There have been several times when someone has come to church and one of the entrance doors has been left ajar or unlocked. It is imperative that whenever you leave the building that you check to see if all the doors are locked and latched. Please allow the door to shut and then gently pull on the doors to see that they are latched. Thank you.
Message by Pastor Pokora – August 30, 13th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Last week before breakfast I did something with fear and trepidation. I stepped on the bathroom scales to check my weight. My doctor, Andy Edwards, encouraged me at my last annual check-up to lose weight this year.
Undoubtably, most people give little thought to weighing themselves, but I do. The bathroom scales deliver bad news to me. No matter how much less I eat or how much more I exercise, the result is the same. Year after year I put on extra pounds and over time the weight adds up. My doctor furls his brow and gives me a frown, when I stop in for my annual check-up. He admonishes me to drop the weight. My metabolism has slowed down significantly.
This problem has to do with my philosophy of life, which is not to by-pass life’s little pleasures, like donuts on Sunday morning, a Dilley bar at the local DQ or my penchant for pop, when having lunch at the Burger King. Life is short, I tell myself. No chocolate chip cookies should go to waste?
Fortunately, I have good news. The bathroom scales tell me I dropped a couple pounds, but that in itself doesn’t mean much. I know why I weigh a little less, if I cut out snacks between meals. Plus my wife’s cooking is simple fare, and I eat less.
My weight issue helps me identify with the Apostle Peter in our Gospel this Sunday. Yes, Peter may deal with discipleship, but I have weighty issues on my mind too. It’s not the particular issue that unites us, but it is our weltanschauung, as German theologians say. A weltanschauung is the way we look at the world. Peter and I agree philosophically; we believe we should have our cake and eat it too. We resist making the sacrifice necessary for true change.
My application of the principle of have your cake and eat it too is literal: I’ll takes the cake with lots of icing on it. Peter pursues a variation on the theme. He has been called to Christian discipleship, which he willingly and enthusiastically embraces. He says what Jesus wants to hear. He is the devote disciple who will not waver in his devotion to Jesus.
For example, last week Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is.” The disciples dithered in their response, except for Peter. He says, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” That exactly the answer Jesus wants to hear. Jesus tells Peter God has revealed this response to him and adds, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” That’s a compliment. Peter must have felt proud of himself. He moves to the head of the class. Great things are in store for him. He is the rock. Or, as we say today, Peter rocks.
But the euphoria of that moment is short lived. Jesus tell his disciples “that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and on the third day be raised from the dead. Now this news comes as an shock to the disciples. They delight in loving others and healing the sick and feeding the hungry. But suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes is not on their bucket list of things to do. Peter puts their sentiments into words, when he protests: “God forbid it, Lord. This must never happen to you.” That suffering bit was not in his perception of discipleship. Real sacrifice is a bit much.
Jesus replies firmly and emphatically to Peter saying, “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.” Isn’t that something. One minute Jesus tells Peter he is the rock upon which the church will be built and, in the next breath, he describes him as a stumbling block. I recall a saying, which goes like this: the seeds of downfall may be found in the flower of success. We set ourselves up for a fall. Peter is happy to be the rock, but not so much the stumbling block.
We can’t be too harsh on Peter. His mistake is a common one after all. The problem starts in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. God set-up basic perimeters for their behavior in paradise. At the top of God’s list of do’s and don’t was a simple command: “you may eat freely of every tree in the garden, but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat…” There’s nothing complicated about this admonition. The devil comes along, however, to sow seeds of doubt. He tells Adam and Eve they will not die, but their eyes will be opened and they will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Adam and Eve jump at the bate. They believe they can have their cake and eat it too. They can live in the garden and ignore God’s command. Like the Apostle Peter, they set their eyes on earthly things and not the divine.
Let’s be honest with ourselves we too set our eyes on human things and not the life Christ calls us to. Let me use a simple illustration. God says to us, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Martin Luther said, “we are to fear and love God so that we do not neglect his word and the preaching of it, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it.” Today national statistics indicate only a quarter of a church’s membership worships each week. Even the Christian community sets its mind on human things and not divine things.
Peter’s attempt to have discipleship without sacrifice has a name for itself. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it “cheap grace.” Bonhoeffer described cheap grace this way: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Peter wants his grace without the cross.
Bonhoeffer observed that, “As Christianity spread, and the Church became more secularized, this realization of the of the costliness of grace gradually faded…It was to be had at a low price.” Martin Luther once offered this observation. He said that a “religion that gives nothing, costs nothing and suffers nothing is worth nothing.”
Today Christ calls each of us to take up the cross and focus on the divine and let the human things go. No one says this will be an easy to do. Dietrich Bonhoeffer himself faced a difficult decision in 1939. He visited the New York City and Union Theological Seminary just as World War II broke out in 1939. He had a decision to make. He could either stay safely in the United States, sitting out the war, or return to his native land to face persecution and death. He took up his cross and returned home. May we too have strength of faith in the hour of our great decisions to be disciples who carry the cross in our lives. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.