Kenora Proper – Ordinary 21A Pentecost + 12 Trinity + 11
23 August 2020
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
whose word burns like a fire within us:
grant us a bold and faithful spirit,
so that, in your strength,
we may be unafraid to speak your word
and follow where you lead;
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen.
Last Sunday we looked at Simon Peter’s call to leadership, but this week we see our own human ambition trying to define that role of leadership.
But this isn’t God’s plan.
Jesus knows what’s coming.
He knows the cost of what it is he’s asking of the disciples and yet he still anticipates and expects their full cooperation, their full participation in the events that are coming.
At the same time, he already knows how these coming events will not only affect the disciples, but shape their future ministry. Just think of Peters betrayal of Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest?
Now, if we look at the life and ministry of Jesus time amongst us, from the point of view of having a great spiritual teacher, acknowledging that he is the Messiah, the Anointed one of Israel, the Christ.
This is the one John the Baptist described saying: “11 “I baptize you with water … but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”” (Mt 3:11-12)
And then we meet him, we meet Jesus, we meet the Messiah.
We meet him and all of this description is just hanging in the air on all sides, including last weeks revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, the chosen one of God, just hanging there, unspoken in the air.
And if we, like the disciples put this into human terms, then we’re looking at a long reign, with Jesus on Israel’s throne, and the physical restoration of Israel to being an independent nation.
We’re anticipating freedom from Roman occupation, and a return to the ‘glory days’ of now ancient history, but with better military armaments.
From a human perspective, from the perspective of Jesus’ closest followers, this a heady thing to contemplate.
And although Jesus told them not to tell anyone that he’s the Messiah, that doesn’t mean they’re not pondering the implications of this revelation in their own lives and hearts.
But, in all of this, the one thing that is missing – the Will of God.
After all, this is all human aspiration – the physical restoration of Israel. The ‘elevation’ of Jesus to the position of king, overthrowing Herod, and then placing Jesus’ followers in influential positions in this new regime, as administrators and generals.
But this isn’t God’s plan.
This has nothing to do with the will of God to bring the path of salvation to all of humanity, and especially to all who believe.
Now, Peter, who is most likely a muscular man, after years of hauling nets filled with fish, probably sees himself, since the previous passage, as destined to be some kind of general, befitting the leadership description Jesus gave, albeit under Jesus’ continued, direct leadership.
But this isn’t God’s plan.
So, we see Jesus continuing to teach those closest to him, expounding on what’s going to take place, as God brings God’s plan to fulfillment, and naturally this doesn’t jive with what their overactive imaginations tell them is their future with, and in Jesus company.
“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.”” (Mt 16:21-22)
So, they heard “go to Jerusalem”. They heard “undergo great suffering”, and they heard “be killed.”
What they’ve likely not acknowledged are the words “and on the third day be raised,” because it’s outside of their experience, of our experience.
And Jesus’ reaction, his upsetting of the disciple’s apple cart points out that when we neglect to follow where God leads, then the devil is more than happy to put up detour signs, and lead us “down the garden path”, and off a cliff like lemings.
And when we, like Shakespeare’s character Pistol, in the play “The Merry Wives of Windsor” declares “the world is my oyster”, it’s the devil that whispers in our imaginations, and introduces fantasies and tales of glory, fame, and power to befuddle our minds and hearts.
Just think back to the time Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. “3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God…” (Mt 4:3a)
The tempter, the devil said “if you are the son of God.” He says to Peter ‘if you are a general’, he says to each of us ‘if you are…’
He relies on the word “if”, not even imagining that God would deign to walk the earth in search of those who search for, long for, yearn for God to be a part of each of our lives, every day.
Yet, here is Jesus, fulfilling the will of God, for us all.
I’ve watched “The Passion” by Mel Gibson. It’s not for the faint of heart, believe me. It’s an historically accurate representation of the brutality of the age.
But throughout the story, we see the devil linger on the sidelines, and in the background, as he strives to prove, through temptation, through pain, through doubt, though loneliness, etc., that Jesus is ‘just another human’.
The devil works from the point of view that no one human can carry the entire burden of weight of the sin of the world, no matter who they are.
And its not until the time when, though God’s action, through the passion, and the crucifixion, that all of the barriers are broken, and the truth is ultimately revealed, finally unable to be denied, even by the devil.
Today we see that Jesus reveals God’s plan to the disciples. “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.” (Mt 16:21)
He’s not hiding the will of God. He’s not varying from God’s plans for salvation, not just for Israel, not just for those who believe, but for the whole world to have God as an active participant in each of our lives.
So, then how do we, from our perspective of two millennia of hindsight, embrace this message of the coming passion, crucifixion and, yes, even the resurrection?
How are we able to share that although there is pain, and there is suffering, but in the end, there is unspeakable joy?
How do we share this with all in our lives, in our hearts, and those whom we meet in our daily round of tasks?
Jesus points out that any deviation from God’s plan is not from God, and is therefore from the devil.
“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.” (Mt 16:22-23)
And this can be a difficult distinction for us, who wishes to follow where God leads, but wants to have control of the map, the rest stops, the steering wheel, and the destination.
We want to follow where God leads, but…
And isn’t this the answer Jesus is looking for. This isn’t the direction that God is taking Jesus time on earth, Jesus teachings to each one of us. We wind up being lumped with Peter, in such scenarios. Not a willing villain, in such circumstances, but rather someone who wants all the perks, and none of the setbacks.
“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.” (Mt 16:24-25)
And, in my personal ponderings, this is one of the more confusing statements Jesus makes in his ministry, and he makes it exclusively to his own disciples.
But if we give up all of our own aspirations, our own desire for ambition, and choose instead to follow where Jesus leads, where God leads, and live and express ourselves in terms that God gives us, then that cross isn’t so heavy, and the devil has no inroads into our hearts and minds, and the destination may be more profound than even our imaginations could conceive.
So, in saying that, although Jesus describes the passion and the crucifixion, and the resurrection, he calls each one of us to set aside the fears that the devil puts in our hearts, the vain ambitions that don’t fit with God’s plan, and to follow where God, where the Messiah, leads.
Because although Jesus declares that we, like he, needs to pick up our own cross and follow, he’s the one who ascends the cross bearing our sin, our pain, our errors in the world.
Jesus declares to each one of us to follow, not lead. We are commanded to put God in the driver’s seat, and give up the map, not grab for the steering wheel, and not bemoan the sights that pass us by, as we follow where and how God leads.
As I said last time, we’re each one of us called and commissioned for service, and that service begins with listening.
That begins with following where Jesus leads.