Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Throwaway Life

Trinity, Moorhead
August 31, 2008
Installation of Pastors Marsha Anderson, Josh Graber and Emmy Isaacson
Matthew 16:21-28

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

These days I’m thinking about teachers—especially those who teach preschool, kindergarten and first grade classes.

Why them, in particular? Because at the start of every school year our littlest ones come to these teachers…like free-range livestock, used to doing their own thing, heading off into a thousand different directions…..and these patient teachers guide our wee ones’ boundless energies into the basics of social interaction….things as basic as how to line up.

How to line up. What a crucial life skill!

I realize that “lining up” can seem like terribly “conformist” behavior….but imagine a world in which no one knew how to line up, a world in which no one had any patience for forming a line and waiting in a line?

Which brings me, curiously, to this morning’s gospel lesson. I’m pretty sure, you see, that “lining up” is what this text from Matthew 16 is all about.

Throughout Matthew’s gospel Jesus has been teaching his disciples how to line up—Jesus has been helping them to know their place in the line, and Jesus has been leading them.

But the disciples, like little “free range” children, were reluctant to line up properly. Like herding cats or hauling frogs in a wheelbarrow, Jesus has to keep stopping the parade and getting everybody back in line, back in their place.

Here in our gospel lesson, it’s Simon Peter who gets out of line—rather dramatically!

Earlier in this 16th chapter of Matthew Simon had received from Jesus a new nickname—Peter, petros, the rock of faith. He’s the one who gets out of line “big time” in this morning’s gospel reading.

What got Peter so agitated was Jesus’ prediction of where this line was going, where this parade was heading. Having correctly identified Jesus as God’s anointed one, Peter now hears Jesus describe just exactly what that means—how it means suffering, being killed and on the third day being raised again. Jesus defines his way of life as a “throwaway,” give-it-all-up-for-others way of life.

And this Peter could not bear to hear, so he fell out of line, went up front, got ahead of Jesus, got into Jesus’ face to say: “God forbid, Jesus! This must never happen to you, Jesus!”

Peter wasn’t being ornery or “contrary” here…nor was he confused. No--Peter saw all too well, where things were heading—and he wanted no part of it, not for Jesus, not for himself, not for anybody else.

It was as if Peter realized that his leader was about to march right off the edge of a cliff and take everybody else with him. So Peter got out of line (so he thought) to prevent a catastrophe.

But Jesus didn’t see it that way. In fact Jesus responded to Peter about as forcefully as Jesus responded to anyone anywhere in the gospels: “But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, ‘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.’”

Simon the petros, the rock of faith, all of a sudden becomes Simon the satana, the Satan, the Adversary! Peter the Rock morphs into Peter the scandalon, Peter the Stumbling Block!

That’s what getting out of line with Jesus will do to you!

And so Jesus has to get Peter back into line, Jesus has to tell Peter to “fall in,” he has to remind Peter of where he belongs: behind him, following Jesus, not ahead of Jesus.

There’s only one Savior, here, Jesus (in effect) tells Peter….and it ain’t you.

And there’s a word we all need to hear. This world has exactly one savior—and it’s not you, nor is it me.

Dear pastors Marsha, Josh and Emmy….maybe this is a word especially for you, as you get put into your places (installed, that is!) this morning….as you fall into Jesus’ lineup here at Trinity.

There is exactly one Savior of the world—and you’re not it.

I say this because especially for us pastors, it’s tempting sometimes to think that maybe we are “it”—if not the Savior of the world, perhaps the savior of this congregation or this vital ministry or this crucial project or this really important team.

And if our egos don’t get us in trouble, the good people of God might help us, by saying things like: “We can’t meet that evening—the pastor has a scheduling conflict.” It can start as subtly as that, an over-dependence on pastoral leadership that joins forces with our all-too-human tendency to think too highly of ourselves.

“Get behind me,” Jesus says to Peter and to you and to me. Know your place in my lineup. I’m Jesus and I’ll be your Savior for today; I’ll take the lead here….and I call you to get behind me, to follow me, and to travel with me wherever I take you.

And where will Jesus take us? As much as Peter might have thought he was saving Jesus’ neck, he was really trying to save himself--so caught up, so bound up was Peter in doing things the human way—the safe way, the save your neck way, the stay in charge way.

Where will Jesus take us? Jesus will take us into the heights and breadth and depth of divine life—which is a life that we can ever cling to. It is, rather a throwaway life, a life that is gained only in the losing of it. Jesus bids us dare to risk everything on the reality that only as we let go of life does life come back to us and stay with us forever.

And this is more, much more than a lofty philosophical or ethical principle. This is Jesus’ own way of living and dying and living again. This is how God is bringing in his kingdom, refashioning you and me and the whole creation. This life of utter abandon and faithful recklessness is what we were created for, and what God in Christ is even now recreating us for.

Just what that might mean at any given moment in our lives, Jesus doesn’t spell out—thankfully. And yet I wonder….I wonder what it might look like to follow Jesus so radically, so totally, in this time and place.

I wonder whether following Jesus in this throwaway life of his might mean parting with our money with greater recklessness….giving so generously that the IRS suspects we’re up to something shady.

Or: I wonder if following Jesus in this throwaway life of his might mean setting aside our comfortableness, turning ourselves so completely “inside out” that we refashion every way of “doing church” so that it’s aimed at newcomers and outsiders who have yet to hear the gospel in a believable way.

Or: I wonder whether following Jesus in this throwaway life of his might mean sacrificing our respectability and embracing the marginalized so completely that we become known as “those people” who are always hanging out with the wrong crowd, letting just anybody into “their” church, helping just anybody who needs it.

Dear friends, as we line up behind Jesus our only leader, our only Savior, he will present us with opportunities to give it all up, to take breath-taking risks, to put everything that our humanity tells us is precious—to put that all in jeopardy, to embrace Jesus’ own wild, reckless “give it all away” life.

And that, dear pastors Marsha, Josh, and Emmy….is also an invitation to you , as you take up your callings here at Trinity this morning. Whatever else you are called to preach and teach and live out, let this much be crystal clear, let this message shine through (in the words of Frederick Dale Bruner): “The Christian life is a ‘throwaway’ life, a life that in a great dare decides that Jesus is what life is all about and that following Jesus is the greatest adventure” of all. (Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary — Volume 2: The Churchbook, Matthew 13–28, p. 156)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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