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The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17A)
31 August 2008

A Sermon Preached by the Rev'd Dr Andrew C. Blume

Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:21-27

Come December we will begin another Church Year and along with it another cycle of our lectionary. We will be spending the better part of next year with the Gospel of Mark, which happens to be my favourite of the Gospels. You will hear lots more about that in the months ahead, so I shant bore you about all that now. What I will note, however, is that one of the main themes of that Gospel, if not the main theme, is the question of who Jesus is. Jesus identity as the Messiah who must suffer, die, and rise again on the third day is presented over and over in Mark’s account and each time we hear this message, we also hear the people not getting it. In today’s Gospel, Matthew is picking up on this most Markan theme and embellishes it, making the point even more firmly.

So, let’s back up for a minute and look a bit more closely at today’s Gospel. Last week, you will recall, we heard Jesus asking his disciples, “who do men say that the Son of man is?” and then “but who do you say that I am?” After hearing the various beliefs of others, Peter gives, for want of a better way of putting it, the text book answer: “You are the Christ (the messiah, the anointed one), the Son of the living God.” Indeed, to carry the metaphor, Jesus gives Peter the gold star for his response and tells him that “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Last week’s Gospel ends on this rather high note. Jesus asked “who do you say that I am” and at their answer he says bold and hopeful things about the future, about a future existing for Jesus’ followers, for those who enter into relationship with him.

Today’s Gospel, however, shows that there is much more to this future and to this “Christ ... Son of the living God” identity than Peter and the others had ever imagined. Peter and the others must have imagined that this Christ, this anointed one, this Messiah would be a powerful figure, holding sway over the princes and powers of the earth. Peter and the others must have imagined smooth sailing ahead, but Jesus knows better. Jesus knows that part of who he is, part of his very identity is to turn those old notions of the Messiah on their head. Jesus knows that his disciples will have a hard time handling this message and so after he heard them acknowledge his Messianic identity, he begins to explain to them what that really means, “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.”

Jesus tells us that the real Messiah, the real Anointed one, the real Christ, must face off against the powers of the world and incarnate a new kind of power, a new kind of life, a spirit-filled life in union with the source of all life and love, a life that will be born out of suffering, a life born in the depth of human pain and human loss. Can you imagine being told by someone you believe has come into the world to reconcile humanity with God, that despite this divine connection, despite this extraordinary mission, despite all this, he will have to suffer horribly at the hands of other people so that his work might be accomplished? What kind of Messiah is this? you might wonder. And this is exactly what Peter, the one who got what we now know to be only the first part of the answer correct, wonders and he rebukes Jesus, “saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’” Once again, Peter says what any one of us might say. Peter, good old human Peter, lets a truly natural reaction fly from his lips.

To this Jesus can only say, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” Peter, Jesus says, you don’t get it, so I will explain a bit more. Peter wants Jesus to be a different kind of Messiah, but Jesus tells him that this is the Messiah that God has sent. And in this message, Jesus tells Peter, there is a call for us to live lives in keeping with Jesus’ identity.

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

Jesus tells the disciples that in order to serve, truly serve, him, we must try and imitate him and must take risks and put ourselves on the side of God rather than on that of the conventionally powerful. We must be willing to risk losing conventional, human success in order to find union, real success, if you will, with that which is ultimately important, with God and with Love.

In the end, these assertions of Jesus’ identity, his identity as the Messiah who will get his hands dirty, who will know what it is to love and to live, who will know what it is to suffer and die and through it all triumph and reign in Glory, brings us back to our Christian life. It brings us back to our duty to try as best as we can to imitate Christ, fail, and try again. It brings us to Paul’s exhortation to the Romans that they get on with their ministry:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

We are called to use the gifts we have been given to serve the one who lives, truly lives, and knows what it is to suffer. We are called to use our diverse gifts and imitate Christ as best as we can and accept and Love Jesus for who he is (now who we want him to be) because that is the way in which he loves us.

Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
Louis, King of France (tr), 26 August 2008

©2008 Andrew Charles Blume