Romans 12:9-21 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. ”No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Matthew 16:21-28 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
When Charlottesville happened, I was on a road trip with my son.
We’re were out in the middle of nowhere, with lousy cell service, no satellite radio, and mostly Christian and country music radio stations in our rental car.
I was able to receive only snippets of information about what happened when white supremacists, some of them carrying Nazi flags and torches, shouting, “Jews will not replace us,” came to Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. When we got to our hotel room in Rapid City, South Dakota, I finally saw the images on television. And they made me sick to my stomach.
The next day, while I was blithely meandering in Badlands National Park, some of my PC(USA) and other mainline clergy colleagues from around the country showed up in Charlottesville to take a peaceful and principled stand against the powers of evil.
In many written accounts, some clergy credited the Antifa for protecting them from white supremacists who may have injured those peaceful pastors.
Lethal violence was not a remote possibility, but a too-real reality in Charlottesville on August 12. Just ask the family of Heather Heyer who was killed when a car was deliberately driven into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators.
Since that day, some of my friends and colleagues have written and talked about the privilege of those white clergy who stood on the side of non-violent resistance, but were protected by those who willing to put their bodies between them and the white supremacists carrying torches and guns and baseball bats.
And I’ve been lately wondering where should we put our Christian bodies if we are serious about standing against the kind of hatred so vividly demonstrated in Charlottesville?
Although my children are baptized Christians who were raised in the Presbyterian church, my husband and their father is Jewish. The sight of a flag with a swastika makes the blood in my veins run cold. There is no question I would immediately put my body between my children’s bodies and a Nazi, even a Nazi with a gun or a baseball bat. I wouldn’t think twice.
But where should my body be when the stakes are not so personal? Where do I stand if I am serious about following the way of Jesus? Do a hide behind a well-crafted sermon? Do I go to a demonstration but only if it’s a couple of blocks from my house in a neighborhood in which very few Nazi’s would venture? Do I pick up a brick or a baseball bat?
These are hard questions and they are urgent questions.
I am no anarchist, not by the longest shot. I am a pacifist by nature who believes violence begets only more violence.
My understanding of who Jesus is has been largely shaped by his call to forgive the enemy. The events of the past few weeks, however, have challenged me to honestly confront my own privileged position which keeps me safe and protected from weapons brandished by white supremacists. I can choose to have someone else put their body on the line on my behalf.
And I can put out of my mind the reality that there are those who do not have my privilege. There are my brothers and sisters of color who feel like their backs are against the wall, leaving them with no choice but to fight back because they believe they cannot depend upon police officers to protect them.
For some of us, these days may indeed call us out to risk our bodies and be willing to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel in ways that are not even remotely metaphorical.
I have no answers today, but I do know one truth for certain. God is waiting to see if we mean it when we call ourselves followers of the crucified Christ. The stakes are high. And the whole world is watching to see where we stand. God is watching to see if we’re serious about our bodies following Jesus even if it’s to the cross.
Immediately preceding our text from Matthew 16 today, Peter has affirmed Jesus to be “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Hear this. Jesus has just given the “keys to the kingdom” to Peter. And with those keys, Peter has been given authority and the power to bind and to loose heaven and earth.
Heady stuff. Peter must feel that his mission and Jesus’ mission have aligned in a very major way. He and Jesus are finally simpatico. Time to get on with the building and the conquering and the winning. Peter is “The Rock,” and it’s time to start rocking out with Jesus.
But Jesus has a different idea. Jesus starts talking about a different kind of mission than Peter has in mind. And Peter would much rather Jesus talk about something else. Peter would much rather this conversation move toward the topic of winning not dying.
The Rock becomes the stumbling block. Peter’s dream of glory is smashed by Jesus’ purpose, which looks like it will include a long stretch of bad road which will end in a place of pain, death and failure.
That’s not what Peters wants.
Peter wants glory, but he wants to stay safe.
Peter wants to follow Jesus, but he’d rather keep his body off the path that leads to the cross.
Peter wants to save his life, not lose it.
Peter doesn’t want to lay down his life. Peter wants to keep his life.
Just like you.
Just like me.
Just like every other person who inhabits a fragile human body.
The point of life is to live, preferably for a really long time. Not to die.
Just when he thought he really knows Jesus,
Jesus tells him what being a disciple really means.
It’s not surprising that Peter can’t understand why his wise young teacher would choose a ridiculously dangerous path that would surely lead to a quick and bloody end.
Why would Jesus put his body at risk?
I thought about that question this week while watching everyday people become heroes in Texas during Hurricane Harvey. Guys in boats going out into teaming flood waters from dawn until way past dusk, rescuing total strangers. One guy said he met more of his neighbors in 24 hours of than he had in the last 20 years. And then there were the rescuers who were electrocuted after they lost control of their boat and drifted into downed power lines. There were so many stories about ordinary people willing to lay down their lives.
I thought about mission co-workers I met in South Sudan who do the not-so-glamorous work of training teachers and building schools all while hearing gun shots in the distance. In the stories they told me, they spoke of gunfire coming even closer, and the schools they built being burned to the ground by armed militia. The end of the story always included this ridiculous statement: “I can’t wait to go back and begin to rebuild.”
You probably have your own stories of heroes or people you’ve admired for doing hard things in frightening places.
We admire such people, we send checks to such people, we pray for such people.
But let’s be honest. Most of us don’t want to be those people.
Isn’t there is a little voice inside our head that also wants to say to them, “Isn’t there an easier way to do what you want to do? Why take risks? Why go back and build that school or rescue one more family? What if you get killed?
Which is essentially what Peter says to Jesus. “Isn’t there an easier way to do what you want to do? Why take risks? What if you get killed?
Peter wants Jesus to use his super awesome Jesus power to wipe out the Romans, not die on a cross.
And Jesus is having none of it.
And truth be told, we also want Jesus to use his super awesome Jesus power on our behalf.
To comfort us. To keep us safe.
To get rid of the Nazi’s. To solve the problem of racism.
To cure cancer.
To wipe out our enemies.
We are afraid of death, so we want Jesus to help us live.
We are so afraid of death that we hide in our safe spaces and hardly ever stick out our necks or take a risk that makes life worth living.
Fear is what keeps us from living. Fear is what keeps us from entering into the fullness of life that Jesus offers to save us from the smallness and fearfulness of our lives.
And Jesus knew the only way to release us from fear and death was to go to the cross and die and be raised from the dead.
So we would know that the whole world is now a safe space, despite all evidence to the contrary.
So we could stop trying to save our own life, because it’s already been saved.
So we could risk making our bodies vulnerable and living a life that matters for the sake of Jesus and the sake of the Gospel.
So we could live secured only by the truth that death does not win and is not the final word.
Jesus had to show us this truth. With his body on the cross. With his resurrected body.
This week, one of my colleagues shared this quote by Sophie Scholl http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/revolt/scholl.html who was a non-violent anti-Nazi activist in Germany in the early 1940’s. Before she was executed for treason at the age of 22, she wrote:
“The real damage is done by those millions who want to survive. The honest people who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves – or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”
Jesus chose his way to live, to die, to burn bright with God’s glory and light. Peter didn’t understand why it had to be that way. And if we’re honest, we Christians are still not so crazy about this taking up our cross and losing our lives stuff.
We not sure we’re ready to live that way, in a way that can frighten us because it requires us to put our heart and body on the line.
And fear is what evil thrives upon. Fear is what empowers evil to get its way.
The powers of evil in this world count on you and me being frightened and staying so frightened that we’ll shut up and go along to get along.
The powers of evil know that most of us will lock our doors and shut down their hearts and do whatever it takes to keep our bodies safe.
The powers of evil are counting on us to ignore Paul’s exhortation in Romans.
They are counting on us to hold fast to what is safe instead of reaching out for what is good.
They are counting on us to do everything we can to avoid suffering.
They are counting on us to fear one another, and especially the stranger.
They are counting on us to strike out at those who persecute us, hold a grudge, hit back, and repay evil for evil.
They are counting on us to starve out our enemies and store up the water for ourselves.
The power of evil expects us to be so paralyzed with fear in the face of evil, we will not have the strength to overcome them with good.
The powers of evil – the same power which tempted Jesus in the wilderness – know every little trick, every little frailty, every little fear — that will turn us into stumbling blocks in a heartbeat.
So where will your body be, dear friends?
What will you give in return for your life?
How far will you go to follow Jesus?
Jesus did not die to exempt us from the pains of life,
But to make it possible to live life fully…
Jesus was not resurrected so we could receive our lives as possessions to guard…
But as gifts to share, freely, joyfully, irrationally.
The keys of the Kingdom have been given to us, the people of God, for the sake of the world.
Thanks be to God.