Jeremiah 15:15-21; Psalm 26:1-8; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
This morning we begin where we left off last week. One of you came up to me after worship last Sunday and asked, “What’s this about Jesus warning his friends not to tell anyone that he was the savior.” It’s a good question! Over and over in the gospels he seems to want to keep his identity a secret.
There are different opinions about this but the one that makes the most sense to me can be summed up in one word: distractions. Everyone thought they knew what to look for in a savior but they were wrong. If word got out that Jesus was the long-awaited savior of the nation they would be distracted from seeing how he was savior of the world.
Today is the last day of August. We may still have a few good weeks of summer left but that doesn’t mean we’re not getting ready for fall. This past week, for example, in preparation for colder weather my wife and I had our old oil-fired furnace yanked out and had a new heating system installed.
Early in July we got four bids for the project. Each energy company had different products, different prices, and different reasons for the systems they recommended. One of the companies strongly encouraged us to go with a natural gas system. Well, there is gas on our street but no gas to our house.
I was talking about this with a friend and wondering aloud whether or not we should pay to have gas piped from the street to our house. Now, this friend knows that we have an electric water heater, electric stove, electric fireplace, electric car, solar panels that produce ELECTRICITY—electric everything! He looked at me and said, “Scott—FOCUS!” It was clear to him that we needed to go with what we believe in—electric! Well, I had to laugh because he was right! FOCUS! Don’t get distracted. And yet, how easy in life it is to forget who we are and become distracted!
One day, Jesus decided to break the news to his followers that he didn’t have much time. He was about to suffer and die. Well, not only was this not what they wanted to hear. It ran completely against the dream they had of a leader who would free the nation of Israel from foreign control—that was their idea of salvation. How could their dream become a reality if Jesus were dead?
Peter had just said, “You, Jesus, are the savior, the Son of the living God.” In response, Jesus said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” But when he told his friends that he would soon die Peter said, “Lord, this must never happen to you.” Jesus then turned and said, “Get behind me, Satan, for you are a stumbling block.” One minute Peter is the foundation upon which the church will be built; the next minute Jesus calls him Satan! What’s going on here?
Jesus is saying to Peter: “FOCUS!” Don’t get distracted. Pay attention to what’s most important. Preserving my life may be your dream, Peter, but it is not the most important thing!
Today’s readings invite us to consider the distractions of our lives. What’s most important? What are the triggers that grab our attention away from focusing on what’s most important? What distracts us from God and our God-given purpose?
If you’ve been at worship on a regular basis lately you’ve heard six words over and over again: God loves you no matter what. It’s easy to talk about “God’s love” but it’s the “no matter what” that’s most important. This is our laser focus, the bedrock, the foundation of our faith. All other issues and concerns take a back seat to this one question, including…even death.
If someone were to ask you, What’s the worst thing that could happen if you die? I hope you could answer: You’ll be with God. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans puts it this way: If we live, we live to the Lord. If we die, we die to the Lord. So, then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. That is focus! If everyone and everything were to fail us, this alone is true: whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
This is what Jesus was trying to get Peter to see: The fear of death can distract from the good work God has in mind for us now! We can miss out on seeing miracles going on all around us. We can miss evidence of God’s power and grace all around us. We can miss opportunities right in front of us to serve people who need our God-given gifts.
Can you tell the difference between what’s certain and eternal and true, on the one hand, and what are distractions? Read through today’s readings and you’ll find examples of both.
Today’s reading from Jeremiah is a wonderfully honest, heart-felt prayer. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail. Are you able to pray to God like that? But there are distractions in this passage: “Bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.” Does this sound like the mind of Christ? Thankfully, Jeremiah remembers the focus of his faith: salvation: “I am with you to save you and deliver you.”
In his rebuke of Peter, Jesus says that Peter has set his mind not on divine things but on human things. Each of us is a mix of divine and human, saint and sinner, focus and distraction. And yet, God has sent a savior who works through us to save the world. God has chosen to build a Church and on this rock—you!—God is building it.
How is God building the Church? How is God saving the world? Through many ordinary and extraordinary ways, such as we find in our second reading. Paul the Apostle knows who he is and who God has called him to be! Let love be genuine…hold fast to what is good…Serve the Lord…rejoice in hope…live in harmony with one another. Verse after verse is down-to-earth and focused. “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink—(so far so good, but then…)–for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Not exactly the mind of Christ. Even Paul gets distracted!
We, too, get distracted from the work of salvation. But salvation has come to the world through Jesus Christ and as Jesus tried to show Peter, cannot be dimmed, even by the reality of death. By Christ’s power and God’s grace we use our gifts to bring hope and healing to the human creation, and the whole creation, one choice at a time. Even buying a new heating system can be an opportunity to bring salvation to the world! The system we finally decided on is an electric heat pump: highly efficient, no pollution, a good choice toward saving the world our children and future generations will live in.
May all God’s beloved people continue to be focused on adding our gifts to God’s good work of saving the world!