Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who gives life to the dead
and brings into existence the things that do not exist. Amen
Let’s talk about suffering.
Not a cheerful topic I know
and something we like to avoid,
sometimes at all costs.
And yet, we live in a world
where most of what is worthwhile
is accomplished through some suffering.
I mean think of all the Olympic athletes
and the amount of pain that they have endured
while building up their muscles and minds
to bring them to the point
where they are able to compete,
and all the injuries that we hear about,
I was watching the other night
and they brought up a diagram of Lindsey Vonn
the downhill skier
and they pointed to all the things she’d injured over the past few years,
there was a broken arm, a torn acl, a concussion,
a sliced tendon and several other things,
all that she’d had to heal from and rehabilitate
before going to the Olympics.
Or there’s childbirth,
the great deal of suffering
that goes into bringing new life into the world.
And then there is the suffering that we don’t seek out,
The suffering from being in the wrong place at the wrong time
or when the brokenness of the world breaks into our lives
but out of which, strangely
comes something good,
maybe a healed relationship,
or a new purpose in life,
motivation for finding a cure.
But because we are human
even as we can logically lay out an argument
for the necessity of some suffering
our instinct rejects the premise,
our heart tells us that it should not be necessary
and our gut tells us to distrust anyone who says otherwise.
In other words, we react like Peter.
In our gospel for today Jesus is with his disciples,
Peter has just blurted out that Jesus is the messiah
“then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priest, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”
Peter rejects Jesus’ teaching,
he thinks Jesus has gone crazy,
actually he thinks that Jesus has been possessed by a demon
so he takes him aside and tries to exorcise the demon
that is clearly making Jesus say these things.
The messiah is not supposed to suffer.
And how does Jesus respond?
“But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said ‘Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
The human way is self-centered,
Peter is thinking about himself
when he tries to rebuke Jesus,
he’s found the messiah,
he doesn’t want to lose him,
he doesn’t want that suffering.
The divine way is other-centered,
what is done,
anything that is suffered
is for the sake of others.
What Jesus does on the cross
is done for the sake of the world,
And here’s the irony of Christianity,
in a world where things are accomplished through suffering,
we do not have to suffer to be saved.
We are saved by grace through faith,
faith in the God,
who, as Paul says in our second reading
“gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”
And this makes no sense by our human logic,
in this instance we could understand
how repairing our broken relationship with God
could involve some suffering on our part,
in fact we often feel like we need to do something
to make amends
but there is nothing that we can do,
there is no way we can contribute
because Jesus has done it all,
And having taken care of the most important part
Jesus extends an invitation,
an invitation to set our mind on divine things,
to be other-centered.
“He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘if any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”
Here’s the key, crosses are picked up for other people.
We often misuse this statement,
for instance “oh my bum knee, that’s my cross to bear”
or “oh she has a wild child, that’s her cross to bear”
but crosses are not imposed suffering,
they are picked up for the sake of others
in the same way that Jesus picked up the cross for us.
Jesus, in teaching his disciples how to follow him
is preparing them for the fact
that when they testify to the gospel
they can expect to suffer.
Because the gospel message
is contrary to what society says we should want and do,
it is a challenge to the way of the world
which is self-centered
and when self-centered people,
especially self-centered people in power
they respond swiftly and harshly.
To follow Jesus,
to not be ashamed of him,
for his disciples is a life and death decision.
And we know that many of Jesus’ disciples
ended up martyred, killed in various gruesome and public ways
to deter the message they were sharing.
In some parts of the world today,
to be openly unashamed of Christ
is still a life and death decision
but for those of us who live in relative safety
in places where Christianity is the rule rather than the exception
remaining faithful and unashamed of Christ
tends to happen in the smaller moments of life.
I like the analogy used by preaching professor of blessed memory Fred Craddock- he said:
“We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,00 bill and laying it on the table—‘Here’s my life, lord. I’m giving it all.’
But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there… Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, 629).
Those are those little moments,
where you find the strength to disagree with someone
who says if you pray enough or in the right way
Jesus will make you rich,
no, that’s the world talking using Jesus as a front.
Or the times when you refuse to believe it
when someone says Jesus hates_fill in the blank
and even more importantly
when you refuse to act on it.
It’s the times when you set your mind on divine things,
not on human things,
the times when you put aside your own self-interests
for the sake of others,
for the sake of loving your neighbor
We live in a time of fear mongering,
the messages of the world
tell us to avoid suffering,
our own suffering,
at all costs
regardless of the effects it has on others,
even those closest to us.
Fear makes us turn in on ourselves,
the definition of sin.
Today Jesus calls us to set our minds on divine things,
To turn toward others
embracing the reality
that to accomplish something worthwhile
we will go through some suffering
and we are able to do this,
to set aside our own self-interests
because of our faith,
faith that is grounded in the God who gives life to the dead
and calls into existence the things that do not exist,
the God who finds a way out of no way,
the God who has already saved you,
who has set you free to live for others
and who promises that death is always followed by new life. Amen