Finding the Lessons

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Proper 17A/Ordinary 22A/Pentecost +12 September 3, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think


"The kingdom is becoming present in that resurrected life of the Messiah in each of our communities where this confession and life are bound together in the responsible exercise of love and mercy for the world."
Commentary, Matthew 16:21-28, James Boyce, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Peter rebukes Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter. Calls Peter - or at least Peter's rebuke - Satan. That is, Tempter, Snake in the Garden, Introducer of Hesitation, Mixer of Motivations, Flaunter of Red Herrings, Side-Tracker of Mission, Setter of One's Mind on Human Things. Well, fear of pain and death will do that to most people, and Peter was no exception."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 16:21-28, David Ewart, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Transform us, O God, by the renewal of our minds, that we may not be conformed to this world or seduced by human standards of success.  But as true disciples may we discern how good and pleasing it is to you for us to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow in the footsteps of Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 16:21-28

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As we read through the Gospel of Matthew we might remember that everything is read through the lens of the concluding passion tide.  This passage is the first of the passion predictions. It comes to us following the miracle of loaves and fishes, the stilling of the storm, and Peter's Gospel proclamation that Jesus is indeed the Messiah the Son of the Living God.

It is not a surprise to us because we know the rest of the story, and it is not a surprise if we have been reading along in Matthew's Gospel for throughout the narrative we have received images, metaphors, road signs that we are heading towards Jerusalem. Jesus has set his face like a flint to Jerusalem and there we know his message of a continuing revelation of God and the new kingdom will be rejected by the religious establishment.  And, that he is to die and rise again.

So the first revelation of this Gospel is one that we as Christians have come to understand and that is that Jesus is willing to do this. Jesus is willing to go to Jerusalem and to die there on behalf of the vision of the kingdom and on behalf of the new restored creation he is proclaiming.

Jesus does this work as a free man, choosing to be faithful to his very nature and faithful to his vocation as prophet.  He willingly chooses for himself this destiny as the divine rite of the King of Heaven.  It seems important for us to understand that Matthew's Gospel does not offer a God who requires Jesus' death, or a society that demands it, but rather that the death of Jesus is determined by Jesus himself as an offering for the cause of the kingdom of God.  Jesus believes, in my opinion, that if he will go to Jerusalem he will intentionally fan the flames of the religious authorities, they will kill him, and he will then usher in the reign of God in this world and the next.

For the author of Matthew, for the apostolic generation and every successive faith generation that has followed, Jesus' will and the divine will are one.  His intention therefore is God's intention.  A new order, the creation itself, is being re-made.

We cannot miss in this passage the very important and theologically pieces. I refer again to Allison and Davies who I very much depend upon for their scholarship to help us remember and think through the deep meanings intertwined in this passage regarding Peter's witness and Peter's relationship with the Christ:

To begin with , Peter's pre-eminence makes his misunderstanding in effect universal: if even the favored Simon, rock of the church and recipient of divine revelation, did not grasp the truth, then, we may assume, that truth was hid from all. God's intentions for Jesus were so dark and mysterious that they simply could not, before the event, be comprehended.  This in large part explains why Jesus is such a lonely figure in Matthew and why he is trailed throughout the gospel by misapprehension and even opposition.  God's was are inscrutable.  At the same time, one no doubt demanding unprecedented responsibilities (cf. Chrysostom as quote on p 664).  Another lesson is to be found in this, that Peter's fall from the heights shows him to be anything but an idealized figure.  Like David and so many other biblical heroes, the apostle serves as warning that privileges and even divine election will not keep a body from evil mischief.  Finally, Peter must also, again like David and so many others, be intended to stand as a symbol of God's ever-ready willingness to bestow forgiveness on the imperfect.  For as soon as Peter has been quickly dismissed for words better left unsaid, Jesus selects him, along with two others, to be witnesses of the transfiguration.  Thus Peter, so far from being punished for his misguided though, is immediately granted a glimpse of the glorified Christ.  Is the reader not expected to see in this a triumph of grace?
Heavenly Father help our unbelief!  One of the beautiful things that has always intrigued me about the Gospel and about God's willingness to be in relationship with us is God's ability to commitment no matter how often we get it wrong.  Certainly we as individual followers and as a Church have not always gotten it right. We don't have to meditate long upon our personal and corporate sinfulness where in we have attempted to create a kingdom and a revelation that supports our power and authority over and against the divine wishes of the Godhead or the clear revelation of scripture to create a new order.

