Sermon for Sunday 30th August 2020.
Matthew 16. 21-end
May I speak in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our readings today are drawing our attention to the importance of being in, and doing, God’s will. Not what the world, or sometimes even what the church expects, but standing firm in the authority of God’s word. Doing things in His Name only.
Poor Moses didn’t feel up to the task at all and voiced his fears very clearly, but God sent him out in His name, God’s name, given at that time to Moses as His authority to be used throughout the ages. The Name still revered today and reluctant Moses learned, as many following him, that there is power in the Name of God.
And Paul lays out how faith in Jesus should show in our behaviour. How we are to be different, and do things according to God’s expectations, not the world’s or other people’s. Our behaviour, words and actions should mark us out as people who act in the name of Jesus. The Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus speaks about so often, is almost the opposite of what the world expects and values.
This Gospel reading is closely tied to last week’s Gospel lesson. There Peter confessed his faith that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Now Jesus shows him what Messiahship and discipleship actually entail.
Jesus must now prepare the disciples for Jerusalem and his death on the cross, but they really do not understand. They still think of the Messiah as a warrior-king like David. Jesus shows them what to expect of the Messiah, and it is the exact opposite of their expectations.
Jerusalem is the place of the Temple as well as former Royal dwellings, the place where sacrifices are made.
So, I think the message this morning is perfectly summed in Peter’s response and Jesus’ reaction.
“Peter took him aside, and began to rebuke him” Having so recently been confirmed in his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter cannot understand when he hears Jesus say “killed,” but obviously didn’t understand the significance of “on the third day be raised.” We can’t fault him for this, because the cross became understandable only after the disciples saw the risen Christ.
Peter has the decency to take Jesus aside so that his rebuke is private rather than public. He must surely feel that Jesus is just having a bad day. Surely Jesus’ strength and optimism will return shortly, but Peter feels a responsibility to prevent him from doing anything damaging while in this temporary depression. Peter’s rebuke is friendly, but a rebuke nevertheless.
Peter takes charge and repudiates, in the strongest possible language, what Jesus has said. The disciple, who has so recently deified the Lord, now defies him.
“May God prevent this from happening to you.”
With these words, Peter crosses a line—challenges his Lord’s leadership—shoulders the Lord aside and moves to the front. No rabbi would tolerate such defiance. Disciples are expected to follow their rabbi. However benign Peter’s motives, he has gone too far.
Jesus’ words to Peter sound so harsh and remind us of his response to Satan, “Get behind me, Satan” at the conclusion of the wilderness temptations. The difference is that Jesus commanded Satan to depart while he commands Peter to move to his proper position, behind Jesus. That is the disciple’s place—behind the master—following the master. When Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke him, he moved in front of Jesus—seizing the initiative—seeking to lead Jesus onto a different path. Standing in front of Jesus—out of position—Rock becomes Stumbling Block. Even worse, he becomes Satan.—trying to deflect Jesus from his God-given path to the cross.
Peter calls Jesus to abandon the narrow, rough road that leads to the cross for a wide, smooth road that leads to…. Well, Jesus has already taught us that the wide, smooth road leads to destruction, but the narrow, rough road leads to life.
Jesus sees Peter’s intervention as a spiritual stumbling block—something that has the potential to cause Jesus to stumble on his journey to Jerusalem. Jesus cannot ignore a threat of this significance. He must put Peter firmly in his rightful place.
“for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.” That isn’t the way that Peter sees it. Peter understands that Jesus is the Messiah, and is simply trying to keep him from spoiling everything in a weak moment. Peter wants the Messiah to succeed. How can that be bad? The answer is that Peter’s vision of the mission is skewed, and he is trying to superimpose his vision over God’s vision.
And here is our message. Do we try to move things along in ways we think are right? We plan sometimes as the world plans and our goals can become very worldly indeed. We may evaluate church ministry by standards with which any accountant or CEO would be comfortable (membership rolls, attendance, budgets, goals and objectives) instead of the standards of the One who had nowhere to lay his head and whose throne was a cross. Do we try to stand in front of our Lord and tell Him what is needed, tell Him what should be done and focus our prayers on reaching our own goals. If He is truly Lord, then we must follow, listen and be prepared to break free of ways which may not be God’s way.
Jesus talks of our cross as we follow Him, of giving our lives to Him. He knows the pull of the wide and easy road, the one Peter would have Him walk. And we must take care not to pull others away from their calling, even if we feel it is hard and burdensome for them.
This time of isolation has given us all time to re-evaluate what is important. To spend more time with our Lord and look anew at our faith. Without being able to go to church, the pressures of fund raising, meeting goals, looking for ways to make more money, planning meetings and all the other pressures we faced, have gone. We can listen, look at the church and the way it should be growing and pray that we are moving in God’s way, in His name. Peter crossed the line with Jesus; he tried to turn Jesus from His mission and take control. He was telling Jesus what He must do to find the easy way. Jesus put him firmly in place and set out the real meaning of discipleship. Living selfish lives might be very attractive to some, but Jesus calls us to a different way of living. It is way that gives us freedom. Jesus gave His life and trusted it to God and God raised Him from the dead. Jesus wants that type of trust so that when He shows us things we think are too difficult, like poor Moses, that trust gives us freedom. He is Lord and in those words and faith, is freedom from every fear the world throws at us, even death.
Peter was so wonderful, we can all identify with this man, there is a Peter in all of us. But the man we admire is the Rock, not the Stumbling Block and we can learn our best lesson from his well meaning rebuke of Jesus. When we confess Jesus as Lord, it is for us to listen, trust and obey not rebuke and instruct. We are His Body and this is His Church.