(Volunteers giving of their time and engergy to put a new roof on the Pavilion at Camp Hope)
To Live for Self or For Others
by Bishop Chris Giesler
Preaching Text: Matthew 16:21-28 (While this is the assigned text for the day I would suggest reading the entire story and use Matthew 16:13-28)
Soon after John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River in Matthew chapter 4, Jesus is led out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit for his forty-day retreat or time of discernment. There, Jesus is confronted with temptations to use his God-given gifts for self-gratification, self-aggrandizement, and self-promotion. Instead, Jesus settles on focusing his efforts on the in-breaking of the kingdom of God into the world. In Luke’s telling of Jesus’ wilderness temptation experience, the writer ends the account by saying, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.” Luke 4:13
In our Gospel reading assigned for this Sunday, it appears that the opportune time has arrived.
In the 5th grade, my good friend Mike Warren ran for student body president, a position that he would have taken when we moved up to 6th grade. At that point, he would have become king of the whole school – or so we thought. The election was a much anticipated, and hotly contested race between Mike Warren and Melissa Breedlove. Now, as cute as we all thought Melissa Breedlove to be, there was no way that we would allow a girl to beat us.
And so we all went home and raided our sisters’ “Tiger Beat” magazines. Those of you older than 45 or so will most likely know what I mean. This magazine kept young teenage girls in the know about their favorite boy bands and recording artists like the Osmond Brothers, the Jackson 5, Bobby Sherman, and David Cassidy with the Partridge Family. We cut out pictures of these dream boys and wrote captions like: “For Student Body president, Donny Osmond wants you to vote for Mike Warren.“ You see, we were politically savvy 5th graders. We figured that Mike already had the votes of all the boys in the school, but these posters would cut in on the girl vote enough to tip the election in our favor. It was a foolproof plan until it was time for the candidates to address the student body. This was the chance for both candidates to show the whole student body why they were the most qualified. Melissa went first and did a pretty good job, but we knew that Mike could do better. However, none of us had helped Mike with his speech, and after he delivered it, we figured his mom and dad must have helped him with it. From a 5th-grade boy’s point of view, it was a disaster. While Mike could have talked about the efforts he would make to recess longer and to limit the amount of homework that could be assigned, he didn’t. You see, these were the issues that would have swung the vote of any self-respecting 5th grader. Instead, Mike focused on the mess the boy’s bathroom became by the end of every day. He talked about how hard we were making it for the janitor to clean up our fun. You see, since we had very few male teachers in the school, the boy’s bathroom was the safe haven away from adults for us guys. And yes, almost every day, a few boys would wad up wet paper towels and throw them at the ceiling to see how long they would stay there. My guess is that they usually stayed up there until the janitor scraped them off with a long pole of some sort. Now, while most of us boys never actually participated in such vandalism ourselves, we would undoubtedly cheer on those who did. And any effort to curb the fun of what that room meant for most of the boys in the school was met with immediate rejection.
Alas, the election was the next day, so there was no real chance to do damage control, and Melissa Breedlove won in a landslide.
I think this is what Peter and the disciples felt as they listened to Jesus’ description of what would happen to him when they showed up in Jerusalem. Everything was looking up for Jesus right now. Jesus was riding high in the polls, and Peter had just nailed the answer when Jesus asked who they thought he was. Peter said: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)” Jesus’ response to Peter must have blown Peter away, “Blessed are you, Simon son of John! 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. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
But no sooner than Peter got these words out of his mouth, Jesus defined what being the Messiah meant. Rather than assuming a throne, Jesus now tells them he must suffer, die, and then be raised. Peter speaks up and objects, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But Jesus rebukes him because Peter’s words are a new temptation. This seems to be one of those opportune times.
Jesus’ life is one of complete obedience to the Father. It is about self-denial. It is about dying to ourselves to find life with God. Jesus invites his followers to take up their crosses, too. These crosses are intentional acts of sacrifice that help reconcile the world to God. These crosses that we bear to bring others to Jesus.
- I think of Sunday School teachers
- I think of the tithes and offerings that we share with the church
- I think of donations we make to charitable causes
- I think of the countless volunteer hours that make this church what it is
These are the crosses that help us to define our mission!
Remember what Jesus said: “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?”
Friends are better friends when they give completely to each other; marriages are stronger when both partners give of themselves completely to each other and can trust that; employees are better employees when they work for the betterment of their companies; employers are better employers when they give as much as they can of themselves for the benefit of their employees. Congregations are better congregations when their members give of themselves for the betterment of the whole; congregations are most successful when they give of themselves not only for their members but for the benefit of the kingdom of God.
Will we be a church withholding, arguing, defensive, and judgmental? Or will we be bearing the crosses that Jesus is asking us to carry for the betterment of God’s kingdom?