Sunday, September 3, 2017

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.

Jesus asked, ďWho do you say that I am?Ē The rumors going around about Him were many. Some thought He was a prophet, others Elijah, yet others thought He was John the Baptist raised from the dead. It doesnít make sense to us today, but they lived in another time. They were waiting for the Messiah, but nothing about Jesus fit their expectations. So, they put Him into the context of the Messiah, but perhaps as merely a messenger like John, preparing the people for the One who was yet to come. Even the disciples were confused. They were all looking for a military or political hero to defeat the Romans and restore Israel. Jesus would not be able to fulfill those expectations, so He must be something else.

However, Peter answered, ďYou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.Ē Peter did not know this by his own power or intelligence. He was able to speak this confession by Godís grace. This was an incredible moment. It seems as though perhaps the disciples are finally beginning to understand and believe that Jesus is Lord. It was also the turning point of Jesusí ministry. Jesusí relationship with the people began to go downhill from there. He was of one mind now, moving toward the cross. His sermons and miracles continued, but they became more pointed. Jesus was not pointing to Godís Messiah as an earthly king to meet their physical needs. He was proving that He was the Promised One who would fulfill all Godís promises.

We see this story through hindsight, thinking that we would have been able to make the confession with our own power and intelligence; even now we like to try. However, we could not have done it ourselves. We like to seek our own righteousness, thatís why Jesus is more palatable as the kind of Messiah who offers a tangible salvation from our physical problems. We prefer the Jesus early in the book of Matthew. It becomes very uncomfortable when Jesus begins talking about death. Even the idea that Jesus is the Son of the Living God is too difficult for us to comprehend.

Thatís why the words that came out of Peterís mouth were not his own. Peter made the great confession, ďYou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.Ē Jesus was overjoyed that Peter answered His question with those words. Despite the many rumors and guesses, Peter gave the true answer. Peter gave the only answer. Only the Christ, the Son of the Living God would be able to accomplish the work of God in this world. Only He could fulfill Godís promises and restore Godís people.

Jesus told Peter that He would build His church on that rock. We often debate over the meaning of this promise. Is Peter the rock? Is the confession the rock? I think the answer might be a little bit of both. Peter is the first to make that confession of faith, to declare the truth of who Jesus Christ really is. And yet, Peter isnít better than the rest of us; he continued to fail. He continued to misunderstand Jesus. We see his greatest failure in todayís text. There is great comfort in knowing that Peter is just like you and I.

It is often hard for us to accept the Word of God. Though Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, he didnít want to believe that Jesus had to die. It didnít fit his expectations.

Prophets rarely have the opportunity to speak to peopleís expectations. We are too self-centered to see God from His own point of view. Prophets are called to show the people what God really has to say. In last weekís lesson, Peter was the mouth of God, naming Jesus as the Messiah. This week, Peter is back to being himself, rebuking Jesus for the unacceptable.

Jeremiahís message to his people was unacceptable to them. Jeremiah had a right to complain. God called him to a tough job. He had to preach a hard word to people who wanted to hear only warm fuzzies. He was persecuted for being the mouth of God. He suffered at the hands of his own people. He lived in fear for his life and his future, but he had no choice. He had to do what God called him to do. The book by his name is one of the most honest and personal of all the prophetic books in the bible as Jeremiah admitted to God and to those of us who read his words his unhappiness.

Throughout his book, Jeremiah makes several confessions, admitting to God his hurt and pain. In this passage, Jeremiah even says, ďwilt thou indeed be unto me as a deceitful brook, as waters that fail?Ē This is a bold statement, blaming God for his heartache. He wants to know where God is in the midst of his troubles. Why has he been abandoned? Why hasnít God done something! Jeremiah is disappointed in his God and is not afraid to admit it.

I wonder how many of us have felt the same in our own pain. I wonder how many of us have screamed ďWhy?Ē when we are faced with fear and doubt. Have you ever felt abandoned and alone? Have you turned your hurt and pain on God? I am sure we have all done this because we do not know who else to blame. Jeremiah could not take his complaints to the people because they would just see him as foolish and false. He had no family, no wife or children. He was alone, with only God as his companion. When he felt as if he had been abandoned by God, he felt he was completely alone in the world. Thatís enough to make any of us complain.

Peter may not have known what was to come next, but he knew that he didnít want to face it without Jesus. Jesus could not die, not only because that would defeat the purpose of His being the Messiah, but also because it would leave the disciples alone to sort out what God was doing in the world. He must have wondered if perhaps the rumors were correct; perhaps Jesus was just a messenger like John and the real Messiah was still waiting to be revealed.

