Lectionary 22 A

Prayer of the Day

O God, we thank you for your Son, who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world. Humble us by his example, point us to the path of obedience, and give us strength to follow your commands, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm

Jeremiah 15:15-21  God fortifies the prophet against opposition
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21  Live in harmony
Matthew 16:21-28  The passion prediction and rebuke to Peter

Sermon

Title:  Being Prepared for the Crosses of Life
Be prepared.  It’s the motto of the Boy Scouts. It’s a song in Disney’s The Lion King. Being prepared helps us address the expected and unexpected. There used to be a common notion that we can prepare for most things… for things like, say, a hurricane. Having gone to school in New Orleans for four years I lived through two hurricanes myself so I know the drill – board up your windows, get adequate supplies of food and water and other necessities, and hunker down. And pray. Always pray.

But be prepared. I ’m sure our friends down south in Texas thought they were prepared for Hurricane Harvey when he struck with all his fury. Yet Houston was devastated and Harvey wasn’t even a hurricane by then, just a tropical storm. But the amount of rain that fell – the power of rushing water – brought that great city to its breaking point. It brought people to their knees, literally, in Houston and Beaumont.  I’m sure there was lots of praying. I wonder if any Lutheran churches in Texas began their liturgy this morning the way we did, with the pouring of water. I’d imagine that most would have a problem giving thanks for the gift of water today, even baptismal water. Let’s keep the people of Texas in our prayers and thoughts.

In today’s second reading St. Paul invites and exhorts those of us who follow Christ to be prepared. As children of God… as heirs of God’s kingdom…. as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ… we are called at all times to be prepared. The kingdom is coming. We are called to serve one another. The kingdom is near. We are called to be patient with one another. The kingdom is here. We are called to love one another. Preparedness. St. Paul encourages it.

Be prepared. This is the message that Jesus is trying to get across to Peter and the other apostles in today’s Gospel. Last week Peter was the hero of the Gospel story – he correctly identified Jesus  –“You are the Messiah!” Peter got that much right. But what he failed to grasp was what being the Messiah would mean for Jesus, for him, indeed for all the apostles.  Peter moves from the heights of recognition to the depths of rejection.  “Get behind me, Satan!”

Woh. That’s real tough coming from Jesus. All Peter said was that it had to be wrong – surely it can’t be that Jesus, the Messiah, was to suffer and die. Peter failed to comprehend that Jesus’ identity as Messiah was tied in the necessity of his suffering and death in Jerusalem. He misunderstands, sure, but why does that now make Peter Satan, the great deceiver? Because he is attempting to draw Jesus away from the divinely ordered path. Peter is attempting to disrupt what had been divinely, eternally prepared for Jesus – his suffering on the cross. Peter had become a stumbling block, an offense. One is Satan who would turn others away from their proper calling as obedient disciples of the Messiah. Peter was placing a roadblock in the mission of the kingdom and salvation. Surely Satan would do that.

But just who was Peter, anyway? He was a simple Jewish man who could not fathom a Messiah who would give up his life just at the moment when he should be seizing the leadership of Israel. It was too much for Peter to grasp. One moment Jesus was calling him The Rock, the next he calls him Satan. It was a rollercoaster. It was too much. Peter wasn’t ready.

But Jesus was. He was prepared to be rejected, not embraced. He was prepared to be executed, not crowned. He was prepared to be weakened by affliction, not empowered by might. Jesus was prepared to suffer and die. Now it was time for his disciples to get prepared as well. For there is a clear and significant turn in Jesus’ ministry that is occasioned by the clear announcement of Jesus’ identity and mission. Who am I? I am the Messiah – come, follow me.

Jesus makes it clear what it looks like to follow the Messiah – it’s a path lined with crosses, paved with Jesus’ passion. There will be no leisurely strolls through the halls of power and prestige for Jesus’s followers. No. His followers are to deny themselves and take up their cross.  And the disciples had seen their fair share of crosses, seen how life-crushing they were. The Roman method of execution was well known by all Jews at this time. 1st century Jews knew all about crosses.

In the 21st century we carry different crosses. What are your crosses today? We might not face the possibility of Roman execution like Jesus did, but we, too, carry our crosses. Some of these crosses are so heavy, they are unbearable. Let Jesus help carry that weight. He doesn’t mean for you to be weighed down. We’re called to take up the cross but that is not an invitation to start going around looking for crosses to bear. Be assured, a cross will be provided! Martin Luther wrote in his Freedom of the Christian that anyone who has a spouse already has built-in crosses enough! I’m sure Mrs. Luther had something to say in response to that, but it might not be appropriate for this sermon!

Lift high the cross. That’s not exactly an incentive to be a follower of Jesus, of this Messiah. But look closely again at what exactly it is Jesus says: “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” On the third day be raised to life. Did Peter not hear that part? Did the disciples simply not believe Jesus when he said that? What about us? Are we so weighed down by crosses, or are our minds so set on human things, that we miss the Easter promise of resurrection and life? Lift high the cross, yes, for the cross has been conquered! Now it’s a sign of victory!

Many years ago I was working on the East Side and I used to go to weekday Mass at lunchtime. There was this one very old Dominican friar who used to celebrate the Mass. He was so old, so frail, and he mumbled throughout the entire liturgy. You couldn’t understand a word he said. Until one specific point late in the liturgy. It came right before The Lord’s Prayer. There was a sentence that the priest used to say, “we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior.” During that one sentence this old priest would suddenly become alive, be filled with emotion. He’d stand up on the balls of his feet and rock back and forth, saying, “we wait in JOYFUL HOPE for the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  JOYFUL HOPE. I always wondered why this sentence brought this priest such comfort. Perhaps it was because he was so old, he really was anticipating the coming of his Savior at any time. Oh that we would live with such anticipation.

And we should live with such anticipation. For the Son of Man comes in his kingdom in great and small ways in our lives already. That promise drives us into a hopeful future even when our present troubles are engulfing us. After all, Jesus walked this path before us. Now we follow him in faith. We wait in joyful hope with the promise of our resurrected Lord – that he will be with us as we follow in obedience and mission until the end of the age.

This is what we are promised. This is what we prepare for – crosses, yes, but ultimately resurrection. There are crosses in our future. Be prepared for them. And when the weight gets to be too much, think of these words of the Presbyterian minister Lloyd Ogilvie. Ogilvie once put it this way: “We say, but Lord, I cannot. And God says, “I’m glad to hear you say that… through you, I can”  God is ready and waiting to answer our plea… just be prepared.

Vicar John Keogh, Intern

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