This passage challenges the preacher and church to look careful at itself and question where do we believe we have it so very correct and how are we possibly frustrating the will and mission of God and Jesus Christ?

And, can we celebrate together as the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion the reality that God's will is done despite our best and our worst efforts!  The beauty of the passage is Peter's complete obstruction that is overcome by the grace and single minded vision and actions of Jesus Christ.  Can we trust that we are buoyed up by the grace of God and that somehow our efforts work into the greater work of the Godhead.

Are we able to accept grace for ourselves and more importantly can we claim enough grace to withstand the reality that those who disagree with us may also receive the vision of Christ glorified.  We must read the whole Gospel and claim its revelation of truth for the whole body of faithful people.  We must be the community of life and love where the fallen are invited into the greater celebration of the triumph of Grace. There is in the end the truth that grace allows you and I and all those who agree and disagree with us the opportunity to see the Christ lifted high upon the cross, delivered into the depths of Hades, and rise on the third day transfiguring not only his own body but the whole creation into the kingdom and reign of God!


"Without reconciliation or acknowledged difference there can be no balance. Paul is also realistic. Peace is not always possible (12:18). We need to bear that in mind when Paul urges submission to the structures of authority in society in the next chapter. Sometimes it is not possible."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 11, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia

"The Good News that you heard included an invitation: right now, as you are, you can be a part of something -- specifically, a member of the Body of Christ...The tricky part is that the Body of Christ includes an awful lot of people who are every bit as difficult as we are."
Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Proper 18. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.

In our passage today Paul reminds us of the conversation thus far. We understand God's love, our response is gratitude, and that we are to give up ourselves and our lives to the Spirit and that in so doing we are transformed as is the world by God's efforts through us. We are the very members incorporate in the body of Christ - as the Eucharistic prayer reminds us.

In order for this all to be of true and lasting value we must understand that just as God's saving work is rooted in his love for us so our work in the world must also be genuinely set upon the foundation of love.  We are to be about the work of loving others as Christ loves us.  We to be as Christ was to us. Therefore we are to love our fellow Christians, to deal with them with honor.  In so doing we are serving God.  We are to practice hospitality even to those who test us; even to strangers.  Paul here literally means to let them into your home.

If we are to pursue what is good out of love then that will make of us, demand of us, a hospitality beyond the boundaries of the hospitality which is prevalent in the world around us.  This is the meaning of the Good News. Those who know the teachings of Jesus know that Jesus challenged us to bless those who persecute us or cause us suffering.  We are to honor even them because we are to be like Christ.  We are to live peaceably no matter what comes.  We are not to desire revenge upon them or deal with them as we think God should judge them! What! This completely undoes the church's role throughout much of its history. That is correct. Paul says we are not to be in charge of God's judgement but rather to love and be hospitable to all people...even those who don't agree with us, even those who we don't like, even those who seek to undermine us...EVERYONE! No exceptions.  Moreover, we are to leave the handling of sin to God. We are always to do good.

The thing I often wonder about those who decide to judge on God's behalf and who have decided to take an inherent stance on scripture never seem to take this part out and hold it up as God's word. It is a constant reminder to myself and to the church that we are to read the whole text and not just the parts of the text that give us power over others or the ability to shame and judge others.  It seems to me that we would do far better be hospitable and welcoming one another as a church than our current way of being with each other and the those desperately seeking this amazing loving and profoundly giving God.

As funny as it is...we might say that putting away the judgement seat and taking on the servant's mantle of hospitality may be the cross most of us need to take up in order to find our life in Jesus Christ.

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