Declare.

Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

The Cross and Self-Denial

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 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?

27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Rally day at our church!  I love this!  And, being outside in a tent, reminds me of my identity in my southern baptist roots with tent revivals!  Maybe revival will break out this am!

Really, it’s great to be here with this tradition, even with some creative and adaptive twists and following all of the CDC guidelines to keep us safe.  Rally day is a part of our identity at Fleming Road UCC!  It’s good to be here, even in this time of somber reality in the world!

In our gospel lesson, we see Jesus not celebrating his identity, but giving a somber declaration, a prophetic word, that he must suffer, that he will be betrayed, and that he will be killed.  Peter would have none of this!  He had put his identity and expectations in and on Jesus.  His sense of self, his image, was wrapped up in a triumphant Jesus, a victorious Messiah.  Yet, Jesus says that tragedy must come first, that suffering is a key part of our identity with Christ.

Friends, this is what Jesus is sharing with us this morning.  Life is filled with suffering.  We do all that we can to avoid it, but it’s there.  Look at folks struggling with their health during this pandemic, mental heath as well, job insecurity and an unknown future, look at the millions of refugees fleeing corruption and wrecked countries, look at the effects of human trafficking all over the world, look at the violence against people of color and the racism and sexism being spewed upon us in so many directions.  

Look at our own lives.  We experience depression, anxiety, physical loss in our lives, emotional ups and downs, job losses, transitions we feel we aren’t ready for, death.  

Jesus knows this and addresses it head on.  Peter rebukes Jesus for saying this, yet Jesus gives a strong response as a Rabbi should and would do to one of his disciples, “get behind me Satan”.  Don’t deny what I’m saying or will experience.  Jesus is frustrated, but Jesus loves Peter and wants Peter to understand that he cannot hide from suffering.  

Neither can we friends.  Jesus goes on to say in our text this morning that in order to be a follower of Jesus, we must deny ourselves and take up Jesus’ cross, the way of suffering.  We must be willing to enter into the darkness of our lives, the lives of others, and this world.  This is a hard word, but if we are to enter into life, true life where we grow and become all that God intended, if we want to experience true joy, we must be willing to suffer.  We must enter into tragedy.  

Richard Rohr says this:  “the genius of the biblical revelation is that it refuses to deny the dark side of things, but forgives failure and integrates falling to achieve its only promised wholeness, which much of the point of this whole book.  Jesus is never upset at sinners, he is only upset with people who do not think they are sinners!  Jesus was fully at home with this tragic sense of life.”

Jesus does go on to say that if we deny ourselves, if we take up our cross, if we are willing to look at our lives and become aware of who we are even in our suffering and darkness, then we will find Jesus with us.  Jesus will not give up on us.  

Jesus didn’t give up on Peter, and doesn’t give up us.  Peter is often called the rock.  Jesus said that he’d build his church on this same Peter that he rebuked.  He believed in Peter.

And, this same Jesus believes in Fleming Road UCC.  This church which is a part of the church universal that he anointed Peter to be a leader of.  Like Peter, we have to be vulnerable, and authentic, and also realize that we need healing and growth.  

I believe in this church.  This church’s best history is ahead of us, and that means embracing change, growth, and even the times we live in now.  We have to change, we have to think differently, we have to open the doors of our church to others, we have to move beyond the way we’ve done church and think differently in order to build community with those around us. 

Friends, yes, God’s story, and ours, is filled with suffering and tragedy, but the story doesn’t end there.  Yes, Jesus is betrayed, Jesus suffers, Jesus is killed.  We are betrayed, we suffer, and we die.  Yet, there is resurrection.  There is new life.  There is a Risen Christ.  WE will rise with the Christ, and, in fact, we are rising daily with this Christ, even as we experience suffering.  We are learning to trust as we hang in there with the story, living through the tragic as well as the triumphant, while staying committed to the authenticity that we’ve demonstrated for a long time.  The world around us is looking for that authenticity and a willingness to embrace the messy world we all live in, knowing that we aren’t alone in the messiness or the suffering.  God is with us, and Lord willing, a community of folks around us.  

This is good news that I want to declare.  

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