How does Peter go from being the rock on which Jesus will build his church, to being the stumbling block in Jesus’ way?
Just like Peter I often do not want to hear what following Jesus entails. I did not want to deal with this gospel this week. I didn’t even want us to hear it. Technically, I can do that at 10am – because it’s morning prayer. But I can’t do that at 8am – because it’s Holy Eucharist.
You have to hear the breaking open of the good news – the word of God – before you receive the breaking open of the bread. Full course gospel meal.
I want good news I can use. I want to take it in and go and do the work of God – how about you?
I can do what Peter did last week – I can confess that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior the Son of Humanity – the Son of the Living God.
And I can do what Peter does this week – I can tell Jesus that I don’t want to deal with where that confession might lead. I don’t want to deal with it – I don’t even want to see it.
Just like Peter, I forget that the rock of our faith is not trusting in the certainty of what I know, my certainty in the future, what I can or will be able to do. The rock of faith is trust in the abiding presence of God out there in front of me and with me, in me, before me and behind me. That God is with me through it all, no matter what.
It’s trusting in a power greater than myself. It’s trusting that not just me – but all of us – are connected to this power too. That power – actually – is that connection.
The text that is easier to preach on – at first glance – is the reading from Romans. Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. And yet, the more time I spent with that text this week – the more I saw it align with Jesus walking towards that cross. Of course it does – because a foundational Pauline text from Corinthians – is this – we proclaim Christ crucified, which he writes, is both our biggest stumbling block – and, that cross is the power of God.
How have you let love be genuine in your life? In mine that has often meant letting go. Letting go specifically of “me, myself, and I.” Which can be a perspective – a way of doing something – a way of seeing someone or a group of people. Genuine love, in my experience – always involves letting go.
And yet, you know it’s genuine because it’s a sacrifice you walk – sometimes run – towards. In our callings, in our relationships, in what we give our time and energy to – because it’s hard – and because it makes us feel alive.
There are plentiful opportunities right now for practicing genuine love these days aren’t there? Letting love be genuine means caring for the common good. It means letting go of church – letting go of the traditions and routine that we want. Letting love be genuine is making space in our hearts to deny our self for the sake of someone else.
Isn’t that what Jesus does in walking towards that cross?
Hate what is evil – that sounds like a no-brainer. And yet there is evil we do not want to see because it’s daunting, it’s overwhelming. Peter doesn’t want to see the evil system of power that will crucify his savior. But Jesus points right to it – because we have to see it, in order to reject it. Seeing it is part of resurrection and new life.
The Sacred Ground series we’re doing is about seeing systemic evil. That sounds intense, I know. It is intense the information we are taking in – and the conversations, reflections and wrestling seeing it stirs up.
And, in all my years of ministry – of bible study – of adult formation – of Lenten series and ecumenical dialogues, etc. – I have never felt more connected and called into faithful and faith-led conversations following Jesus. Following Jesus to see how the cross of slavery – that evil 400-year-old system is connected to ongoing realities in our world.
And it is exactly in the midst of those gut-wrenching and heartfelt – online conversations – that I can hold fast to what is good. I can connect with others who are struggling – I can be a voice of encouragement when someone feels hopeless. I can listen to another person and know I am not alone.
Above all – I can trust – deeply trust – that God is leading us somewhere. Because in every conversation I wind up being reminded to do so. Last week as someone expressed how hard taking and talking about this can be – so they just keep leaning into that profound and simple phrase – Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tells me so.
Yep – hold fast to what is good.
William James – considered the father of American philosophy wrote - “The great use of life is to spend it on something that outlasts us.”
That’s another way, I think, of taking in what Jesus is telling Peter, telling us this morning. We gain our life by choosing to let go of ways of thinking, being, seeing that are “me” focused.
Systems of good and systems that are not – are bigger than individuals, both will outlast us. We aren’t meant to take them personally – we aren’t meant, like Peter, to get defensive. We’re meant to see past that narrow view of self – and focus on what is greater than ourselves. That’s what Jesus is pointing to.
The gospel message is hard this morning – it is very hard in the midst of a pandemic – in the midst of so much anxiety – in the midst of so much uncertainty – in the midst of it all to wrap up this gospel in bright and cheery good news summation.
A rabbi I was listening to this week said - we have been suddenly plunged into an existential crisis, and we’re not a society in general that turns to deep questions of life meaning. We are a society more of doing things and achieving things and less reflective. And this has forced us back to be reflective, and I think that’s an uncomfortable position for a lot of people.
So – love what is genuine, hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good. In what ways is Jesus out there ahead of you saying – get past your stumbling blocks – let them go. Get reflective – where is the cross in our midst today? Where does Jesus want us to follow?
Take in the good news that Jesus will love you through – Jesus calls us to something greater than ourselves – it is genuine when it feels hard, liberating and life-giving all at the same time.