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Sermon for Trinity 12

Last week Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and Jesus proclaimed Peter as the rock on which his Church would be built, and the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

After that profound moment, we read of Jesus predicting his own death at the hands of the religious authorities of the day.

Peter – the rock and the keeper of the keys of heaven – was appalled. Possibly in the light of his newly acquired status, he sought a ‘private’ word with Jesus. But … Peter’s new status and ‘matey’ chat backfired – in fact, it backfired in a spectacular way.

Jesus said to Peter:

Get behind me, Satan! – You are a stumbling block to me – You are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.

In such a short time – in a matter of moments – the newly-declared custodian of the future of Christ’s mission, both on earth and in heaven, is being attacked for his lack of commitment and consistency.

Peter must have felt shocked, even humiliated, by this sudden attack from Jesus.

But … Jesus spells it out for Peter, and for us –

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Today’s gospel reading underlines the importance of self-examination.

Peter has been promised a great future in God’s service, but there is a journey to be undertaken before that future can be fully realised.

Of course, we know that, despite Peter’s human fallibility, and because of his determination to be a good disciple, he did go on to be the rock on which the Church was built, and he did go on to make the ultimate gesture of self-sacrifice in the Lord’s name.

The American theologian, Tom Long, wrote this:

A life that is spent soothing the pain of the sick, caring for children in need, hammering nails in houses for those without shelter, sharing bread with the hungry, visiting those in prison, and denying oneself may seem like a squandered life in the economy of a self-centred age but, in the storehouse of heaven, it is a lavish treasure.

Peter begins to get it right after Jesus’ rebuke in today’s gospel.

Jesus said: Get behind me, Satan!

When we try to lead;
when we place ourselves in the position of honour;
when we try to set the agenda –
we are putting ourselves in the place of God.

Jesus said: Get behind me, Satan!

When we are behind;  when we are following Jesus –
then we are ready and in the right place to become true disciples.

Jesus said: Get behind me, Satan!

We have seen how all this works for Peter, but how does it work for us?

Time and again I have seen people ‘give up’ on the demands made by Jesus because they get in the way of the path they would choose for themselves.

In the course of many years I have seen complacency and inconvenience challenge the faith of many, and that was just about practical and financial issues.

I cannot begin to imagine how those people would have responded to Jesus’ demand that, as faithful disciples, we should be visiting the sick and the lonely, or joining the community in prayer (and not just on Sundays), or the whole host of other things we are called to do in our Lord’s name.

Jesus tells us that if we are to be true disciples we must  deny ourselves and take up our own crosses.

Jesus is telling us to get behind him and follow wherever he may lead us.

Jesus’ call in our lives is demanding and it will certainly be an inconvenience and disruption to our daily routines but … that is what being a disciple means!

I pray that none of us will ever hear Jesus saying: Get behind me, Satan! or You are a stumbling block to me or You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

Rather, I pray that we may be certain that we have heeded Christ’s call; stepped out of our comfort zones; denied ourselves; taken up our crosses; and followed him.

It is my prayer that each and every one of us may recognize the joy of being called into God’s service by heeding the words of his Son, our Saviour, the Messiah, the Son of the living God – Jesus Christ.

Amen.