Glimpsing God’s Eternal Realm … Now

Sep 03, 2023

14th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Matthew 16:21-28, Romans 12:9-21
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     It’s good to be back, although, I am thankful for my time at the Chautauqua Institution where basked in the beautiful surroundings, attended lectures, read four books, walked 6 to 7 miles each day and reconnected with people I’ve met over the years.
     It was time, though, to return and get into the swing of these busy and lovely autumn months. The church calendar, and probably your calendar too, is full, so before we get side-tracked, it is a good time to be reminded of how to be a disciple.
     In today’s Gospel reading Peter and his companions received just such a reminder from Jesus. You may recall that in last week’s reading from Matthew, Peter proclaimed Jesus as the “Messiah, the Son of the living God”, to which Jesus responded by saying, “…you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church….” What an exciting moment that must have been for Peter!
     Unfortunately, though, it was fleeting because within a matter of minutes he went from being blessed to receiving the ultimate chastisement – being called Satan – when Jesus turned to him and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block for me….” What brought that on?
     We are told that after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, our Lord began to indicate what was in store for him, mainly suffering and death, although he did also refer to the resurrection. That did not sound very Messiah-like to Peter, so he took Jesus aside and gave him a lecture, since he evidently missed the introductory class, “Messiah 101”. “God forbid it, Lord!” Peter proclaimed; he wanted Jesus to win as the Messiah, and he wanted no one to doubt it. Power was the defining characteristic of the Messiah for Peter and there should be no question who is on top.
     Jesus was quick to respond; Peter was not only tempting Jesus, as Satan once did, but he also was a scandal, that is, a rock over which a person stumbles. He was no longer a foundation stone, but a tripping hazard. Why? Peter’s words took Jesus back to the wilderness, to the time just before the beginning of his public ministry, when Jesus was offered power over all and the easy way in exchange for submission to and devotion toward the evil one.
     That’s what Peter had in mind too, although he did not realize it. If Jesus had listened to Peter, he would have succumbed to evil and abandoned God’s will. Instead, he had to keep focused on God’s way. The message is that to be rocks of faith rather than stumbling blocks to the gospel, we must learn to live our lives for and like Jesus.
     Commentator Chelsey Harmon writes that “this will mean sacrifice and learning new models for what really matters; it will mean changing our views, lifestyles, and interactions so that we don’t run away for what is hard or uncomfortable or challenging or provokes our fears.” (1)
     That is, we are to be cross-bearers who like Jesus walk the way of sacrifice, who lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, but then find lives of meaning. If we want more specifics about that, one place to look is today’s reading from Romans 12 in which the Apostle Paul offers a long list that characterizes cross-bearing, and a glimpse of what the Christian community should look like; it’s a reminder that we should not try this alone.
      So, let’s look at Romans 12 in sections. First, verses 9-13: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”
     A good way to translate this is, “Genuine (un-hypocritical) love grows from what is in a person’s heart and is reflected in one’s actions, including all that is listed through verse 13. We should be rejecting evil, seeking good, showing affection, accepting suffering patiently, honoring, serving, rejoicing, persevering, supporting, welcoming, and doing it all with enthusiasm ….
     Then we move on to verses 14-17: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.”
     It’s interesting that the word “bless” means to want what’s best for others, including those who are actively opposing us. To do what is noble in the sight of all means we act honorably even when people are trying to hurt us.
     And finally, verses 18-21: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, given them something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do nor be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
     We do not show our wrath because wrath is God’s business, and vengeance will come in its own good time. Our focus should be on being proactive, rather than reactive, with our actions and attituded grounded in God’s love for all who are created in God’s image. While it’s important to protect ourselves from harm, revenge is not acceptable. We wage war against evil by doing good, inflicting no casualties, and letting what honors God prevail.
     All of this – much of which we rebel against - is how we lose our lives for Jesus’ sake. There’s no doubt that it is a counter-cultural way to live, especially in the atmosphere of divisiveness and violence which are now a reality in our country. It takes acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit’s presence and willingness to strive to live as a follower of Jesus in order for this cross-bearing life-style to be visible and transforming.
     Imagine though what it would be like if the witness of those taking up the cross drowned out the negativity of those who do not? Elections, education, community interaction, it all would change, and while our world would not be perfect, there would be less that hurts and more that helps.
     Finally, it’s important to remember Jesus’ words. Those who do not lose their lives, that is, do not take on this cross-bearing way of life, may seemingly gain the whole world, but forfeit the “good” life Jesus offers, which unfortunately negatively impacts others. But those who lose their lives by taking on this cross-bearing life will find a new life which has transforming power. This is how to be a disciple of Jesus, how to make a difference, how to have a meaningful life and also catch a glimpse of God’s eternal realm. AMEN
  1. Commentary on Matthew 16:21-28 by Chelsey Harmon, September 3, 2023,