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September 3, 2023

14th Sunday After Pentecost

Jeremiah 15:15-21

Psalm 26:1-8

Romans 12:9-21

Matthew 16:21-28

Pentecost 14

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you from the one who calls us to a way of life. Amen

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost

A way of life

is a series of choices

that are consistent with one another,

who we are

is revealed more by the choices we make

than who we claim to be,

and choices have to be made

when paths whether real or metaphorical intersect,

where they cross.

Who we are is revealed at the cross.

Before the cross

became shorthand for “Christian” and “salvation”

before people decorated it and wore it about their necks and on their hands,

before we carried it into houses of worship,

the cross marked a moment in time,

a decision point,

the place where life was uncertain,

where two roads diverged and a choice had to be made.

In the Roman Empire

The physical manifestation of the cross

was both a tool and a symbol of condemnation,

used by the empire to signal

when the person crucified upon it

had made what the prevailing power determined as the wrong choice.

To choose to go against the prevailing power of the world

is the road less traveled,

and going down that road makes all the difference.

In our gospel today

Jesus tells his disciples

what will come from following the path he has chosen to take,

he will go to Jerusalem and there he will cross

(which we also use as a word to mean make angry isn’t language fun!)

the people in power

and as a result of his life lived this way

he will suffer and be killed

and he throws in here: be raised on the third day.

I don’t think Peter hears that last bit,

or understands what it means,

but he does understand the part about suffering and dying

and he doesn’t like it

and says “God forbid”

and begins to try to exorcize the demon from Jesus

who is making him say these things.

Now remember,

just moments before

Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the messiah, the son of the living God

and Jesus affirmed that proclamation,

commended Peter

and made him the cornerstone of the church.

And in this next instant

Jesus turns to Peter and says

“get behind me Satan”

and just like that the corner stone has turned into a stumbling block.

the problem Jesus says,

is at this crossroads in time

Peter has chosen to think of himself rather than God.

To set his mind, not on divine things, but on human things.

And Jesus lays it out for the disciples,

the way of life of a follower of Jesus

is a way of life that focuses on God

rather than themselves,

of choosing to serve God’s desires

rather than their own or those in power,

choices that often will come into conflict with the powers that be

but in the end actually lead to life,

It seems counterintuitive but it’s true,

a full life is lived beyond ourselves

while when we focus on our own desires,

or even our own fears,

the steps we take to preserve our lives

often lead to a restricting of our life.

It reminds me of this parable, there was this couple who lived in the city but began to become afraid of getting hurt by living in the city, all those dangerous people there, so they moved to the suburbs and felt safer until they realized that dangers lurked there too and so the stayed within their neighborhood and felt better until they realized that their neighborhood could be dangerous as well and so they lived within their block until they realized that there too lay the possibility of getting hurt, so they stayed within their yard until that too revealed itself to be dangerous and they moved to the house and gradually the rooms in their house revealed themselves as dangerous until the couple retreated to the closet where nothing could hurt them. In seeking to save their lives, they gave up everything that makes up a life.

Our lives are defined by the choices we make,

the choices we make reveal our priorities,

the choice is simple Jesus says,

either deny yourself

- that basic instinct aided and abetted by the powers of the world

that says take care of yourself exclusively

you are the most important-

or deny Jesus-

the way, the truth, the life.

This is the choice presented to us

every time we come to a crossroads,

it’s not a one and done decision,

as Peter shows us,

even a corner stone can become a stumbling block

when decisions are focused on self-interest rather than God.

We are at a crossroads

in life of our congregation,

And you could argue in many other places in life

and the choices we make will reveal the way of life we have chosen,

who we follow and who we deny,

which road we have decided to take.

If we want to be followers of Jesus,

we have some choices to make,

not about salvation

God has already taken care of that

but about how we go about seeking life.

And yes, some things are out of our control,

notice that Paul in his advice to living a Christian life to the Romans

says “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

We can choose to live life one way,

how others choose to live, how they choose to respond to how we live

is out of our control,

but we still control how we respond to their response.

Jesus knew how the people in Jerusalem

were going to respond to him,

and he went anyway.

When he told Peter this,

Peter would have had him change his actions,

avoid the suffering to come,

we humans, when we set our mind on human things

tend to avoid suffering at all costs,

and yet more often than not

the solution is to go through the suffering rather than around it.

Jesus went through the cross and the tomb,

and three days later rose again,

for the sake of the world.

When Jesus tells his followers to deny themselves,

take up their cross and follow him

he is telling them to set their mind on divine things,

to not be afraid to go through suffering for the sake of others,

he tells them this knowing what he is about to do for them

Even so these are difficult choices and often counterintuitive,

we get scared and focus on ourselves just like Peter

We want to take the more frequently traveled road

that we think will be safer because so many people have gone on it before us

But Jesus calls us to the road less traveled

A road with bumps along the way yes

But also a road with forgiveness

Jesus’ relationship with Peter shows us

That God is willing to forgive,

even eager to forgive

and with the forgiveness of God

a stumbling block can be turned back into a corner stone.

And that makes all the difference.


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