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Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 30, 2020

Matthew 16:21-28

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

What a difference a week makes! Last week Peter was a hero of the faith.  In the midst of all kinds of wrong answers floating around about who Jesus was, Peter got it right. “Who do YOU say that I am,” Jesus asked him, and Peter responded: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus was so thrilled with Peter’s answer, coming as it did from the Father himself who revealed this to Peter, that he said “You are Petros (which in Greek means “rock”), you are the rock, and on this rock I will build my church.”

Now here we are a week later but picking up right where we left off last week in the gospel, and here things have taken a drastic turn! Peter goes from being a mouthpiece for God the Father just a verse or two before, to being a mouthpiece for Satan himself! “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus says to him. In the very same chapter of scripture Peter goes from being described by Jesus as the rock on which he would build his church to Jesus saying, “You are a stumbling block to me!” What happened?

Well, after Peter made his good confession, after he correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of the living God, Jesus went on to teach Peter and all the disciples what that meant. Jesus taught them HOW he was going to save them. As St. Matthew tells us, “Jesus began to show them that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Peter answered the “who” question exactly right, but he did not like what Jesus was saying about the “how.” He didn’t like what he was hearing about this suffering and dying business. And so Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him. Can you imagine? Peter knew that Jesus was the Son of the living God and he had the gall to rebuke him, to scold him, to berate him! My friends, just so we’re clear, it is never a good idea to rebuke the Son of the living God!

Jesus tells us more specifically what happened to turn Peter from a spokesman for God into a spokesman for Satan, from a rock into a stumbling block. Jesus says that Peter was setting his mind on human things rather than on divine things. In his human way of thinking, Peter wanted salvation without the suffering. He wanted forgiveness and atonement without a sacrifice. He wanted a Christ without the cross. In putting his mind on human things rather than divine things, by reflexively rejecting suffering, Peter was missing the very means by which Christ would save us from our sin.

And not only that, but by putting his mind on human things rather than on divine things, Peter had entirely missed what would come AFTER the suffering. He missed the promise of the resurrection. He missed the part where Jesus said that on the third day he would be raised. He missed it now and he missed it later too. You’ll recall from the Easter story that on the third day after Jesus’ death Peter was sitting around twiddling his thumbs, expecting nothing. He had to be reminded of what Jesus said!

Putting one’s mind on human things rather than on divine things was not just a problem for Peter. It is a problem for all of us. It is a common human reflex, especially in the breathtaking hubris of modern times, for people to want to mentally pull Jesus aside, thinking they know better than him, correcting him with their modern sensibilities. We reflexively reject just about any form of suffering and will go to great lengths to avoid it. We get so caught up in our human experiences in this suffering world that we forget what Jesus has promised us – that beyond the suffering there is resurrection.

To put our mind on divine things is to listen to Christ’s Word and trust that he knows what he’s talking about. It is to surrender to the holy wisdom of his Word. To put our mind on divine things is to look to the cross of Christ not as meaningless suffering, but as the means of our salvation – and then to take up our own crosses in following him, understanding that suffering is one way God often uses to help us grow. To put our mind on divine things is to listen to Jesus’ promise that after the suffering comes the resurrection.

Several days ago I went to see our friend Janice Johnson, knowing the end of her earthly life was near. Janice is someone who set her mind on divine things rather than on human things. Janice was someone who hung on Christ’s every word. I don’t think I’ve had another parishioner in 20 years of ministry who was more insistent on getting her hands on the sermon every single Sunday! She is someone who suffered greatly with painful health problems for a very long time, and all her pain just seemed to draw her closer to Christ. It the great privilege of being a pastor to have been called to her bedside in her final days to remind her that after the suffering comes the resurrection. I read scripture to her and told her that when this world goes quiet, the next sound she would hear would be the voice of the Lord Jesus calling out her name.

We can learn from this sister of Christ what it means to set our minds on divine things rather than on human things. It is to trust Christ’s Word and eagerly seek it out rather than try to silence it, which is never, ever a good idea. It is to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Jesus, trusting that our inevitable suffering is a place where we meet Jesus and find the life that is really life. It is to live in the promise of the resurrection to eternal life, which is breaking into our lives even now in the form of hope and peace and joy.

We can learn from our brother Peter as well. There’s a reason Peter is such a prominent figure in the gospels. There’s a reason he is so often lifted up as the representative of all the disciples. Peter is us! Peter is you and Peter is me! We bounce back and forth between the boldest and truest confessions of faith to the dumbest displays of human arrogance. Sometimes we speak the very truth of God the Father and sometimes our tongues are hijacked by Satan himself. Sometimes we are pillars of faith and sometimes we are stumbling blocks. But our Lord Jesus doesn’t give up on us.

Peter went on to have more successes and more failures as he followed Jesus. But when the third day came and our Lord was indeed raised, he called Peter to himself. He had to go have someone fetch him, but he called Peter to himself, fulfilling his promise.  He’ll do the same for you too. He’s doing so even now as he calls you to himself through his Word to set your mind not on human things, but on divine things.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church