Sunday, 3 September 2017

Sermon for Trinity 12: Sunday 3rd September 2017


Matt 16: 21 – 28

I wonder if you have ever overheard or been part of a conversation when you thought: ‘goodness that’s a bit over the top’. If you can pause for a second and not get swept up in it, you might ask yourself: ‘Where did all that come from?’

Well that’s a bit of what’s happening here when Jesus tells Peter to: “Get behind me Satan” v23. If you were here last week, listening to Anne’s sermon on the verses before these, you may be able to guess the answer to “where did all that come from?”

In case you weren’t, Jesus had asked his disciples: “who do people say that the Son of man is?” They give various answers – John the Baptist, one of the prophets. Then he cuts to the chase: “Who do YOU say I am?” Peter, always the first to reply, gave the right answer: “you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

But Peter’s moment of glory doesn’t last long, because as soon as Jesus tells his disciples what is going to be required of him, how he is about to walk right into the trap set for him in Jerusalem, where he will suffer and be killed and be raised from the dead, Peter explodes: “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Now does it make sense why Jesus seems so furious with Peter?

It is simply too much for Peter to imagine his wise young teacher coming to such a quick and bloody end, especially an end that can be avoided. Why walk into a trap when you can turn around and walk away? Why take a risk you do not have to take? Surely, Jesus,  you could heal a lot more people, preach to more people, set a lot more people free if you’d just stay out of harm’s way; take the safe option.

It strikes me as I read Stephen and Marie Shin’s last prayer letter that you could say the same to these link missionaries of ours. Aren’t there people in this country who need them to share the message?  Why take 2 little boys to this dangerous country? Why take a risk they do not have to?

We’ve all at least heard of people who have done risky things for the sake of others – running into a burning house to see if anyone is still alive. And less news-worthy stories of someone with a full time job who spends their free time helping that project with asylum seekers or the homeless.

We can admire such people but something in us is often afraid for them, especially if we know them well. Part of us like Peter wants to protest, “God forbid! Isn’t there an easier way to do what you want to do? Do you have to take such risks? What if you get hurt?”

Peter has a way of saying what the rest of us are thinking. But when he does say it, he gets this explosive answer from Jesus. “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.”

What a shock! What did he do wrong? As far as Jesus is concerned it was the voice of the ancient Accuser, the Tempter, who from the beginning of time has offered human kind alternatives to the will of God – easier alternatives, safer alternatives, anything that tempts us to be something other than what God has called us to do and be.

In Jesus’ case it was the temptation to play safe, to skip the trip to Jerusalem and find an easier way to save the world. And it must have been a very real temptation for Jesus – or else I don’t think he would have silenced Peter so harshly.

But Jesus goes on to say something perhaps even more disturbing: “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. We know that Jesus had to go to the Cross for us, so then why do we have to take up the cross?

It's probably something we would rather Jesus hadn’t said. So we try to get round it: let’s leave all this taking up the cross stuff to the early disciples and maybe a few more heroic people. It's quite hard enough to get up in the morning and face the challenges of the day, thank you very much.

Maybe we've been put off this verse by hearing some say: “this difficulty in my life is the cross I have to bear” but we don't see much of following Jesus in it. Or we may have seen someone denying themselves the smallest pleasures in life but when we see their souls poisoned with negativity, we think ‘surely that's not what it's about’.

And it isn't! The key to this verse is what Jesus has said about himself in v 21 “on the third day” he will “be raised to life” His taking the Cross led to Resurrection – to LIFE. And for us, taking up the cross, also leads to life, real living.

Peter wanted Jesus to save his life. He couldn’t bear to think of that beautiful life being spilled, wasted. What he didn’t realise was that Jesus’ supply of life was never-ending; and the more he gave of himself, the more he had to give; that when Jesus was raised from the dead, his life would be poured out, through the Holy Spirit, into all the world and into us.

The secret of Jesus’ hard words here is that the way to have abundant life is not to save it but to spend it, to give it away, because life cannot be shut up and saved anymore than a bird or a butterfly can be put in a box and stuck on a shelf. It has to be set free in order to live - and fly.

If we let our fear of suffering and death keep us from sticking our neck out, from taking the risks that make life worth living, we will save our own lives, yes, but we will lose something very precious - living a life that matters, a life for Christ’s sake.

There is quite a lot of pain involved in living this life especially in a world that counts on our fear of death to keep us in line. To follow Jesus means receiving our lives as gifts instead of guarding them as possessions. It means sharing the life we have been given instead of bottling it up for our own consumption.

But a life that pours itself out for others, without hardly thinking about it, knows that there is always more life where that came from, and even when our own lives run out God will have more life in store for us, because our God is a God who never runs out of life.

Sue Kiernan.

3 Sep 2017

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