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sermon by Reverend Jodi L. Baron, Curate

12th Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 17

Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

audio of sermon

A friend of mine tossed the name of a book at me the other day at lunch. It has since made its way into my hands by way of two mutual friends. And now that poor book is waiting patiently to be opened, on my desk, in my office.

The title is perfect for me though and grabbed my attention from the moment I heard it.

It describes almost every decision I make in my life. From the shoes I buy to the way my husband and I partner in parenting to the way I long to deepen my faith and strengthen my spiritual practices.

Now, if there’s one thing my preaching professor taught us in Seminary, it was to NEVER use a book that you haven’t read, as an illustration.

Sorry, sir.

I’m not in seminary anymore and this book sounds perfect for the readings we had today.

It will settle down though, soon, and I will read it.

That’s right! I haven’t read it, but I WANT to read it. That counts for something, right?

So, the name of the book is “Sensible Shoes” by Sharon Garlough Brown.

From what I can gather, it’s 346 pages of a carefully crafted narrative which interweaves four individual women’s lives; A pastor, a widow & recent empty-nester, a woman navigating a difficult marriage, and a hard-working graduate student. They meet at a retreat center wooed from their various occupations in search of a common mission: to deepen their understanding of the God-life and what it means to be faithful to Christ while doing what we do the rest of the week.

It sounds beautiful.

I hope I get around to reading it.

You may be wondering, why is Jodi sharing this with me today? It really is about the readings.

They are all either challenging our notions of who is worthy to do what job in life, or encouragement to keep seeking God’s face for strength, or how to live life with someone through all the ups and downs, twists, and turns, tears and blessings, and what to do with someone who heaps evil on you. And then the Gospel. I wish those four little words before the reading for this morning would’ve been included for they clue us in to a change happening.

“From that point on…”

The story is taking a turn, the plot is thickening.

Jesus begins to talk privately to his disciples.

Now that they’ve all said, “yes” to being his followers, they are being instructed about what exactly the cost will be.

Thanks Jesus, what an uplifting and encouraging way to frame what it means to follow you.

Even Peter doesn’t get it.

Remember?

Peter, who seems like the guy who every other passage either has an epiphany of enlightenment or completely misses the point.

Just a few verses ago he was so insync with the Messiah that Jesus changed his name, gave him the keys to heaven, and declared that his church would be built on him.

This morning, though, we’re back to the fumbling Peter. The Peter who either is completely oblivious to Jesus’ whole program here on earth, or is so overcome with his love for his friend that he just CANNOT bear to see him go through with it.

When I read the Gospel of Matthew, it helps to not read it just one snippet of verses at a time. I have to remember that the whole Gospel of Jesus according to Matthew is framed with community in mind.

I’ve heard it called the “Training for the Kingdom of heaven” Gospel. The narrative form of somewhere between establishing world (myth) to defending world (apologue).

It’s its own genre.

This Gospel calls people to sign-up for a disciplined life in a community who embodies the teachings of Christ.

In Matthew’s community, there was a NEW way being formed but the conflict in their surrounding world was continuing.

It’s very difficult for us (or at least it is for me) to put myself inside this world being described in scripture. To identify with what it would be like to be under such heavy persecution.

In Matthew’s community, the cost of being one of Jesus’ disciples was most certainly going to lead to death.

Discipleship in the 21st century west michigan context looks very different, doesn’t it? We aren’t having to meet in secret places to read scripture together like the early church did. We aren’t hearing about our friends being taken in the middle of the night to be arrested and executed for something we BELIEVE.

So what can we hear from a text about a completely different culture, different time, different society?

That is the quintessential question of our day, isn’t it?

We are, for the most part, a very comfortable, safe, happy community. We don’t have a government threatening us to abandon Jesus or die. We don’t have a militia publicly executing us for being Christians.

We don’t.

But this IS still happening around theworld!

People do still, in 2014, die for identifying themselves as “Christian”.

I hear then, that the Christian life being called for by Jesus in this morning’s Gospel, is an invitation to look at discipleship as a vocation.

Not a reflection (or endorsement, or condemnation) of the ego-centric consumeristic culture we live in, but something different.

A new way through.

It’s neither narcissistic nor self-hatred.

It’s confessional.

Confession, here, also means martyrdom in the sense of witness. the SELF gets out of the way. As a way to point to a truth BIGGER than oneself.

Discipleship has to be lived. experienced.

not explained.

There can be, I think, both comfort AND conviction in these words from the text.

And so, when we enter this part of the story this morning, we zoom in on what must have been like a spiritual retreat

Maybe like the one described on the back of the book I mentioned earlier…that I haven’t read.

A retreat just for the disciples and Jesus.

This part of the Gospel is, for the most part, intensely focused in on Jesus speaking directly, privately, intimately to his disciples.

Here, we read the 1st of the Passion predictions, we don’t read about any parables, any public speaking, any miracles or deeds of power, all of Jesus’ haters seem to have hid away…

And recall Jesus’ response to Peter for rebuking him with that raw display of prayer?

Jesus invited Peter into a deeper journey into the life with God. AND a deeper understanding of what it meant to be his disciple, to follow The Messiah.

Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Follow you where, Jesus?

Jesus tells his disciples that  if they follow him they will die!

Like those surgeon general warnings on cigarette packages. If you open it, you have to know what you are getting into.

If you sign up for this life as a Christian…

someone who commits to pattern their life after the teachings of Jesus…

someone who has already made the confession that Jesus is Christ and now is seeking to go deeper…

you are saying you understand that this will require you to die to yourself and live for Christ.

Jesus’ whole mission, in the Gospel of Matthew, is to inaugurate an alternative kingdom, a radically different way of exercising authority & leadership.

And Peter  is BOTH the rock which the church is built upon

AND the stumbling block which tries to prevent this program from advancing.

Isn’t that all of us, from time-to-time?

Don’t we all sometimes accept Jesus’ invitation to be a voice of leadership on our good days, and fall into our deeply human, completely finite experiences and thwart the potential for something new from God to let loose?

I think that’s why the back of that book that’s sitting on my desk, waiting ever so patiently for me to pick it up and read it cover to cover…

That’s why it must have spoken to me.

The book is about these four vastly different people caught up in their own messes and realities searching earnestly to figure out what it means for THEM to be a Christian. A Disciple. A follower of the Risen Lord.

And aren’t we all looking for that too?

We come here, to this table, for comfort, to set aside all the things that cause us worry and pain in our everyday life.

We come here to celebrate and give thanks for all of our blessings.

We come here to listen, and sing, to pray, and share with one another what it means to do this.

We come here to be Christian community. Together.

And it HAS to look different, sound different, BE different than anything else in our life.

It HAS to be set apart, sacred, holy…so that the rest of our lives, all that we touch, and see, and speak to…is made holy and sacred and set apart.

God is in it–IN—CARNATE all the way

with all of us–Emmanuel.

So discipleship does look different for us. It looks different than 1st century Palestine, and it looks different than our brothers and sisters in Syria (and other parts of the world).

But it still has a cost.

It still demands our sacrifice.

Discipleship for us might be as simple as doing the next right thing or it might be something completely different.

The way we find out is to keep coming back, pour ourselves into God’s Holy Word, ask questions, and take the steps to deepen our relationship with God.

Come to the table all who are hungry to know God more. It’s prepared for you.

God desires to know you and help you know him more intimately.

Eat his body and drink his blood so that you will have the strength to do his will today and tomorrow in all that you say and all that you do.

Whatever that is.