The 11th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 17A (August 28, 2011)

Lessons Jeremiah 15:15-21 Psalm 26:1-8 (3) Romans 12:9-21 St. Matthew 16:21-28

Semicontinuous Series Exodus 3:1-15 Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b (1, 45)

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.

Lesson

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 ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Death… and New Life

Last week Peter looked so good. Jesus commends him for his theological and spiritual insight. “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” This week, as Jesus describes for Peter what it will mean for him to be the Messiah, the son of the living God, Peter takes a different tack. “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” This exchange between Jesus and Peter strikes at the heart of Christian faith, and lifts up the contrast between human things and divine things. We can’t know exactly what Messiah means for Peter — but most likely it has to do with the political and military might to run the Romans out of Jerusalem. For Jesus, it is more clear: being Messiah means great suffering, and death, and resurrection; and following Messiah means dying to this life, in order to live the Christ-life.

The particulars of Romans and Jerusalem and the earthly life of Jesus seem located in the distant past, but the tension between human things and divine things continues today. We too, like Peter, have very human notions of what the good life entails. When pressed for a description, we might include comfortable homes, well-balanced meals, good health, and a growing (or these days, at least not shrinking) retirement portfolio. When viewed from the long-run of history, we live in a time of unprecedented wealth and luxury; so much so, that many of us are not even aware of it (or of the demands our affluence places on our time and energy…).

In today’s text, Jesus doesn’t say, “Let me add a little faith to that equation, and then you’ll have it just right.” He says there are human things and there are divine things. We can build our lives around one or the other, but not both. “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

We resist that notion. We live under the delusion that we can have it all. Yet it doesn’t take much to step back and see what Jesus means. It is easy, today, to get so caught up in the chase for the good life that we lose life altogether. It is easy to become so focused on our balance sheet, that every extra ounce of energy is invested in making money, accumulating assets, and caring for them. Today’s media is saturated with false promises: purchase our product, retain our services, and all will be well. Yet statistics reveal that all is not well.

Jesus teaches us that only in dying to this delusion can we be resurrected into the life he wants us to know. A life where relationships are more important than belongings. A life where mercy is more important than success. A life where giving is more important than receiving. A life where faith is more important than status.

Jesus invites Peter, and us, to step away from the false hopes and unrealistic demands of human things, and build a life around what matters most to God. Can we see that this is not just another demand placed on our time and energy, but an invitation into an entirely different way to live? Only through this type of death can we receive the new life our Lord hopes to give us.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does Peter have in mind when he thinks of the Messiah?
  2. Why does Jesus’ understanding of Messiah come as a surprise to Peter?
  3. What will have to change for Peter to understand what Jesus is saying to him?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What prevents me from dying to the false promises and unrealistic expectations of this age?
  2. What desires would I have to let go, to make room for a stronger desire for God?
  3. When have I glimpsed the life Jesus describes in this Gospel lesson?