I have lots of material on the cutting room floor, so to speak, from my last two sermons. These two Sundays brought us incredible texts from the Gospel of Matthew – two readings that were really just one scene spread out over two weeks.
In Matthew 16:13-28 we have the powerful exchange of Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do people say that I am? …. Who do you say that I am?” with Peter responding, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus lauds Peter for his faith, and proclaims that Peter is the rock on which his church will be built. Yet moments later Jesus calls Peter Satan – “get behind me, Satan!” – for failing to accept that the way of the cross is a pathway marked by self-denial, suffering, and death.
My sermons from these two weeks:
August 23, 2020
August 30, 2020
But there are other parts to this text that deserve our reflection:
Faith is a gift of God
Jesus praises Peter’s profession of faith in him as the Messiah, by saying, “no human has shown this to you, but my Father in heaven has.” Faith isn’t something we create, or that we gin up through our efforts. Faith is a gift of God, nurtured in the life of the church and through practices of prayer, Bible reading, selfless service, and sacrificial giving. Faith is chiefly given through baptism, where the newly baptized – whether adult or infant or youth – is grafted into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The keys to the kingdom
Jesus speaks of “binding” and “loosening” things on earth and in heaven … which are ancient rabbinical references for having authority to interpret Torah and apply it to certain situations. Roman Catholics believe this is an authority given to the church, with the unique (and only exercised twice so far in history) authority of papal infallibility. In our Lutheran tradition a primary responsibility of the parish pastor is to teach Scripture and doctrine, in accordance with the Reformation-era statements of faith (notably the Augsburg Confession), and in concert with teachings and guidance put forth by the Conference of Bishops and the Churchwide Assembly.
Don't tell anyone about Jesus
After Peter has his big “a-ha!” moment that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus tells them not to tell anyone. “Then he ordered the disciples not to tell anybody that he was the Christ.”
Want to hear a bad joke? OK, here you go:
Q - What is the only Bible verse that Lutherans take literally?
A - Matthew 16:20 – because they never tell anyone about Jesus!
<eyeroll> Sorry, I had to get that out of my system. I heard that “joke” in many a sermon when I was growing up. As Lutheran Christians we are part of a tradition that hasn’t emphasized evangelization or explicit public witness-bearing to Christ, but instead has invested significantly in social service and care for the poor as vehicles of public proclamation. As a tradition, we Lutherans certainly can stand to grow as people who speak comfortably, confidently, and publicly about faith in Jesus Christ, and the vision of the Kingdom of God.
But, what’s with this muzzle Jesus puts on his disciples? By this part of the story the disciples are now starting to “get” Jesus – and immediately Jesus tells them to keep quiet about it! Traditionally it has been taught that Jesus wants his disciples to wait until his death and resurrection – that is, until the fullness of his Messiah-ship is revealed – before they proclaimed him as the Messiah.
Related, it is abundantly obvious by Peter’s objections to Jesus’ pathway of suffering and death (just a few verses later) that even as the disciples proclaim Jesus to be the Christ they are not ready yet for what that means for them, for Jesus, or for the world. Thus, Jesus’ call to not tell anyone about him is an invitation for them to sit with this new spiritual truth they’ve just received, to internalize it, practice it, and grow with it before they go out and share it with the world.
Get behind me, Satan
There are two great aspects to this verse. First, Jesus is not afraid to call something satanic, even if it is coming from his closest disciple, Peter. Jesus wasn’t trying to win any popularity contexts, obviously, and he will call out evil when needed.
But rather than cast this Peter who is channeling evil into the outer darkness, Jesus reminds Peter of his proper place as a follower. The Greek words for “get behind me” are a similar vocabulary to what we translate as “follow me” from the scenes where Jesus calls his disciples earlier in the Gospel story. Thus, what sounds like a rebuke in our translations comes across more as a reminder of Peter’s proper place – as follower of Jesus – in the original Greek. Remembering proper place is good advice for Peter … and for us.
I hope and pray that my sermons speak to you … but also that there are passages from Scripture that I don’t speak about on Sunday that simply scream out to you, and beg you for prayer and reflection and questioning. Chew on those verses during the week. Share them with me. Let them be a prayer for you. For the words of Scripture point us to the Living Word of God, a Word that promises to bless and renew us and our weary world.
The peace of Christ be with you.
SESSION 4 LGBTQ+ Welcome and the Bible. The fourth and...