When Jesus began to speak of His suffering and death, Peter took Him aside and said, ďFar be it from you, Lord! This will never be done to you.Ē He didnít believe it could happen, but he also thought that they had the power and the strength to protect Him. He didnít know that they would have to battle God to stop what was to come. He simply responded with the raw emotions of one who wants to be in control during times of chaos.

Facebook has been surreal this week. I live in Texas, and though the storm only dropped a few inches of rain, we have friends who have been directly impacted by the wind, rain and flooding. Meanwhile, I have a friend who is on vacation in Hawaii. The pictures from the two places could not be more differently. In Hawaii, the waterfalls are beautifully flowing over the cliffs, while in Houston the bayous are rising onto streets and into homes. The crystal clear ocean is compared to the muck that surrounds homes. My friendís vacation is a time of peace and tranquility while the storm left a huge part of Texas in chaos.

Thankfully there have been many who have worked to keep order. The first responders, the volunteers from everywhere, the organizations that were on the ground immediately have saved, housed and fed people who have lost their homes. Several cities are still without electricity or safe water. Rescue operations continue as the storm moves east. Schools are closed and some families wonder when they will even be able to return to begin the restoration of their lives. Sadly, there are some who have decided to take advantage of the chaos by looting. There is order, but there is also chaos.

It is tempting to react to the ordered chaos with our own power and intelligence. Many have demanded a church open as a shelter, though there are many reasons why they did not do so immediately. Reporters have been sticking microphones in the faces of those who are being rescued, though they just want to get out of the water and deal with their fear, grief and worry. Some people are taking advantage of the situation by establishing fundraisers to help using photos of people they found on the Internet. They have no intention of helping; they are scamming people who simply want to help. There are thousands who are asking, ďWhy?Ē and wondering where God has gone in the midst of this.

Peter didnít know how to deal with the words Jesus was saying. Losing Jesus would be chaotic for the disciples. They would not know where to go or what to do. They needed Him to guide them. He was right in that; we do need God to keep us on the right track. However, we need to remember that even when things look chaotic, God is in control. God is in the hands and the hearts of those who have gone to help. He is in the trucks of supplies delivered from all over the country. He is in the neighbors who are checking on one another. He is in the generosity of every person who has dialed a charity to donate funds. We may not understand what God is doing, or why God has allowed this to happen, but we can trust that God does know how to bring order to the chaos and restoration for all that has been broken.

See, Jesus didnít come to be that military or political hero. He came to restore Godís people to Himself. There only way that could happen is on the cross. Peterís confession was the beginning of the end. It was a direction Peter did not want go.

Jesus said, ďGet behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.Ē Jesus said this because Peter was trying to convince Jesus to do His mission in a different way. Peter did not want Jesus to die, so he rebuked Jesus for talking about sacrifice and death. Peter was just seen having great faith, by the grace of God recognizing Jesus for who He was. Yet, in the next breath Peterís thinking was lost to his own needs and wants.

Jesus was not saying that Peter was Satan, or even that Peter was trying to block Jesusí mission. Peter had seen the reality of Jesus as the Christ by Godís grace, and by Godís power; he knew in his heart that Jesus was the Messiah. However, Peter his head held a much different expectation of how the Messiah would accomplish the work of God. Peter could not see the truth; something was Ďstanding in his way.í It was not something tangible that needed to get out of the way, but something intangible. Peter was not Satan, but Peter was not seeing Jesus clearly. His own expectations were in the way. Though Satan is a very real figure, we are reminded by Peterís failure that anything that stands between us and Godís will is a temptation of Satan.

Jesus said ďGet behind me, SatanĒ because Peter needed to put aside that which kept him from seeing Jesus clearly. Jesus had a path to take, and no matter how much we would rather God do things our way, we have to put aside our own expectations so that we arenít standing in the way of Godís Work. We are n different than Peter; we are all failures when it comes to fully knowing what God intends, so we tell God the way it should be and we ignore that God really is in control.

In this Gospel story we see the real battle that rages: the battle between God and Satan, the spiritual battle that we ignore or refuse to believe exists. It is a battle that continues to be waged in every one of our lives. Will we trust God and believe Him or will we follow our own path, tempted down the one that seems easier, practical, contemporary, or academic? These are the things that Satan is whispering in our own ears, and when we listen we stop seeing Jesus as He is and start seeing Him through our own understanding and expectation.

