Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are setting your mind not on divine things but human things!” And this is reason number one why Jesus would make a terrible rector. I have a couple of guesses of what might happen if I pulled our Senior Warden aside and said, “Get behind me Satan!” While I’ve never said, “Get behind me Satan” to anybody, I had a great opportunity to do so this past week. Don’t worry! It did not involve a parishioner…
I was walking into the hospital when a woman noticed my collar and asked me to pray with her. This is not unusual. I often stop and pray with random people in the elevator or hallway at the hospital. I feel this is God’s way of helping me remember what following Jesus is all about. Following Jesus is on God’s time and according to God’s agenda – not my own.
Anyway, I asked the woman, who was holding her two-year old daughter, what kind of prayers she wanted me to say. She immediately responded, “I need money.” Fair enough, I thought. She must be struggling with medical bills and needed food on the table. The woman continued, “I also want God to make me rich and famous and reach celebrity status.”
After I realized she wasn’t joking, I struggled to figure out how to respond. Now, this would have been the time to respond, “Get behind me Satan!” But I didn’t. I missed my chance. Instead, I asked God to help me synthesize all of this into a prayer.
I prayed a good Episcopalian prayer, “Lord God, giver of life and salvation, grant to your beloved daughters health, wealth, and prosperity according to your mercy and most gracious will and may your servants trust that you are doing for them things far better things than they can desire or pray for through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
While I did not flat out deny her prayer request, I also tried to make it clear that God doesn’t grant us our prayers according to our will but according to God’s own will. Ultimately, I do believe in a God who wants his beloved children to be healthy and safe and well provided for. And I also believe in a God who, through Christ, has given humanity everything it needs to make this a reality.
But I am also all too familiar with a world who gets in the way of making this prayer a reality, a world who sets its mind on human things instead of divine things. I am all too familiar with a world who is content on satisfying selfish desires, a world who takes shortcuts whenever it can. Sometimes, without realizing it, these shortcuts to health, wealth, and prosperity lead us down a road that goes nowhere, these short cuts lead us down a road to emptiness, these shortcuts are the ways of Satan.
Like the travelers on the road to Emmaus, Jesus ventures down this road to nowhere, finds us, and says, “Take up your cross. Those who want to save their life with lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Jesus is offering a way back, a way that gets us off this road to nowhere and back on the road to life by way of the cross.
And because Jesus does not offer the shortcut Peter and the disciples had hoped for, because Jesus does not recruit a rebel army to take back Jerusalem from Rome by force, because Jesus doesn’t promise cushy jobs in a royal tower, Peter rebukes Jesus. Peter can’t comprehend how the salvation of the Jews can come through one who will be rejected and killed by the religious authorities. But who can blame him?
The way of Jesus, the way of the cross doesn’t make sense according to the human point of view. From the human point of view, the road Jesus leads us on is filled with detours and potholes. The way of the cross seems foolish to the human mind as Peter points out in his rebuke of Jesus. But thankfully we don’t have to rely on the human point of view to get us home.
The way of the cross shows us a God who does not conform to human desires or expectations. Our God is not a politician. Our God will endure even the worst kind of evil this world can muster just to keep his promise to be with us even to the end of the ages. Our God will not be bribed into a popularity contest for ours is a God whose commitment to truth is unwavering.
As the reformer, Martin Luther would say, the human way prefers a theology of glory over a theology of the cross. The theology of glory seeks fame and fortune and popularity while the theology of the cross seeks justice and mercy and truth no matter the cost – even suffering and death. And as Christians, we proclaim the theology of the cross, we follow the way of justice and mercy and truth, a way forged in the way of Jesus Christ – the one who is risen from the dead.
Even more, a Christian takes up her own cross, a Christian pursues the work of justice and mercy and truth in her own context. For a few, taking up the cross means a career change, it means being a missionary or becoming an ordained person. For others, taking up the cross means giving up a life of fortune to work for a non-profit. For some, taking up the cross means giving up time to volunteer in the community.
But for most, taking up the cross simply means being attentive to the need the suffering servant in our midst. Our obedience to God in the way of Jesus means offering mercy when the world is ready to condemn. Our obedience to God in the way of Jesus means speaking against an injustice when we see it take place. Our obedience to God in the way of Jesus means proclaiming truth when lies threaten to lead people from the ways of God.
In our Bible study on Tuesday, I asked the class, “What have you had to give up in order to be a follower of Jesus?” Someone said, “I’ve had to give up a lot of my time.” Another said, “I’ve had to sacrifice going on vacation.” I said, somewhat jokingly, “a career on the PGA tour.” These are all relatively minor as they relate to the price Jesus paid and the price many have paid to remain obedient to the way of the cross.
However, our faith demands you ask that question, “What do I have to give up in order to be a follower of Jesus?” And like someone in our Bible study said and like Jesus himself said, when we give something up to follow Jesus, we learn that we aren’t giving up anything at all. Instead, we are gaining everything. We are gaining the world Jesus died for us to see and be a part of. Those who lose their life for my sake will save it.
The truth of the gospel, the truth of salvation is truly a paradox. Instead of following our own desires, we are called to follow the desires of God. But that doesn’t mean we are called to be miserable. Rather, in my experience, following the desires of God reveal to us that God’s ways really are better than our ways. Following the desires of God give us a joy and an inner peace that human ways can never manufacture.
In my experience, doing the things God desires are actually the things we ourselves desire deep down in our soul for God made us in God’s image. Doing the things God desires help us let go of our human desires because when we grow in the way of God, we die to the insatiable need to find fulfillment in human wants and desires, in human things. For in the end, what will it profit you to gain the whole world and forfeit the life God prepares for you in Christ Jesus? Amen.