Proper 17, Year A: Matthew 16:21-26: Lose Yourself

Saint Peter Painting

St. Peter – Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 17, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus tells his disciples that he has to go to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and be killed, then he will rise from the dead. Wow, can you imagine how that came across?  How do you think you would have reacted to that? Well, we know Peter’s reaction: “God save you from those sufferings, Lord! That will never happen to you!” 

Jesus rebukes him harshly, “Get away from me, Satan! You are not helping me! You don’t care about the same things God does. You care only about things that people think are important.” (These quotes are from the Easy-to-Read version here.) Ouch, he called him Satan! I don’t think Jesus was implying Peter was literally possessed by Satan or anything, but more that he is speaking against God and what God wants at this moment. Remember that just last week we read about Peter being called the Rock on which the church will be built. What a change to this story! It happens to all of us–faithful and loving one time, failing and wrong another time. Meanwhile he just wants Jesus to not die, which doesn’t seem so awful to our human eyes. It seems Peter understand Jesus was the Messiah, but not all that might mean. 

Jesus goes on to say the following:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 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?

Matthew 16:24-26 (NRSV)

I love it when Jesus speaks in paradoxes. Maybe that’s weird of me. Lose your life to save it. Amazing. What does this mean to you? What are you giving of yourself today? How are you following Jesus?

Proper 16, Year A: Matthew 16:13-20: The Rock

Rome - Mosaic from st. Peters cathedral

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 16, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Our next passage comes after the disciples have been traveling around with Jesus, watching him heal and teach and work miracles. At this point, they’ve spent a lot of time with him.

Then he asks them, “Who do people say I am?”

They answer that people think he’s one of various prophets or John the Baptist. Then he asks, “And who do you say I am?”

This moment is key. They should have an idea at this point that he’s not an everyday teacher.

And now it’s Peter who answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus tells him he is blessed, that no one had to teach him that, but that his Father in heaven taught him. He says, So I tell you, you are Peter. And I will build my church on this rock.” 

He says the power of death will not defeat the church and that he gives Peter the keys to God’s kingdom. Imagine! The keys to the kingdom! And it’s true, the church went on in the hands of Peter and other followers after Christ’s death and ascension. They drove it forward from there. They took up the mantle of leading the future of Christianity and spread the gospel around the known world (and it’s gone around even more of the world since). This seems like a significant moment. They have seen all that Jesus is and what he is teaching; they must recognize his power and vision and carry it on.

We also must recognize his power and vision and carry on his truth into our current world. We can be a rock of the church as well–we can carry on the work of healing in the world that Jesus began.

 

Proper 14, Year A: Matthew 14:22-33: Do Not Be Afraid

Jesus Walks on Water

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 14, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

 

This is a well-known story, but try to consider it anew.

Jesus sends his disciples out on a boat. He instructs them to go to the other side of the lake and tells them he would join them later.  Then he sent the crowds he’d been teaching (this is right after the feeding of the 5,000) away so he could go up into the hills to pray.  This is not a part of the story people usually focus on, but I like this idea of going into the hills to pray. We go to a lake house in Maine almost every summer, and I can really feel the presence of God on the hill overlooking the lake where the house is perched. It’s a beautiful place to pray. He spends enough time alone in prayer that the boat has gone far from shore. The boat was having trouble in choppy waves on a windy night. Early in the morning, Jesus goes to the boat by walking upon the water. Understandably, his disciples freak the heck out when they see him–screaming that it’s a ghost.

Jesus calls out to them not to be afraid and Peter responds, “Lord, if that is really you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus says, “Come, Peter.”

I love this simple command.

So Peter gets out and walks on the water to Jesus, but then he gets afraid seeing the wind and the waves and starts to sink. He calls out to Jesus to save him. Jesus saves, as we say, and he does save Peter. He says, “Your faith is small. Why did you doubt?”

After they are back in the boat, the wind stops and his followers worship him and say, “You really are the Son of God.”

There are a lot of ways to read this story, and many have become Christian clichés about “stepping out of the boat,” “stepping out in faith,” “walking on water,” “keeping your eyes on Jesus,” etc. It can be used for good or ill (such as encouraging people to take harmful risks or give money they can ill afford to give to already rich televangelists, etc. But I like to keep it fairly simple on this blog. What is the heart of the story to you? For me today, I’m drawn back to the image of Jesus, praying alone in the hills overlooking the lake, then going down to help his friends in the wind-tossed waves. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” he says.  There’s a lot to be afraid of, but we must go out and do good in this world. Do not be afraid.

