The Brick and Mortar of the Kingdom of God

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, September 3, 2017, Pentecost 13, Proper 17, Year A, Matthew 16:21-28

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Good morning. It has been a gorgeous week this week, hasn’t it? Fall seems to have arrived early. I’ve seen some red leaves on 115 and the mornings have been cool. The salmon have been in the river for a few weeks now and they never get it wrong. All indications look like we will have a lovely fall and a wonderful winter here.

This past week, I took our kids to school to meet their new teachers and to have an ice cream cone. I went to a BBQ and feasted on ribs and sausage and had a margarita. I made some visits to parishioners. I had some meetings at church in the library and drank a few cups of coffee. I had the oil changed in the Prius. We met with the bishop. I cleaned the house. I read. I went to “Shop and Save” to get groceries. I played a couple of board games. I walked the dog. I prayed. My cousin is in town from Arizona and so I fished on the Betsie River. It was a pretty normal week. It was a good week. Not too memorable. Plenty of work to do and home life activities to fill the hours.

It’s odd how calm and pleasant things can be for me in my own personal context when there are others who are in great peril and distress. When there are other families who are suffering from drought or flooding or who are in other kinds of personal crisis. I don’t mention this because I’m interested I felt bad about my activities in the calm even though there is chaos happening in other parts of the country and world. Kids need to go back to school to meet their teachers. Work needs to be done. The oil in our cars needs to be changed. The bishop must be met. The present and the future are important.

But I’m sure you have seen the news. I’m sure you have read the paper. I’m sure you know somebody affected by Hurricane Harvey or know of someone who knows someone who has been affected by it. I’m sure that you also, carried the weight of this catastrophic event with you as you washed the dishes, or drove to the doctor, or walked your dog. I’m guessing you went through some various emotions about that storm and those who have suffered and will suffer in the aftermath. It is hard to imagine miles of a city being underwater. Hard to comprehend that. Hard to imagine the numbers of people being rescued from their homes by government employees and from boat owners from all over the country. Difficult to comprehend what 18 trillion gallons of water looks like coming from the sky. It is difficult to imagine because we live in a county with one traffic light. And because the weather has been so nice this summer and this past week.

And yet, we have seen the images. Did you see the picture of the women in the nursing home? Sitting in Lazy-boys with water up to their waste? One of them knitting as they waited to be rescued? You have seen the pictures of blocks and blocks of sub-divisions underwater. You have read articles about the insurance nightmare that is coming for so many. You have heard irresponsible pastors and theologians and politicians as they look to gain political points by blaming this flood on some kind of illogical moral trespass.

You and I know that cities and small towns on the Gulf Coast are living a reality that will be long-lasting and a reality that is much different from our own. We know it in our heads because we saw the aftermath in New Orleans and because we know that hurricanes bring with it, devastation.

In today’s gospel reading, the author of Matthew tells us a similar story. The author has the luxury and privilege to tell the story after the fact, to offer his important perspective on the life and death of Jesus the Christ. The gospel authors offer a few predictions of the passion as things get nearer and nearer to the end for Jesus and this is the first prediction in the Matthean text.

Matthew wants the reader to know that prophets are killed for their ideals. The author wants to make it clear that this is the path that prophets walk. He wants the reader to know that the path leads to the cross…..
And… the author wants the reader to understand, that Jesus is aware that this is coming for him and that he is a willing participant. This is an important claim for Matthew because he wants the reader to look back at the death of Jesus as important. He doesn’t want the reader to lose hope or to see the life and ministry of Jesus as a waste of time. This is both helpful and problematic for me depending on which theological truth I am trying to wrap my mind around.

The portion of this text that is so intriguing to me this week is the role that Peter plays. Jesus declares what is happening and what will happen in the near future. That he will be killed as a martyr and that God will raise him from the grave three days later.

And this reality for Peter is too much. Now Jesus has gone too far. Peter does not think that dying a martyr’s death is part of this narrative. He doesn’t think it will accomplish what needs to be accomplished and doesn’t want to lose his friend and teacher. He doesn’t want to see his time with Jesus as wasted. Doesn’t want to see the past three years as useless and as folly.
Revolution does not end in death for those who are fighting against oppression unless the oppressor is the victor.

“What are you talking about Jesus? That’s not how this is going to end. We’re going out on top… not going out nailed to a cross… That’s not how I see things, Jesus.”

Though Peter is close to Jesus… maybe closer than anybody else… he cannot fathom what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen… He just doesn’t have the lenses to see this. He cannot understand it and will only see glimpses of that reality in the future as he walks his own path to a martyr’s death.

The author wants the reader to know how shocking this statement is from Jesus for Peter. Wants us to know that the reality for Jesus did not match with reality for Peter. And the author wants the reader to know that even though Peter finds zero hope in this Divine plan, that Jesus sees great hope in it. That is tough on Peter.

But we know the rest of the story for Jesus and for Peter. We know that the mystery of the Passion does, in fact, offer great hope.

That Peter finds that hope and that he himself dies because he believed in that hope. That hope strengthened him for the journey he will eventually take. The same journey that Jesus takes.

And what do we have hope in? What hope do we believe in when it is too difficult to comprehend the reality of the Gulf Coast? As a people of Hope, what do we see when we watch the news or read the paper? When hope seems distant? When goodness seems uncertain and when it seems absent in the face of disaster. What does hope look like for us when we have our own personal disasters at home as we walk with family members who are ill and who may not ever get better? What does hope look like? What does hope look like?

Maybe you find comfort and hope in Matthew’s theology of the cross? Maybe you find comfort and hope as you see volunteers who have spent their own time and money to rescue folks who are stranded and in peril. Maybe you find hope and comfort by coming to this place on a Sunday morning to say the prayers that you have said for years and years. To profess a creed that is problematic and deeply moving. Maybe you find hope and comfort in the relationships that you have spent a lifetime building.

Or maybe… you are at the time in your life that like Peter… Hope is incomprehensible. Hope is far off… Hope seems unreachable.

 

In those times, remember that hopelessness is not the end of the story… remember that the rest of the story is coming. It wasn’t the end of the story for Peter and it’s not the end of the story for you and for me.

Because hope is intentional. Hope looks into the face of hopelessness and declares God’s goodness. Hope acts in defiance of a reality that seeks to be self-serving and self-preserving. It looks at those who are suffering and offers a hand… or a cup of coffee…. or a boat-ride to safety. Hope is courageous. Hope is the brick and mortar of the Kingdom of God.

St. Philip’s, may you find hope today in these words from today’s reading from Romans:

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”