. Biblical notions of justice stand in contrast to the self-centered norms of our society. A spirit of radical welcome has little in common with the suspicion we have of those who differ from us. A “me-first attitude” has little to do with what Jesus has to say about “the least of these, my brothers and sisters.” If we allow Christ to have a place at the heart of our living, we are bound to pay a price.

Yet in doing so we will also find life. “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” In all things, may we live faithfully to Christ. And as we do, may we experience the life he wants for us; a life filled with love, grace and faithfulness.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why was Peter so distressed at these words about suffering and death?
  2. How does Jesus redefine for him what his Messiahship will be?
  3. What are the results of following this kind of Messiah?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I struggled against my Lord’s call to faithfulness?
  2. When have I suffered because of my commitment to Christian faithfulness?
  3. How has my faith helped me to experience life in a different, better way?