Summer wallpaper

 


 

  After Pentecost for the web

Sermon of September 3rd

   Time After Pentecost   

Matthew 16:21-28

 
Let us pray. Speak to us Lord, speak to us.
For we are listening. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen. 
 

  

Theme:      It is Necessary
Doctrine:   Christology
Image:       Cross
P+ Need:   We need Jesus to show us the path leads to life
Mission:     To submit ourselves and let God transform our mindset.

                                                                                  -------------------------------

This morning, the gospel passage leads us to the center of the Christian faith. We sing fervently “In the Cross, in the cross, be my glory ever”, yet we know that this glory is deeply rooted in suffering. The cross, ideally, is never a mark that we, Christians, try to avoid but to embrace. Yes, you hear me correctly, I say ‘ideally’, because most of the time, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that it is not the case.

Last week, Jesus was thrilled because through Peter, God announced the Son’s identity – ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.’  Everyone was up-lifted because if the Messiah, the Son of the Living God is with us, who can be against us? It sounds like they have the most powerful weapon in their hands. While they just imagine how they should use that power and let the world know that they are unbeatable, Jesus warns them not to tell anyone about his identity. Why? Today’s gospel passage may give us an answer. 

Six days before Jesus was transfigured and had a meeting with Moses and Elijah regarding his future, it was near Mount Hermon in the north that Jesus shifted his disciples’ focus toward the south where his life would be ended – Golgotha. What’s more, he also told his disciples that He will be raised in three days.

However, it seems to me that Peter did not hear the message of resurrection. His mind was dominated by the bad news: “What do you mean you are going to die? How is it possible that the Son of the living God will suffer and be killed? If the Son of the living God will die like an ordinary person, what hope do we have? Questions arise one after another. It just doesn’t make any sense. I suspect that not only Peter doesn’t get it, all Jesus’ disciples are confused by what they have heard.

What disturbs Peter most, I suppose, is not the possibility of his Lord’s suffering and being killed. It is the little word “must” that triggers his fear and he is compelled to do something to prevent that from happening. So he immediately responds, “No, This MUST NEVER happen to you.” Peter uses a strong word here - “NEVER” - Not today, not tomorrow, and not anytime in the future – NEVER. Can you see the power of resistance? Can you feel the tension between Jesus and Peter?

I believe, it is the word ‘never’ that makes Jesus rebuke Peter. As he explain later, the word ‘never’ totally contradicts God’s purpose. It is God’s will that the Messiah, the Son of the Living God MUST go to a place where hatred roars loud and injustice shows its teeth. No one can remove a single hair from Jesus’ head if God does not allow it. It is God’s wisdom, which humankind considers as foolish, that Jesus, the son of God, must undergo not only suffering but great suffering and must be killed. It doesn’t make any sense. What kind of God we are talking about here and why God does allow this terrible thing to happen to his own and beloved son? And why on earth does the Son say “Yes” to the Father?

I will never forget what had happen to me one particular Wednesday service years ago at the Seminary. I was appointed to be the cross bearer, and the cross at the worship place was extremely heavy. So I asked my supervisor, “Can I have a lighter cross? This is too heavy for me.” As soon as I finished my request, I felt embarrassed, and immediately I said to my supervisor, “what kind of seminarian am I to ask for a lighter cross?” He smiled without saying anything.

Although I did not say to my supervisor “You Must Never give me that cross”, it is my instinct to search for a lighter one. Therefore, when I read today’s gospel, my attention is not on how Jesus confronted Peter but what he has continued to say to his disciples. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Honestly, do you agree with me that this is just the worst way to recruit members and promote discipleship?

Although we do not see the word ‘MUST’ in Jesus’ statement, this is a non-negotiable requirement if people want to follow Him. When I continue to contemplate this matter, I ask myself, “Under what circumstance will I use the word “MUST”? I must eat; I must sleep; I must be active to maintain good health; I don’t necessarily need to work if I am rich, but I must keep engaging with the world in order to give myself a sense of purpose…the list can go on. What I find interesting is that now a days, we frequently hear people use the word ‘must’ for something that it is not necessary a ‘must’. The word ‘Must’ we hear this morning is neither about our preference nor about a chain of command but something that we ‘must’ do in order to stay alive and to live purposefully. The word ‘must’ in today’s message bears the same amount of weight as the word ‘life’.

