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Pentecost 13A Sermon
Matthew 16: 21-28
30, 2020


Sermon Archives


Matthew 16:21-28

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.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

I was reminded this week of the times that I have mentioned modern music lyrics in my sermons. In thinking back over my ministry, I can recall mentioning such classic rock artists as The Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel, Tom Petty, John Cougar Mellencamp and even Pink Floyd. Get ready this morning to hear from the theology of Billy Joel! This week, when I prayerfully read and studied the appointed scripture, one of the first things that came to my mind was Billy Joel’s song, “Honesty.” While it is more of a lament from a jilted lover dealing with the wounds that resulted from the dis-honesty of his beloved, Billy captures for me the essence of the message of all of the scripture that we heard today. “If you search for tenderness, it isn’t hard to find; you can have the love you need to live. And if you look for truthfulness, you may just as well be blind; it always seems to be so hard to give …. Honesty is such a lonely word; everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard, but mostly what I need from you.”

Jesus loves his disciples so much that he is brutally honest with them. He’s about to go to Jerusalem and be killed. He’s not sharing a love that is merely tenderness, it is a love that embraces truthfulness. The truthfulness that it embraces is that followers of Jesus are called to carry that same cross. Paul calls this “genuine love” in our second reading. In the original Greek it is called, “agape anhypokritos”. Agape is the self-giving love modeled by Jesus on the cross. Anhypokritos means unfeigned. It is made up of the base word hypokritos – you recognize the word hypocrite there, which described an actor in the theater who wore a mask to pretend to be someone else - and the prefix “an” which means non, or not. We are called to a self-giving love that flows out of the blessings that we received from Jesus on the cross and out of our unfeigned concern for all people. This is honesty … such a lonely word! It insists that we ourselves take up a cross and follow Jesus. It means that as Peter was called to be a rock on which the church is established, we too should stand with the other living stones against the presence of evil and not become stumbling blocks to others who desire to follow Jesus by giving their whole selves.

In the bridge of the Honesty song, Billy sings, “I can find a lover, I can find a friend; I can have security until the bitter end; anyone can comfort me with promises again, I know, I know.” If we want to live in blissful ignorance of the presence of evil that threatens the followers of Jesus, we can do that. Often times people who share the call to follow Jesus claim things like security and influence, wealth and power as promises from God – that with enough faith we can live our best life now … but these are not the promises that Jesus made to Peter, the disciples or us.

I think this is one of those rare times when we can take Jesus super-literally when he told Peter to “get behind ME”? In other words, “You are following another leader and influence right now. Get behind me … follow me … follow me to the cross.” Jesus is being honest in his call to lose our own individual cares, concerns and even our lives for the sake of the Gospel which calls us to love with the love we first received from God. That honesty makes us ask a lot of questions, chief among them being, “What does it mean to follow behind Jesus even when the prospects are frightening, or personal costs are too high?”

I am currently reading a book called, “Everywhere You Look: Discovering the Church Right Where You Are by Tim Soerens. He is challenging modern day disciples to ask some honest, challenging questions about the church. Before we ask what we should do, we should ask two other questions, which are basically two ways toward the same thing: Why and What For? Why, for what does the church exist? Is it to perpetuate our existence, meet budgets and build or maintain our physical structures? Or is there something more? The root of our problems as a modern-day church, according to Soerens, is that many of us think that the big “Why” of the church is the church itself. Jesus has other ideas, though. His way of restating Jesus’ words, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it,” is to ask, “What is God’s dream for us and for how we should live together?” Until our desires begin to overlap with God’s desires for our actual lives in our actual neighborhoods, we will feel a faint and persistent ache that something is off. We can only find our life by losing it, by giving ourselves over to God’s dreams and hopes. This goes contrary to the popular cultural instruction to, “Live your best individual life.” This violates a deeper truth at the heart of all creation. Our call to share unfeigned self-giving, honest love begins with discovering our – and I mean our own and our church’s – purpose by asking what God dreams for us. And as we have seen in our scripture today, this involves honesty on all of our parts.
This is a wonderful passage to encourage Christian churches, especially as we are tempted to “return to business as usual” to use this pandemic as an opportunity for a new start. Our congregation has left a large part of our selves behind during the last five and a half months to be the church in a new way, at least temporarily. As we look to our future it is important to be honest with our mission and ministries, asking “What are they for?” If we try our hardest to return to what we were before, I fear that we will lose ourselves forever. We have an opportunity to ask how our ministries reflect a genuine love which abhors evil and holds fast to what is good. We have a chance to join the conversation of discerning what God’s dream is for our church. The many divisions and conflicts going on in our country indicates a hunger for people who rejoice in the hope of Christ, as Paul calls us to. You might notice that the passage from the letter to the Romans is not typical Paul. He isn’t going on with long sentences, trying to explain the unexplainable. He is hitting us with tons of solid, real life encouragements: Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer, contribute to the needs of the saints, extend hospitality to the stranger, bless those who persecute you, rejoice, weep, live in harmony with one another – the list goes on. Paul expresses God’s dreams for the church effectively, and in a way that fleshes out Jesus’ call to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. In a world where so many of us give in to that temptation to set our minds on human things – like Peter himself did when he rebuked Jesus – the church is called to honesty of being and purpose, even if we lose ourselves in the process.

Many of us are wondering what our future is, in terms of recovering from a pandemic, our political leadership, the role of law enforcement, the presence of systemic racism, the almost daily news of deaths in our city due to violence. Some are simply wondering what their future is as they deal with physical or mental illness or injury, joblessness, a new and different school year, divorce or other brokenness, addiction and loneliness. The promise of our scripture today is also the challenge to the church to find God’s dream for us. Jesus has called people to a self-giving, honest to goodness unfeigned loving life. Those people will certainly be gifts from God when we need them. And those people will most certainly be US, when we lose our own selves to follow Jesus. Amen.