Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Homily - Matthew 16:21-28 Proper 17A

    All of a sudden, Jesus spins around and demands, “Get behind Me Satan!” If you have lost the sense of shock over this verse because you are familiar with it – which is a good thing, to be familiar with the Bible - but for a moment try to remember how stunned you were the first time you heard this – or imagine how surprised the Disciples were when Jesus looks Peter straight in the eye and commands, “Get behind Me, Satan!”
    That is a bit harsh, wouldn't you say? Jesus calling one of His own disciples “Satan.” Really? Give Peter some credit. Last Sunday we heard him get it right when he confessed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Now He treats Peter like that never happened.
    Jesus staunchly refuses to back down. “You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Peter, as well intentioned as he thought he was, actually ended up becoming the mouthpiece of Satan. And that is something that should stop each of us – pastor and people –and make us think. What are the thoughts that make sense to us – but sin has so twisted us that those thoughts are no different than what the Devil thinks against the plans of God?
    To a human mind that recognizes Jesus has great wisdom, knows how to confound His enemies’ arguments, can do great miracles like calming storms, feeding 5000, healing the sick, casting out demons, and even raising the dead – it makes no sense that He should suffer and die. Flex some divine muscle and avoid all that. After all, when you have a choice, do you choose the more painful option or do you choose the way that will be less costly? If you could heal wounds in an instant, when the doctor said the word “surgery” your stomach would not tie itself up in knots. “No thanks, doc. I got this.” Hocus pocus, and poof, you are good as new. However Jesus just said to His disciples for the first time that “He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
    Peter dreams of Jesus being a glorious king in Jerusalem as He preaches and teaches goodness, love, and kindness. Just do some miracles and it will inspire people to live at peace with their neighbors. And they will want Jesus to be their Lord who establishes justice everywhere forever. However, Christ recognizes Peter's dream as a temptation from the Devil to go against God's plans for His Son.
    Just like this trap worked on Peter, Satan knows it will work on many other would be followers of Jesus. That is why plenty of people will tell you that it does not matter what you believe. That all good and kind humans are going to the same blessed place in the end, no matter what religion they belong to. And really that ends up meaning that they wrongly think that it does not matter whether Jesus died on the cross or not. These are the minds that are set on the things of man. These are mouthpieces that are being used by the ancient dragon. His entire goal is to keep you from enjoying Christ's victory over Hell.
    If those people were right, then Jesus might as well have let Peter get his way. If in the end it does not matter if Jesus died on the cross for you or not – well then Jesus pretty much wasted His time sacrificing Himself so painfully on Good Friday.
    However, you know you will never get the blessings of Heaven if it depends on you being good and kind enough. You know you need Jesus to tell you to deny yourself – because you do not want to sacrifice. Neither do I. We want good things, a comfortable life, respect, well-being, health. And we want it now. None of this delaying until later, if we can avoid it. So we cut a few corners here and there when we think nobody will care. Naturally I might help someone – if I get something out of it. And so I ask myself if it will be worth what it will cost me in time and money. You and I have set our minds on the things of man, not the things of God.
    Here is the Good News – God lets none of this get in His way of saving us. He knows better than we do how we are naturally born selfish, thinking about no one else's needs but our own from our first days. And still He sends His only-begotten Son into this self-centered world. Satan tried tempting Jesus away from our salvation during the 40 days in the wilderness. But Jesus was determined to rescue us. Peter foolishly tries to save the Savior from Good Friday by putting a stop to it all. And if you now insist upon having a Jesus without His Cross, well then you are still in your sins and it will all end hellishly for you!
    Salvation is at stake for you, me and the world here. Jesus says it is absolutely necessary for Him to go through bitter suffering, absolutely necessary for Jesus to get dead as a doornail, and gloriously be raised on the third day. Just as God promised, the shed blood of His Son purifies your heart of evil. Just as God promises, He raised Christ to now declare you forgiven of all our wrong-headed thoughts and self-centered words. Just as He promised.
    So now what? Now Christ’s Cross – the death and resurrection of the Son of the living God – it shapes your mind and guides your life. For as disciples, you and I find our life by losing it as Jesus says here. You could say that today's Epistle from Romans 12 does a good job describing what losing your life looks like as Christians genuinely love one another, show honor to one another, help fellow Christians in need, associate with the lowly and pray constantly. Not one bit of that is wrong.
    However, losing your life for Christ's sake is more than just stuff going on outside your body as you interact with other people. It is also about what goes on inside your mind and heart towards God. Losing yourself simply means that you first believe the truth about yourself, and then you believe the truth about Jesus. You believe the Scriptures when they diagnose you as not just a person with a little problem, but a sinner who would replace God's will with your own if you had a chance. And for that, both me and you deserve nothing but God's temporal and eternal punishment.
    To deny yourself is to repent. To seek forgiveness from God, even when your self-centered feelings would rather not. To deny yourself and take up your cross is to go on a daily search and destroy mission to hunt down your old sinful nature, and to crucify it along with your evil desires. St. Paul lists a few of those evil things in today's Epistle text – like slothfulness, arrogance and thoughts of revenge. Humble yourself under the nail-marked hands of the Christ who has chosen to live at peace with you, the Christ who has chosen to show hospitality to you forever in Paradise. See all of your sin where it belongs – nailed to death on Christ's cross and buried forever in His tomb.
    Turn away from that old deadly life of believing Satan's lies. Lose your old ways of trusting in yourself. For only then will you find the new life in Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. When you take up your cross and follow Jesus, you believe what He says – that He is the God who died on Good Friday and was raised again on Easter for us and for our salvation, to rescue us from the place prepared for the devil and all demons.
    True to Christ's word, Peter and the other Disciples did “not taste death until [after] they [saw] the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Matthew 16:28). They did not die until after they saw Jesus go to the Garden of Gethsemane and pray for His Father's will to be done, and then go to the Cross and come out of the tomb in obedience to the Father's will. All to bring salvation to sinners like Peter, you, and me.
    There is one bonus bit of Good News for you and me in this. It took a long time for the Disciples to understand all this – to see that Jesus reveals His reign over sin and death by suffering His own death at the hand of sinners. Jesus only BEGAN to teach them this here. Which means He told them again. And again. And again... And they still did not quite understand it all after the Lord was risen from the dead, and so Jesus told them again after that. The God who had that much patience with their slow-heartedness in believing the Scriptures – He is the same God who has that much patience for you and me. He will not give up on us until He brings our faith to completion at the resurrection of the Dead on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.