A HOMILY FOR THE TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Jeremiah 15; 15-21; Psalm 26: 1-8; Romans 12: 9-21; Matthew 16; 21-28
Do you carry a cross? Maybe you carry more than one cross. Maybe you carried some crosses until it was time to put them down, but others came your way. What kind of a cross do you carry? Is it a cross of personal suffering, or is it a cross that comes from trying to be a good disciple of Jesus?
In our everyday speech we tend to use the term “carry a cross” lightly. Do we use it in the sense of carrying it in the service of Jesus, or do we think of it as one of the nuisances we have to put up with, like traffic jams and street blockages caused by protesters?
Jesus does not use the term lightly. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” You might say to yourself at this very moment that you are not capable of denying yourself, of living like a Buddhist, empty of desire, or like Saint Francis of Assisi, or like Mother Teresa. You are not up to kissing lepers or bringing the dying home with you. These words of Jesus’ sounds like an invitation to faith-based flagellation, or do they?
Remember Jesus came drinking and feasting, sitting at table with tax-collectors and prostitutes. He was not a gloomy person. Rather he loved a good meal and good company at the table. The enjoyment of these in no way overrode his compassion and his desire to heal the sick. It did not change the knowledge that he had a mission that led to Jerusalem, and to direct confrontation with the religious and political authorities of his day. He was about his Father’s business, and he knew he had to face the consequences of this confrontation. Even so, he found time to celebrate a Passover dinner with his friends in Jerusalem, so that almost to the end he was enjoying the fellowship of his friends over roast lamb and wine and celebrating the central event in Jewish history, then and now.
There may come moments in your life and in mine in which we have to confront evil, and affirm the life-giving values that Jesus taught us. We may have already lived through this type of situation, and survived spiritually and physically. Our Old Testament reading from the Prophets Jeremiah addresses this type of situation. Jeremiah is predicting the fall of the Kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians. This is a message no one around him wants to hear, but he is the Lord’s messenger and has no choice in the matter. He must speak truth to power, as must Jesus six centuries later.
Jeremiah’s prophesies of imminent destruction are so disturbing to King Jehoiakim that he cuts each piece of the scroll off after it is read, and burns it. This is described in Chapter 36. In Chapter 37 Jeremiah is thrown into a cesspool by the advisors of King Zedekiah for his stubborn insistence on the message from God. He has had the burnt message re-written by Baruch his secretary, and added to it. The pool has no water, only muck, and the prophet spends several days there. Today’s reading tells us why Jeremiah finds the courage to go about his mission “…I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the Lord. I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”
That the Lord will protect his servants and messengers is echoed in our Psalm appointed for today: “Give judgment for me, O Lord, for I have lived with integrity; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered”. Paul, in his letter to the Romans likewise counsels trust in God. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” and “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord”. In this quote St. Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 32:35. Paul closes with a quote from Proverbs 25:22 ( I call to your attention how deeply versed in Jewish scripture Paul is, and how well he weaves it into his exhortation to the Romans.) Paul urges the Christians in Rome to “not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good”.
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me” Jesus tells Peter in anger in today’s Gospel reading.What has caused Jesus’ outburst to Peter? Last Sunday Peter was the rock on which the church would be built. This Sunday Jesus accuses him of speaking for Satan. What is going on? Jesus’ disciples still see in him a secular Messiah, bringing the physical and political restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. They do not understand the kingdom of God that Jesus is trying to usher in on earth, “for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things”. This misunderstanding comes up time and again. The mother of James and John asks for her sons to be given positions of prominence in Jesus’ kingdom. The misunderstanding persists after the resurrection: “Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel” the disciples ask the risen Christ (Acts 1:6-7).
The disciples are listening to their own desires and wishes, and not understanding Jesus’ mission. If Jesus is to go to Jerusalem “and be killed and the third day be raised”, why is Peter so upset? I believe that neither he nor the disciples are listening.
If Jesus is to be raised on the third day, there is a promise of restoration that should gain the acquiescence of the disciples to Jesus’ mission to Jerusalem. If they were listening, they would be asking him about the significance of his being raised on the third day. And what should they and we take home from Jesus’ outburst?
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it”. If we want to sit back comfortably and avoid the moral confrontations that may suddenly come to us, will we lose our lives? For a time our physical lives will continue, but what of our prospects for eternal life? I think this is the key to what Jesus tells the disciples and which they fail to understand-there are worse things than physical death. The disciples miss the promise inherent in what Jesus tells them about the trip to Jerusalem. It will be filled with terrible pain and suffering. It will result in death, but not eternal death. He will be raised after three days. They completely miss the significance of this. They lack ears to hear what Jesus is saying. So brothers and sisters, if in the course of bearing your crosses and following Jesus, you find your mortal lives threatened, remember that “those who lose their life for my sake will find it”. In closing, please join me in praying Prayer 61, found on page 832 of your Books of Common Prayer:
A Prayer of Self-Dedication
Almighty and eternal God, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us we pray you, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen