11th Sunday After Pentecost
Romans 12: 9-21Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Matthew 16:21-28 (NRSV)
The rebuke to Peter
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. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." 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."
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 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?
"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. 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."
Today’s lectionary scriptures are particularly challenging on today. It is a hard thing to hear our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ say to the Apostle 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."
These words seem harsh given that Peter had earlier confessed his faith that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God and in response Jesus had said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
It seems, like all human beings, Peter really lived between the two Kingdoms of this world. Martin Luther talked extensively about the two kingdoms—law and gospel, carnal and spirit, sinner and saint.
As citizens of the Kingdom of Love, we are ever aware of the fact that we daily declare Jesus as Messiah and Lord and we also sin against our King by failing to love God and neighbor as ourselves.
Jesus spoke to this dichotomy when he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”
It’s no simple thing to talk about giving up our lives. This notion is absolutely counter-cultural to every message that we absorb from TV, radio, and internet. We are carefully taught the importance of being Alpha--the biggest, baddest, strongest, richest, most powerful being in a room at all times.
If we are not Alpha, we are always seeking to become Alpha by any means necessary. And so Paul’s letter to the church in Rome comes as slap to the face when under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he mandates Christians to be patient in suffering, to bless those who persecute us, to never avenge ourselves, to lovingly care for our enemies, and to overcome evil with good.
What kind of Good News message is this?
I’ve got to be honest with you. I grew up in an urban neighborhood in St. Louis, MO and we had a word for people who failed to curse those who cursed them and avenge themselves when attacked (long pause). The word was, “PUNK.”
And nobody ever wanted to be punk…
Yet, in today’s lectionary scriptures Jesus calls us to lay down our lives that we might find them and to surrender our own selfish ways and to follow Him.
As we follow Jesus we bear witness to his willingness to surrender himself to his enemies, to stretch out his arms on the cross, to hang his head and die, and to be committed to a tomb--all for our sake.
Because Jesus was willing to be so counter-cultural and to give up his right to wreak vengeance upon his enemies, God was willing to accept him as the unblemished lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Because Jesus was able to walk in humility, blessing those who cursed him and praying for those who persecuted him, his death opened wide the gates of heaven, accomplishing both the forgiveness of sin and the gift of our eternal lives.
And so, throughout time and space I hear Jesus’ words echoing into our sanctuary today—“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Follow Me, as we allow love to be genuine.
Follow Me, as we hold fast to what is good.
Follow Me, as we are patient in suffering.
Follow Me, as we persevere in prayer.
Follow Me, as we live in harmony with one another.
And follow Me, that we might overcome evil with Great Good.
On this day, I am so grateful that Love Wins.
Whether or not we are seen as punks, love always wins. Whether or not people understand our commitment to patiently suffering, love wins. Whether or not people embrace our commitment to persevering in prayer, love wins. And whether or not it is seen as counter-cultural by our neighbors, friends, and colleagues, we must believe that love wins and that evil is always, always overcome by a tsunami of good.
Lately I’ve been praying, “God of my weary years, God of my silent tears, God you have brought me thus far on the way. God you have by your might, led me into the light, keep me forever in your path, I pray.” (long pause…)
On this day, I am so very cognizant of the fact that as Children of God and citizens of the Kingdom of Love, we are called to walk in the Light, to be children of God, and to shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!
On this day, it is my prayer that each of us is willing to take up our crosses daily and follow Christ. It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit will enable us to boldly make up our minds to bless those who curse us and to live in harmony with one another. And it is my prayer that in so doing God would move supernaturally on our behalf to overcome evil with the good, setting us free to boldly declare the good news message that, “Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ shall come again!” to all of our neighbors near and far.
I pray this in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
If you have questions about how to become a friend and follower of Jesus, please see the devotion entitled, “Come to Jesus” @ http://bit.ly/JVhaLta