13th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who calls us to a way of life. Amen
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
A way of life
is a series of choices
that are consistent with one another,
who we are
is revealed more by the choices we make
than who we claim to be,
and choices have to be made
when paths whether real or metaphorical intersect,
where they cross.
Who we are is revealed at the cross.
Before the cross
became shorthand for “Christian” and “salvation”
before people decorated it and wore it about their necks and on their hands,
before we carried it into houses of worship,
the cross marked a moment in time,
a decision point,
the place where life was uncertain,
where two roads diverged and a choice had to be made.
And it was both a tool and a symbol of condemnation,
used by the empire to signal
when the person crucified upon it
had made what the prevailing power determined as the wrong choice.
To choose to go against the prevailing power of the world
is the road less traveled,
and going down that road makes all the difference.
In our gospel today
Jesus tells his disciples
what will come from following the path he has chosen to take,
he will go to Jerusalem and there he will cross
(which we also use as a word to mean make angry isn’t language fun!)
the people in power
and as a result of his life lived this way
he will suffer and be killed
and he throws in here be raised on the third day.
And I don’t think Peter hears that last bit,
or understands what it means,
but he does understand the part about suffering and dying
and he doesn’t like it
and says “God forbid”
and begins to try to exorcise the demon from Jesus
who is making him say these things.
just moments before
Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the messiah, the son of the living God
and Jesus affirmed that proclamation,
and made him the cornerstone of the church.
And in this next instant
Jesus turns to Peter and says
“get behind me Satan”
and just like that the corner stone has turned into a stumbling block.
the problem Jesus says,
is at this crossroads in time
Peter has chosen to think of himself rather than God.
To set his mind, not on divine things, but on human things.
And Jesus lays it out for the disciples,
the way of life of a follower of Jesus
is a way of life that focuses on God
rather than themselves,
of choosing to serve God’s desires
rather than their own or those in power,
choices that often will come into conflict with the powers that be
but in the end actually lead to life,
It seems counterintuitive but it’s true,
a full life is lived beyond ourselves
while when we focus on our own desires,
or even our own fears,
the steps we take to preserve our lives
often lead to a restricting of our life.
It reminds me of this parable, there was this couple who lived in the city but began to become afraid of getting hurt by living in the city, all those dangerous people there, so they moved to the suburbs and felt safer until they realized that dangers lurked there too and so the stayed within their neighborhood and felt better until they realized that their neighborhood could be dangerous as well and so they lived within their block until they realized that there too lay the possibility of getting hurt, so they stayed within their yard until that too revealed itself to be dangerous and they moved to the house and gradually the rooms in their house revealed themselves as dangerous until the couple retreated to the closet where nothing could hurt them. In seeking to save their lives, they gave up everything that makes up a life.
Our lives are defined by the choices we make,
the choices we make reveal our priorities,
the choice is simple Jesus says,
either deny yourself
- that basic instinct aided and abetted by the powers of the world
that says take care of yourself exclusively
you are the most important-
or deny Jesus-
the way, the truth, the life.
This is the choice
every time we come to a crossroads,
it’s not a one and done decision,
as Peter shows us,
even a corner stone can become a stumbling block
when decisions are focused on self-interest rather than God.
We are at a crossroads in life,
the life of our nation, of our world
and the choices we make reveal the way of life we have chosen,
who we follow and who we deny,
which road we have decided to take.
If you want to be a follower of Jesus,
you have some choices to make,
not about salvation
God has already taken care of that
but about how we go about seeking life.
And yes these are difficult choices and often counterintuitive,
we get scared and focus on ourselves just like Peter
but Jesus’ relationship with Peter also shows us something else.
That God is willing to forgive,
even eager to forgive
and with the forgiveness of God
a stumbling block can be turned back into a corner stone.
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.