Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Of Rocks and Blocks


Rock outcropping near Colorado Springs, Colorado


This is the sermon I gave at Church of the Saviour Episcopal Church in Clermont, Iowa on August 31, 2008.

Have you noticed? Over recent weeks quite a few of the readings have featured Peter in some shape or form. From walking on water to the recognition of who Christ was and today the rock who Jesus said Peter was became the rock which caused Jesus to stumble. What had Peter said that made Jesus react in the way he did? The answer lies in what Jesus said to Peter following his remarks on how he cannot let Jesus suffer. “You think as men think not as God thinks”. Words don’t come easy and when they do they can often be wrong, misunderstood, misinterpreted or be taken out of context.

Peter, understandably, was appalled to think that the Messiah, the Christ must be put to death. We have the benefit of knowing the complete story. We know that this passage of scripture falls between the miracles and was Jesus was teaching.

It must have been like doing a jigsaw puzzle but without the picture. Peter’s reaction was natural. Kings don’t suffer for their people, it is the people who suffer for the king. Perhaps Peter was waiting for Jesus to tell him how he planned to overthrow and oust the Romans, but this is Jesus standing and speaking on true authority that a true disciple and follower of God is also expected to suffer. This will involve self-denial, putting God and other people first. Jesus, when in the Garden of Gethsememe was not looking forward to dying on the cross but he prayed “Not my will but yours will be done”. As I said earlier, words don’t come easy.

It is not popular, it is not easy but God calls and equips us to do it in the power of the Holy Spirit. But we have to rely upon His spirit and not our own.

There are times in our lives when words fail us, but it is not just finding the words that is important, words without meaning are worthless, words without understanding and action are worthless. The message that we need to understand, and understand clearly, that God chose Jesus’s death on the cross as the only way by which all humankind could be restored to a right relationship. It is a way that would have been unthinkable to a first century Jew like Peter. It is a way that can seem barbaric and unjust to people today.

We have to give our life to Jesus in order to gain a true life. Not existing but living it to the full knowing that we wake up each day with God as our best friend.

Our life is precious, priceless, and more important than owning the whole world. We cannot give anything to buy our soul - the only price that could buy us has already been paid by Jesus.

When we fully recognize this, it shows that we really understand the lengths that God has gone to in saving us. This shows that we have given up our lives in order to gain life. This life is eternal life, eternal not only in its length but also its breadth. Eternal life is not only everlasting it is a quality of life, a life in the right relationship with God. A life where one day there will be no more death of mourning, weeping or pain because the old order of things has passed.

In the previous chapter of Matthew we had Peter being described by Jesus as a rock on which I will build my church. Now he goes from being a solid rock to being a stumbling block, from being a hero to being a zero. How do we see ourselves? Building blocks or stumbling blocks?

In todays reading of Paul's letter to the Church in Rome, Paul reminds us to do things that will make us building blocks, by holding fast to what is good, blessing all people whether friends or enemies, and overcoming evil with good.

So that’s how Christ sees us as building blocks. What about stumbling blocks? Living for yourself, looking after number one. Living for self is an attitude of seeking yourself first, Jesus warned many times about the fool hardiness of living for self. Most of us here today would see ourselves as building blocks, but like all building blocks they have to be maintained and made sure that they are strong enough to withstand all weight that’s placed upon it and the various storms that will confront it.

Peter was the one who found himself with the awkward questions. I believe that there is a bit of Peter in everybody. It always seemed that Jesus was forever correcting the disciples on the way they saw his messiahship. But after Jesus ascended; the acts of the apostles are full of instances where the disciples went around healing and expanding Christ’s ministry. But here's the miracle—Peter STAYED. Stumbling block or building block, or both—it doesn't matter, because Peter stayed, in spite of the fact that he had just endured a public chewing out in front of his closest friends and a total loss of face. I wonder if the disciples were here this morning, if Peter was right in front of us, I wonder what we would say to them, how would we question them, is that what you really meant Peter? Were you trying to subvert God or protect Him. And how does that make Peter any different than the rest of us. My will, not the will of God whom I serve—isn't that a natural reaction when a loved one gets cancer, or loses a job, or experiences heartache?

There’s a prayer I remember learning when I was growing up and I've found out that it’s been turned into a hymn, if you have a look in your hymnals it’s hymn number 694. It says:

God be in my head

and in my understanding;

God be in mine eyes

and in my looking;

God be in my mouth

and in my speaking;

God be in my heart

and in my thinking

God be at mine end

and at my departing

And it sums up for me in the way in which we channel God into our lives. Most of us will probably never find ourselves in the exact position that Peter did. But there will be countless times when we will find ourselves asking my will or yours Lord? I wonder how we will respond. We hope that we will make the right decision.

Jesus showed the way forward by living and demonstrating a way of life that most had never thought of let alone seen. The challenge that Christ set the disciples becomes our challenge.

So today let that challenge become a reality for us.

Amen