Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 13th Pentecost

Can you imagine?
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -
 

Think of the time just moments ago, in our text for last weekend, Jesus was calling Peter “the rock on which I will build my church.” Now, this weekend, in today’s verses from St. Matthew’s Gospel which follow last weekend’s text immediately, Jesus is calling Peter “Satan” and “a stumbling block.”

 

Wow. That is not just great word play – from cornerstone to stumbling block – but such a reversal of relational fortune that it had to be incredibly painful for Peter. Peter has confessed Jesus as his Lord and Savior, his Messiah, and now Jesus calls Peter Satan!

 

Can you imagine?

 

And perhaps that is the difficulty. Peter could not imagine, could not, did not, understand what had just happened to him. Peter could not imagine that Jesus had come not just to comfort people but to free them.

 

Comforting is not that hard – just give people a little more of what they already have and tell them everything will be alright. But freedom is different. Freedom requires that we see that what we have is not life-giving in the first place.

 

Most scholars assume that when Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah, Peter had in mind a warrior-king like David, one who would drive out the Romans and liberate the Israelites. When you stop to think about it, that is an understandable, even reasonable hope. The Romans were foreign occupiers, not only imposing Roman law but taxing the people to support their occupation and backing up their occupation, order, and taxation by violence.

 

But, the problem with Peter’s expectation is that not that it is unreasonable, but that it does not change anything. Jesus knows that Rome rules the Israelites by force and violence and if Jesus became a warrior-king and used greater force and violence to drive them out, eventually, someone with even more force or willing to do greater violence will take over yet again.

 

Jesus knows that who is in charge may change, but wheel of force and violence keeps revolving.

 

Jesus knows this. He knows that by introducing a different logic – one that runs by forgiveness, mercy, and love rather than retribution, violence, and hate – Jesus knows that he is challenging the powers that be. Moreover, Jesus knows that the wheel of force and violence will not tolerate his obstruction but will try run him over. And even appear to succeed.

 

And this Peter just could not imagine. So, when Jesus states what is going to happen to him, suffering and dying, very clearly in today’s Gospel, Peter reacts.

 

But Jesus is, of course, correct in his prediction and it is not surprising, when you stop to think about it, that Jesus was killed by the Roman rulers. From the moment of his birth, Jesus is such a threat to the rule of force and violence that Herod is willing to slaughter all children under the age of two in the hope of destroying Jesus.

 

Thus, it is really no surprise that Jesus was killed. What is surprising is that God raised Jesus from the dead. Resurrection reinforces – indeed, establishes – that Jesus’ life, love, and sacrifice are ultimately what will prevail.

 

Through Jesus, love and forgiveness, compassion and hope will ultimately prevail.

 

I know this can be hard to imagine in light of the how prevalent force and violence seem in the world. But it is just what Jesus invites us to: lives shaped by love and forgiveness and actions shaped by compassion and hope.

 

quote befriendTheLonelyIt is all so very hard to imagine. Like Peter, as fellow human beings what we most often want is a little more of what the world already offers – be it force or security or wealth or status or popularity or whatever. But Jesus did not come to comfort us with a little more, but instead to free us. And freedom first means realizing that all too often we, too, have settled for something that is not life giving.

 


Jesus’ freedom means that we can hear God’s promise of not just more of the same but something different, God’s promise of life, a promise that means something only after what we had previously accepted as life dies.

 

Think of it. We are all dying. The world has disappointed all of us. And, all too often, we know that we have settled for less than God hopes for us.

 

This is not news for us. We know this. The evidence is all around us - the disappointing relationship, the illness that returned, the career that ended, the untimely death mourned, the disappointment looming.

 

But, Jesus offers us something different, something more.

 

Can you imagine giving someone another chance instead of writing them off, forgiving someone who has wronged you instead of seeking retribution, being open-handed and generous with the resources you have been blessed with instead of holding onto whatever you can, offering your future to God rather than planning each step, seeking joy in service rather than acquisition.

 

I know that this all sounds easier than it is because we, you and I, have accepted that what the world has offered is all there is. Following Jesus in this way might even feel at first like death, even like dying on the cross, before God raises us to new life.

 

It’s an act of imagination. But as we take even these small steps forward, God is at work, giving us a taste of life we had never thought possible and multiplying the impact of our actions far beyond what we had dreamed. Until suddenly, just as today’s text tells us, suddenly in service to others, when we feel like we might lose our own lives, we find them.

 

“Can you imagine?”

 

Can you imagine that God is at work in and through your life for the good of the world? Can you imagine that this congregation has something of value to offer our community? Can you imagine that when you befriend the lonely or encourage the frightened heaven rejoices? Can you imagine that, though afraid, when you stand up to those who spew hate God is with you? Can you imagine that even small acts of love and generosity challenge the world order and help to introduce a different reality? Can you imagine that God wants for us not just comfort but freedom? Can you imagine that love is more powerful than hate? Can you imagine that God raised Jesus from the dead?

 

In this way we see, taste, and believe the life-giving promises of the Messiah who came not to give us what we want but what we need.

 


Can you imagine?

 

Amen.

(With thanks to the Rev. Dr. David Lose whose work is used extensively in this sermon.)

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Sept 2-3, 2017


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