Homily: September 13, 2015

Pentecost 16, YEAR B; Rev. Phil Boelter, Vicar What is Jesus talking about

When he asks his followers to

“take up your cross and follow me?”

 

The first and most obvious answer is death.

 

After all, the cross wasn’t a pretty piece of jewelry

hung around the neck.

The cross was the Roman execution instrument of choice.

like an electric chair,

or a hangman’s noose over the branch of a tree.

 

So, when Jesus demands that his followers take up their cross

he demands that they be prepared to die,

as Jesus himself was preparing to do.

 

“The son of Man must undergo great suffering,

and be rejected   and be killed,

and after three days rise again.”

 

All of us, each and every one of us,

will die someday.

We know that,   even when we choose to ignore that fact of life.

 

Peter is riding high,

having been the first in the discipleship class

to answer the teacher’s question correctly.

 

Who am I? Jesus asks.

The wrong answers come-

John the Baptist? No.           Elijah? Nope.

One of the prophets? Wrong again.

 

Peter responds…

But of course, Jesus, you’re the Messiah.

Ding ding ding ding.

 

But like every good teacher

Jesus pushes his star pupil just a little further.

 

In fact, Christ pushes Peter up against the wall

By announcing his impending death.

 

Then, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him.

 

“What do you mean you’ve got to die, Jesus?”

I thought you were the Messiah- the Holy One of God!

What gives?”

 

Not really a surprise here.

No one likes to stare death in the face.

 

Jesus’ response, however, is remarkable.

“Get behind me, Satan.”

 

After all, Peter was the big cheese,

the acknowledged leader among the disciples,

the original top dog.

 

He was the first to speak up and proclaim Jesus the Messiah.

Yet even Peter failed to grasp the truth.

 

The construction of Jesus’ sentence about his death is curious.

 

“It is necessary,” he says,

“for the Son of Man to suffer and die”

 

Why is that, Jesus?

 

Exactly why IS it necessary?

We want to know.

 

In posing that question

It’s really a question about our own lives.

 

Why do bad things happen to us?

Why is life sometimes so tough?

 

What is sometimes even harder to face

Than physical death itself

are those thousand little deaths we undergo

all throughout our lives.

 

Some are bigger,

Some smaller.

Some occur one time,

Some repeatedly, wearing us down.

 

Divorce,

Financial woes,

Someone near and dear forgetting your birthday,

An ingratitude or slight from someone

whom you thought you knew better.

 

Jesus is saying to us today,

What about these times?

 

Will you and I get bitter,

get angry,   get even,   get depressed?

 

This is precisely where our answers end and the divine mystery begins.

 

We don’t really know why these things happen-

And even Jesus isn’t very certain here.

 

You’d expect him to say something like this:

 

“Hey guys, its all going to be ok-

Its only three days,

Then I’ll be back, Risen from the dead.

And everything will be just fine.”

 

But that’s not the way life happened to Jesus.

And its not the way life happens to us.

 

Suffering and death are part of life itself.

Even Jesus cannot have one without the other.

So what can we do?

 

First we can acknowledge the facts.

 

Life is tough.

Sometimes it’s very tough-

And wishing it weren’t so doesn’t really help us very much.

 

When the way closes around you,

sometimes a good start is finding a quiet space and time

and writing / drawing /mapping down whatever comes out.

 

What exactly am I facing here?

 

Sometimes that’s very hard to do.

Like Peter, we want to run the other way.

But we may need to turn and face that wall.

 

Get away to a quiet place,

And think about it.

Jot it down on paper, or a journal or even a sketchbook.

 

It is interesting to me

That this scene in our gospel occurs directly after

Jesus has taken some time away,

Some alone time,

Some “me” time if you will.

 

It’s just conjecture on my part-

But I suspect Jesus’ time away

And his pondering prayerful attitude

Helped pave the way for this pivotal moment in the gospel narrative.

 

With our busy lives,

It’s hard to get away,

To make a space,

And even harder

If our brain is asking over and over-

But what can I DO about this situation?

 

But sometimes stopping,

Quieting, mapping,

Can be ever so helpful.

 

Another way forward

Can be by letting others around you know

What you’re going through

so that they may also be a support.

 

 

Also allowing them to know

that you are looking to turn your personal wall

into a door.

 

It was in the conversation of the moment

among Jesus and the disciples

along the beach at Caesarea Philippi

that these greatest revelations occurred.

 

A personal observation to close-

 

This has been a tough summer for me, PERSONALLY.

It’s probably the toughest situation I’ve ever faced.

 

Some of you know the details,

But the details aren’t important here.

 

What is important

Is that God led us to find each other,

Me and Gethsemane,

at just the right time.

 

I had no way of knowing this back in February

When I interviewed here.

 

But when we were ready-

We were given the space to turn a wall into a door-

Through discernment together-

Quiet mapping of where we actually are.

 

And quiet conversation together.

 

And this experience has saved my life.

 

I can’t think of a better place to be

Or a better way to go about

Turning whatever walls you and I face today

Into doors.

 

It worked for Jesus and the disciples.

It will work for us.

 

Albert Schwietzer,

the great medical doctor and missionary,

And one of the great theologians of the 20th century

knew this gospel truth…

 

the secret of life out of death,

the secret that turns a wall into a door.

 

He wrote

"There is silence all around.

The Baptist appears, and cries:

'Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.'

Soon after that comes Jesus,

and lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving.

It refuses to turn, and He throws Himself upon it.

Then it does turn; and crushes Him.

The wheel rolls onward,

and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man,

is hanging upon it still.

That is His victory and His reign."

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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