Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fair Weather Disciple; God Through Snow Sleet and Hail

I'm back. My hope is to post weekly sermons. Here is mine for August 31 the 16th Sunday after Pentecost. Enjoy!

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Fair Weather Disciple; God Through Snow Sleet and Hail

I remember growing up we had an expression: “It’s Maine; if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute”. I thought we were pretty clever to come up with a statement like that. Then I moved to Chicago to start seminary and I heard many Chicagoans say “It’s Chicago, if you don’t like the weather wait a minute” I started wondering if Mainers even came up with that saying. And then we came to Iowa for first call and needless to say on several occasions I have heard people say “It’s Iowa if you don’t like the weather wait a minute”. Finally it struck me that this saying wasn’t about the uniqueness and creativeness of Maine. But instead it was about the universal fluctuating nature of weather. I think that weather is far from the only inconsistent thing that we humans deal with.

Once again Peter shows us that the human faith of even the most steadfast and rock hard disciples is as fickle as the weather. One week ago Peter boldly proclaimed “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” and was praised for his faithfulness. Here we are one week later, a few moments later for the disciples, a few verses in the Gospel; and the Rock sinks, he rebukes his Messiah’s claim that he must die and is chastised for his lack of faith. You are the Messiah Jesus and let me tell you what that means. …

No Peter, it doesn’t work that way, you can’t have the messiah and expect him to fall in step behind you. You can’t claim to know the messiah and than be his savior. If we knew how God needed to be God chances are we wouldn’t need God.

My intent here is not to dump on Peter. Ultimately he was a very faithful disciple and an extremely important apostle in the early church. But my hope is that in thinking about Peter’s roller coaster faith we can understand our relationships with God just a little bit better. Because even the most faithful of us will have times when Jesus needs to say “Get behind me, you’re thinking of human things”. Thankfully the faith of Jesus Christ and the love of God never waver even in the midst of our worse disciple moments. Sometimes it seems that the worse we are as disciples the more great our God is.

I am reminded of the stories about the Gauls. The Gauls were the ancestors of the French. They were nature worshippers and very warrior like. When Christianity had found its way to their lands they were being baptized in mass. The stories go that many Gauls as they were being baptized held one arm up high out of the water as the rest of their bodies were being immersed in the river. Apparently when the next battle broke out Gallic warriors would blurt out “This arm isn’t baptized!” and continue to slay their enemies in barbaric ways that were very contradictory to the faith that they had claimed to adopt. It is possible that Peter also withheld a part of him from this new identity he was given, his reason. His rebuke of Jesus was a product of him trying to understand and define the work of the messiah through mere Human eyes and imagination. It seems silly that the Gauls or Peter could keep a piece of their person from their Lord and Savior. But the truth is we all do it. There are aspects in all our lives that haven’t been given over to God and I’m sure if I asked you this morning what is one thing in your life that Jesus isn’t Lord of you could come up with an answer… After all this is why we begin each Sunday with confession and absolution because we know where those areas are and as hard as we try it’ll always be a struggle. I have heard it said that the Christian faith is like a buffet and Christians go from one table to the next eating what they want. My friends maybe this makes sense when speaking of the Church but not of our Faith. We can’t have a plate of resurrection without having a helping of crucifixion; thankfully not ours.

Jesus responded to Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah by explaining to his trusted disciples what that means. ALL that it means, suffering, death, AND resurrection but Peter in his all too human mind couldn’t get past the first two. The truth is none of us can without the work of God’s salvation. Our inability to see beyond the cross and the violence it brings doesn’t keep the faithful Jesus from the cross but it also doesn’t keep him on the cross. Jesus stuck to his word even when Peter’s confession fell flat the Messiah took us through suffering and death to life.

This life that is offered to God’s people in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is unlike any life we could imagine without it and I believe that today both St. Paul and Jesus Christ are encouraging us to embrace this life wholeheartedly, not withholding an arm for the battlefield or our intellect for the classroom. Jesus tells us to lose our life in order to live the life that God calls us to. And Paul instructs to live in ways that glorify God and show compassion to God’s creation. Both these lessons make it sound hard, but brothers and sisters, God has promised us a good life and eternal life with God. God never promised an easy life. Too many times we mistake easy lives for joyful lives. Much of contemporary Christianity perpetuates this, bestselling Christian Authors preach a Gospel of material abundance. They teach that faith in God leads to earthly wealth and problem free lives. If we only pray enough all our problems will go away, and if they don’t we must not be praying enough. This makes a mockery of the multitudes that are faithful Christians living in poverty and is a distorted way to look at the world.

That is not what the work of the cross is about and treating God like a vending machine is rarely an act of faith. My friends Jesus doesn’t lift us from the quagmire without first getting extremely muddy himself. It’s not about wishing away the difficult parts of our lives it is about knowing the God who knows life is difficult and has become man to experience it with us. And in the end to show us that there is a new life waiting on the other side of the mire. Peter isn’t a horrible disciple, at least he is no more horrible of a disciple that we would be if we confronted Jesus’ cross the way Peter did. I would like to read you a quote from Jorgen Moltman’s Crucified God.

The cross is not and cannot be loved. Yet only the crucified Christ can bring the freedom that changes the world because it is no longer afraid of death. In his time the crucified Christ was regarded as a scandal and foolishness. Today, too, it is considered old-fashioned to put him in the centre of Christian faith and theology. Yet only when people are reminded of him, however untimely this may be, can they be set free from the power of the facts of the present time, and from the laws and compulsions of history, and be offered a future that will never be dark again..

No, Peter didn’t love the cross, we shouldn’t either it was a painful and shameful way to die. But we love and worship the God who went all the way to the cross for us. Because brothers and sisters there is no Easter without lent, or resurrection without crucifixion. And this is where we are called to follow Jesus to; through ,not around, our struggles, through, not around, God’s cross and right on to eternal life.

1 comment:

A Disciple said...

Breaking out Jorgen Moltman? Those are some pretty big guns. It is true that the cross is unlovely - but that Christ is the fairest among 10,000!

I have found that God is faithful, even (or especially) when I am not.