 

 

The Transfiguration: Luke 9:28-36

Florence -  Transfiguration of the Lord

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for The Transfiguration by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. It’s all about Jesus’s transfiguration—suddenly appearing amazing—glowing brightly and then being joined miraculously by Moses and Elijah—ancient forefathers of the Jewish people.

Jesus climbs a mountain with three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John.  While they were watching, Jesus changed before their eyes.  The Bible says, “His face became bright like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.  Then two men were there, talking with him. They were Moses and Elijah.”

Peter (always quick to speech and action, not always thinking so hard about it first) said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you want, I will put three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  Peter was ready to worship the three of them right there and then.  But then they heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son. He is the one I have chosen. Obey him.”

In Matthew’s version of this story, Peter James, and John were freaked out at this experience (as one might expect).  They fell to the ground in fear, but Jesus came and touched them and told them not to be afraid.  When they looked up they saw that Jesus was alone and he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen.

In this version it just says that they didn’t tell anyone about it for a long time.

This can be a bit of a confusing lesson; there’s a lot of weird, miraculous stuff happening here, but I won’t overexplain it.  A quote on the Worshiping With Children website (one of my favorites when I was teaching church school) says, “this story is meant to be savored as presented rather than to be explained.”  I like that and it seems like good advice.  What you mainly need to know is that Moses and Elijah are ancient fathers of the Jewish people.  Maybe it would be like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln suddenly appearing in front of you (well, that’s not a 100% perfect comparison, but it might help). Just imagine! Your teacher, whom you revere but do not yet fully understand, is not only glowing, but is joined by ancient wise fathers of your people. It would be both beautiful and terrifying.

Dwell on that image today and dwell on the awesomeness of God. Meditate upon the mystery.

Day of Pentecost, Year A: Happy Birthday to the Church: Acts 2:1-21

Venice - Descent of the Holy Ghost by Titian

Venice – Descent of the Holy Ghost by Titian – Source: iStockphoto.com/sedmak

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Day of Pentecost, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the First Lesson reading from the book of Acts.

This week I think I will again explore the story in the book of Acts rather than sticking to the Gospel as I often prefer to do. They are both referring to Pentecost (here’s a nice little succinct link about Pentecost if you want to know more), which is celebrated this Sunday.  The John passage is about when Jesus comes to his disciples after his resurrection and promises them the Holy Spirit will come to them.

The Acts passage is a bit more of a story to tell, though it can still be a bit confusing at first. It’s actually a bit of an exciting story with roaring winds and tongues of fire and miracles. On the day of Pentecost, (which was a Jewish holy day) all Jesus’ followers were gathered in one place, probably to celebrate the day because they were still all Jewish and all following Jewish customs as well as following Jesus. (This was after Jesus had been taken up to Heaven and the apostles had chosen a replacement for Judas, who had betrayed Jesus. The replacement’s name was Matthias, just so you know.) While they were in this house together, a violent wind blew down from heaven and filled the house. Then they saw tongues of fire settle on each of them. Try to visualize this miracle; like little bright flames like you see on a candle above their heads.  That was a visible sign of the miracle that followed. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.

It seems that they went outside among the crowds of people visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost and began to speak to them, and the people were amazed that they all heard their own languages from these Galileans. And picture the apostles; they were not all a bunch of rabbis or well-educated men. They were fishermen and the like, for the most part. So this bunch of working class dudes come out and are all speaking in languages everyone can understand, though the crowds are from all over the place and speak many different languages. They asked one another, “What does this mean?” And this part is a little funny—some of them think they’re drunk. I suppose that would explain this group of people coming out and speaking all at once but not the fact that everyone can understand in his or her own language.

Then Peter speaks up and addresses the crowds and tells them, they’re not drunk, it’s only 9 in the morning! (Look at Peter, remember this is after Jesus reinstated him by saying “Feed my sheep”.  This is him as a leader of the new church, strong and fearless, never denying his Christ again!)  He quotes them a scripture from the book of Joel, a promise that God would pour out his Spirit and his servants will prophesy and there will be wonders. The point is he basically goes on from there to tell them all about Jesus and his teachings and called on them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

One important point is that Pentecost is seen as the birth of the church. Before they were all kind of hanging out; Jesus had died, risen, and then ascended into heaven again, and they were just sort of waiting and praying. Then after the miracle of Pentecost happens and Peter makes his great sermon, they go on to have more miracles and spread the word of God and the love of Jesus everywhere. Pentecost was the moment when the Holy Spirit came upon them and the church really began. Now the church is not just one little group, not just our local church, but a worldwide family. We can carry the love of God out from our own churches into the larger world as they did on that day.