The question is not about “What do we want?” but “what do we want to be?” We know that if we want to be a healthy person, a good diet or persistent work out is not sufficient, we ‘must’ also work on taking care of our emotions and spiritual needs. However, when we hear the requirement about denying oneself, taking up one’s cross and following, we immediately jump to a negative image – we don’t see Jesus on the cross, but rather, we see ourselves was being put on the mark of insult and disgrace and it makes us feel so uncomfortable, and it is conceivable that we say the same words that Peter said but this time we change the pronoun, “This MUST NEVER happen to me.”

Thanks be to God that this morning, Jesus does not just give us the requirement but also offers you and me the reason of why the requirement. Again, it is about what do we want to be?

Let’s listen to what Jesus continues to say after the requirement, “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? The word ‘life’ in original language does not simply mean ‘life’ as a noun; it is a rich word that speaks of a person’s distinct identity, a person’s unique personhood.

What Jesus is saying here is that it is possible for any of us to gain the whole world; but even though you and I have the whole world, it cannot do anything to offer you and me a distinct identity, a supreme value of the natural life. Therefore, stop being a copy-cat or conforming to the logic and value of the world. Here, Jesus offers his disciples, the audience, you and me, good news, an altered option. Here, Jesus announces that you and I no longer need to follow other because everyone around us does it that way. We have choices and this is the beginning of the good news.

It is the Living God’s decision to have his Son undergo suffering and being killed, for it is the demand of justice. According to the demand of justice, those who had violated the law, damaged the beauty and harmony of the whole creation, and disregarded God’s merciful love “MUST” pay the price. We know who those people are, don’t we? And I suppose, as adults, we all know that our behaviour brings consequences. 

But on the cross, on behalf of the offenders, Jesus pleaded to God for forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, for they really do not know what they are doing. Surely we don’t know that our casual comments may trigger someone’s bad experience or sometime may even cost someone life; Surely we don’t know that by not voicing out for the silenced and standing for the oppressed may lead to a massacre or genocide; and we certainly are not aware that God is watching the Canadians who waste 27 billion dollars’ worth of food annually when many people in Canada and the world are starving.

Yes, our behavior brings consequences, and according to the demand of justice, we MUST pay the price – more precisely – the penalty. The vision about we being on the cross will one day become reality. We may shout aloud “This Must Never happen to me!” and try to assure ourselves that ‘it won’t happen to me’ But God’s will be done, justice must be served and someone must pay the price. Who is that someone anyway?

I don’t know how often you think of this, “When we are powerless, Christ died for the ungodly, when we are still sinners, Christ died for us.” The price Jesus paid is not cheap but costly – it cost the Son of the Living God’s life to break the curse that sin brings to our lives. Through his death, God set us free.

The whole salvation business is not about demanding us to be a better person. We don’t need Christ if it is only about being a better person, for our standard is so low. What’s more, salvation is not really about avoiding God’s wrath, so that out of fear we say yes to the Lord. Salvation is not even about making God look great. God doesn’t need humankind to make him great, for the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands1.

Then, you may ask, what is Salvation about? The purpose of Salvation is about setting free and enabling humankind to live out our beauty, our unique identity, by functioning properly for the sake of the well-being of the whole creation. It is for this reason, God must let his beloved one suffer, be killed. The Son of God must go through death to serve justice and to defeat the power of death. For death is never the destination God intends for his creation. Therefore we hear Jesus say, on the third day, he will be raised.

St. Paul reminds us that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.2

Today, Katie and Stéphane bring their daughter Soovi here for baptism. This is the beginning of a miracle because without the God’s Spirit, this won’t happen. Since it is God who initiates the work, we should all be confident that he who began a good work in Soovi will carry it on to completion until the return of our Lord Jesus.3 I don’t know the details about how God carries out his works in Soovi’s life, what I am sure of is that, according to God’s will, we, as parents, as god-parents, and her brothers and sisters in Christ have an significant role in this process of disciple making.

The whole requirement of “denying oneself, take up one’s cross, and following Jesus” can be summed up in one simple sentence – God’s will be done. Maybe it sounds too vague for us, how about this: by the power of resurrection and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we follow the Lord to live as a person who decides to be an instrument of peace: where there is hatred, sow love;   where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope, where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. May we not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.

We do these simply because we remember that it is in Jesus’s giving that we receive life, it is in God’s pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in the dying of the Messiah, the Son of the living God that we are born to eternal life.4 

________________________________ 

1 Psalm 19:1
2 Romans 6:3-4
3 Philippians 1:6
4 St. Frances of Assis Prayer.

   

 

©2017, Pastor Mei Sum Lai, MDiv. Please do not reproduce this article in whole or in part, in any form, without obtaining the written permission of the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

_____________________

Did you miss reading a sermon? The 4 previously posted sermons are listed below:


Updated: September 8th, 2017