13th Sunday after Pentecost
September 3, 2017
“Stuff I’m Still Learning – Take 2”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 16 as previously read.
My dear friends,
Know what this is? Yes, it’s an empty champagne bottle, but do you know what it REALLY is? It is an heirloom, more or less. I’ll explain. We bought this champagne 3 years ago along with a carton of Florida orange juice and we waited for the phone to ring. When the phone eventually did ring, and it was from Good Shepherd, we knew what that meant. You were calling me to be your new pastor and I accepted. We made mimosas from that champagne and OJ to celebrate the call and we started packing our moving boxes that same day.
We relocated to Sarasota, I was installed as your new pastor, and the next week I was up front to preach my very first sermon at Good Shepherd. The Gospel text that day is the same assigned Gospel text we have today from Matthew 16. The sermon my very first Sunday with you was called “Stuff I’m Still Learning,” and some of you may remember pieces of that sermon. You might remember I referred to the “bird house” at the end of our block where all the weird, big birds congregate. I mentioned the need to stay away from the intersection of Honore and Ashton, which is still not a bad idea. I also spoke of learning about the “little” rain storms we occasionally get in south Florida. Don’t think I need to remark too much on that since this past month we received more than 10 inches of rain, most of that coming in this last week; what a mess!
And so, here we are. 3 years later. Since that first sermon in August 2014, I have preached 192 other sermons in the days that followed. Today we come right back to where we started from 3 years ago and today I’d like to take a second look at this text from Matthew 16 and see what further truths there are to learn 3 years later.
We don’t know where today’s lesson took place. Jesus and the disciples had been in the northern Gentile area around Caesarea Philippi earlier in chapter 16. Where they go next is to the Transfiguration event (chpt. 17) which could have been either Mount Tabor to the south or Mount Hermon to the north. We don’t know where the words of today’s Gospel were spoken, but we know where they affect us – right in the middle of our hearts and lives.
In verse 21, Jesus tried to explain to the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. But Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Wait! Why would Peter do such a thing? Probably because this was most certainly NOT the way he expected Jesus’ ministry to go or end up. Peter didn’t envision a Messiah/Christ or Savior who would suffer and die; that kind of Messiah was not a part of Jewish thinking at that time. The vast majority expected a military warrior, a political powerhouse who would kick out the Romans or anyone else who dared to try and occupy Israel again; a King to restore the throne of King David forever. That’s hard to do when you’re dead; poor, misguided Peter.
Don’t we too have the same misguided belief? Nothing bad should happen to me because I go to church and I believe in Jesus and I give money to causes. Nothing bad should happen to me because I’m a good person. That may be true – you may be a good person – but since when do we think that bad things shouldn’t happen to us? We should expect bad things all the more! Bad things DO happen to good people.
Maybe I naively thought that moving to South Florida and Sarasota would be like living on vacation. The last 3 years have been anything but! Our family and medical trials and tribulations have been head-scratchingly difficult ever since our arrival, and now I stand on the verge on another surgery…a fairly significant one!
But here’s something I’m still learning. When we are governed by our human will instead of God’s divine will, then we do get confused and anxious and upset. A confused human will cried out “why me!” God’s divine will declares “why not you?” Our human will announces “I cannot.” God’s divine will proclaims “you will.” I have learned that giving up your sinful human will and in favor of God’s divine will is a very liberating experience; let God be God in your life!
As the people of God we are called to daily die not only to our sinful desires, but to die to our own will and take up the will of God. Hard to understand and comprehend? You bet…and I’m still learning that’s always the case! When we try to understand God’s ways, thinking we know better, is a quick way to be reminded that God knows so much more of what we need like forgiveness of our sins, salvation, and life, which is why He tried to explain His passion to the disciples in the first place.
Additionally, Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” To give up our lives, to deny ourselves and take up our cross, points to God’s will for our lives over our own will. Over the last 3 years I have had to accept a lot of God’s will instead of my own. Maybe I thought coming to Florida would be all sunshine and fresh fruit and golf, instead we’ve dealt with pain, loss, death, frustration, anxiety and fear. It’s not just me and it’s not just us. It happens to ALL of us. Do we regularly, day by day, moment by moment, examine what we want in life seen through the light of what God wants for us knowing they don’t always match up? The further our hearts are transformed to love like Jesus and the more our minds are trained to think like Jesus, we will have a life in which our daily actions reflect Jesus like sunlight reflected off the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on a still evening’s sunset.
I’ve been here in Florida for 3 years, and there is still so much for me to do in Sarasota both personally and professionally and I hope to do that with you. And as we learn and grow together, we’re never going to know it all…not in 3 years or 33 or even 333 years. But I do know this. Those who can truly deny themselves and take up their crosses and bear them in faithful discipleship and stand firm until the end will stand out in the world through a transformed life that will be evident to see by all. Is there truly anything in life more rewarding than that?
That’s some of the stuff I’m still learning. And so, here’s to another 3 years together, my friends, and many more to come as God wills it for all of us.