A Hero's Relationship
Year A, Proper 17, RCL
I think, in some way, we all would like to have a closer relationship with God. We would love to be on God’s right-hand side. We want to be with God, support God’s work, and be ready to do what God asks. And this is true for Simon Peter. Peter was the student who always had his hand up first, like Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. Simon Peter stepped out first when the opportunities came his way. As you may recall, it was Simon Peter who tried to walk on water. Build huts for the prophets. And today it is Simon Peter identifies Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. This is just six verses prior to where we picked up in our Gospel. At this moment, Simon Peter is as close to Christ as anyone has ever been. Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the anointed one; the one who would steer the Jewish people to freedom. He will conquer the Romans, rule the kingdom, and lead the people into a time of peace and prosperity. Simon Peter was so jazzed that he recognized the Messiah. But then, Jesus begins to tell his disciples what it means to be the Messiah. He will undergo great suffering, be killed, and on the third day, be raised. I’d imagine that all the disciples were speechless. It doesn’t make sense to any of the prophecies or stories they have been told. But Peter, being the star student, the one to raise his hand first, says, Jesus, you are wrong. “God forbid it. . . This must never happen to you.” In this instant, Peter goes from being the closest person to Jesus to the farthest. “Get behind me, Satan! . . . For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
What we find is that Peter’s thoughts are not God's thoughts or God’s ways. Peter’s thoughts are centered on what Peter wants. He wants to see an end to the Roman occupation. He wants to see justice for his people. He wants to sit at the right hand of the Messiah as Jesus rules the new Jerusalem.
These feelings that Peter has are all too human. We can see this in how we treat one another and how we seek higher positions of authority and status. “Our thoughts are self-centered, and God's thoughts are other-centered. Our ways are self-serving, and God's ways are self-giving. God’s nature is to give himself away for the sake of others and our ways are to save ourselves at any cost.”[i]
This giving away of self is what we witness in Christ’s suffering and death. And it is through this death that Christ gives to all. In our lives, we witness other people who have intentionally walked into danger or death. From civil rights activists who were beaten or killed to those who entered buildings with live fire, trying to save the innocent. We call these people heroes. We know that a hero has done something that many of us would never do. They give of themselves even if it takes their life, knowing or at least hoping that what they do will save others.
Many of us live in fear. We are afraid of the unknown. The stranger on the street. The person who knocks on our door. The invisible intruder who will come to steal all that we have if we do not lock our doors. We are afraid that someone will take our life. But what I believe Jesus is trying to tell us is that if you give your life away, no one can take it.
Once again, Jesus says, “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.” We know that this message is not how we are wired. Turning our life over is not what the world around us expects. I think for most, if not all of us, it is difficult to go out of your way to help a stranger, let alone if you have to sept into danger to do so. Jesus is saying to be the son of God is to give yourself away for the sake of others, and this is hard for Peter and most of us to get our heads wrapped around. It takes a while for Peter to understand this. Remember he is the one who denies Christ three times before the cock crowed. But eventually, we see Peter's transformation as he builds the Church.
What is also true is that I have seen a few people in this parish transformed. When we started our evening prayer service there were clear signs of discomfort between some of our parishioners and our visitors. But recently I have noticed that most of our volunteers are much more comfortable with our visitors. Sitting in the same pew, sharing a prayer book. Making connections with strangers. This is community building. It is building bridges between our differences. We see a stranger as not so strange but a fellow human being – a sister or brother in Christ. I am also hopeful that this is one of the reasons this ministry has grown recently. We used to have 2, 3, or 4 visitors, and now we have 4, 5, or 6.
I know we all cannot be heroes, but I also know that Christ asks us to grow and stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone, especially in ways to serve those in need. It is through this type of growth that I believe we find a closer relationship with God.
[i] Pastor Jim Summerville – “A Sermon for Every Sunday”