The Gospel message, the message that salvation comes from spilled blood, is a hard one to take. We would rather our God restore the world by grasping onto the power that we want to give to Him through our works and our faith. We are like Peter, wishing God would do our bidding, provide for our every desire and ensure that we will never feel pain. However Jesus never promises them a life free of pain. As a matter of fact, Jesus tells His disciples that seeking after the glory will cause them to lose their life. Yet, if we lose our life for the sake of Christ, we will find true life.

The LORD answered Jeremiah, ďTurn around and there you will see me. Iím right here with you. Times are tough but I will not abandon you. Speak what is good and you will see my hand do amazing things.Ē In his confession, Jeremiah was doing and saying what is worthless. Complaints do not change things. Accusations only make things worse. We all do it; it is part of our nature. Those of us who are honest admit that we do. But our complaints have no value. Even when things seem like they canít get any worse, we find peace and hope in the precious words of Godís promises. Transformation comes from the utterance of Godís word. We may feel alone at the moment, but as we trust in God we will see His mercy and His grace in our lives and in the world. Sadly, Satan blocks our vision. Whether Satan is whispering in our ear, or we are listening to the other temptations around us, or we are following our own hearts, we canít see God when we are too focused on ourselves. We canít follow God if we are trying to make Him follow us. It is at those times when God says, ďRepent, turn around. Iím here. Listen to me, not to them.Ē This is the cross we are called to carry, the cross that says, ďI will do Your Will, O Lord, not mine.Ē

Todayís psalm is a prayer of one who has been falsely accused. David faced persecution from Saul because Saul knew that he was no longer in Godís favor. Saul suspected David of conspiring against him and did everything he could to demean David in the eyes of the people. The reality is that the accusations of Saul about David were a mirror to Saulís soul. I once did a study on the word ďseekĒ as it is found in the story of David and Saul. In every case, Saul sought after David while David sought after God. Saul wanted David dead; David wanted to follow Godís heart. We see that in the last verse of this passage as David says, ďYahweh, I love the habitation of your house, the place where your glory dwells.Ē

God is calling us to the life that seeks Him above all else, even if seeking Him puts us in a risky or dangerous place. His path may not be easy, but He is there with us. His path may lead to physical death, but He has promised a life that will last forever. When we die to self, we are free to live for Him.

The people in Jeremiahís day did not like what Jeremiah had to say. They accused him of being a very bad man. The same can be said about David. They were persecuted by people who wanted their way, who wanted to do what they thought was right. Their truth was dependent on their desires and their motivation was totally self-serving. As we read passages like todayís psalm, it might seem as though David, and Jeremiah, are self-righteous as they talk about their goodness and seek Godís favor. Yet, this prayer is one of humble supplication before God, seeking His help in their troubles. We tend to respond to persecution and false accusation with a desire to vindicate ourselves, but David asks God to look at his life and do what is right according to His word. We are not asked to see David as a perfect person, or to see David as one more righteous than others. Instead, we see Davidís example of faith in Godís mercy and justice and learn that even when we are being persecuted, we can still live the life God has called us to live, to keep our eyes on Him and trust that He will do what is right.

Paul tells us what it means to take up our cross. It means to love genuinely. The cross calls us to do what is right not for the reward it will bring but rather because love demands it. Love often demands what is hard. We are to rejoice in hope; not hope in the glory but rather hope in the cross. How many of us really want to be patient in suffering or persevere in prayer when it appears God is unwilling to answer our way? Paulís words get even harder. How do we bless our enemy? Is it really possible to be humble in this world of ours? What if, like Jonah, we know God will not avenge us but will seek our enemyís repentance? How can we let go and treat our persecutors as if they deserved our compassion and mercy? How can we let Christ die for the sake of all human flesh when most people will never deserve His grace?

We do so by picking up our cross and following Jesus. We do so by laying down our lives for the sake of His Gospel and speaking Godís Word into the lives of all whether we want them to be saved or not. We trust in God by humbling ourselves before His throne of grace realizing that we ourselves have no reason to expect His incredible blessings on our lives. We do so when we stop paying attention to the things that distract us from seeing Jesus as He is.

Sometimes the blessings will come through pain. Sometimes they will come in joy. Through it all, we are called to speak what is precious: the message of the cross that brings true life to those who believe. There are those who will not want to hear. There are those who will stand in our way, especially Satan. We are reminded that we will not fully see Godís glory while we live in the flesh. We live in a world with ordered chaos, but we can trust that God is always faithful to His promise. Thanks to Jesus, who never turned from His path, we can believe that eternal life is ours even while this world seems out of control.

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