Sermon: Embracing the Divine Outlook: Transitioning from Self to Service and Sacrifice

Be Thou My Vision  --  Mike Moyers

RCL [Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28]

As we delve into the passage from today's Gospel, let us take a moment to uncover the layers of meaning hidden within these verses. In this encounter between Jesus and Peter, we find not only a glimpse into the disciples' reactions but also a profound lesson about the nature of Christ's mission and our call to follow Him.

To truly grasp the significance, let us explore the context in which these words were spoken. The scene unfolds amidst the disciples' growing understanding of Jesus' identity as the Son of God and their expectations of His earthly mission. 

In today's Gospel, Jesus foretells his impending crucifixion and death. Peter reacts strongly, exclaiming, 'May it never happen to you, Lord!' How can the Son of God, the way, the truth, the life himself, be defeated by death?

Peters statement reflects the human tendency to misunderstand the divine purpose.  The concept of the Son of God being defeated by death seems incomprehensible.  Peter sees death as the ultimate end for all of us, as the tragic ending of the circle of life, and he believes that Jesus is saying that he, too, will eventually be defeated by it.

But Jesus explains, 'You're focusing on human concerns, not divine matters,' and unveils a profound truth – that the divine plan surpasses human comprehension. This exchange invites us to reflect on our own perceptions and recognize that God's ways often challenge our limited understanding. Peter imagines that death will be the end of Christ, because he does not realize that, in the Resurrection, Christ will be the end of death.

Let’s examine another crucial moment in this passage – when Jesus responds to Peter's exclamation. It might surprise us that Jesus rebukes Peter, saying, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.' This strong reaction may seem puzzling, but it holds a profound lesson. Jesus is not directing this rebuke at Peter himself, but at the temptation that Peter unknowingly represents in that moment. This echoes the earlier temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, where Satan sought to divert Jesus from His divine purpose. Similarly, here, Jesus recognizes the subtle influence of doubt and distraction that can lead us astray from the path of God's will. In identifying Peter's words with Satan's temptation, Jesus emphasizes the importance of staying aligned with God's plan, even when faced with well-intentioned but misguided advice.

Consider someone who believes they will never be able to afford their own home, feeling that their aspirations are limited to what they can achieve on Earth. This perspective is similar to Peter's perception of death as a finality. However, just as Jesus explained that there are 'many mansions' in God's kingdom, there's a greater plan beyond our immediate understanding. The divine perspective invites us to have faith in the promise of abundance and blessings that extend beyond our present circumstances.

When we view life from a human standpoint, we confront a choice. On one hand, there's "carpe diem" – the pursuit of immediate happiness, possessions, and experiences as attainable pleasures. On the other, there's a path of Puritanism, maintaining clarity amidst earthly pleasures, with the promise of heavenly rewards. Take your happiness now or defer your happiness later; in either case, it’s all about me, me, me.

But then, there's a divine perspective: "Those who wish to follow me must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. Those who strive to save their life will lose it, while those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

Adopting this divine standpoint doesn't mean extracting maximum happiness from life or shunning worldly pleasures for future enjoyment. It entails releasing the notion of living exclusively for oneself.

To live for ourselves is to imagine that we can buy joy for ourselves. We imagine that a perfect car, a perfect house, or a perfect vacation will transmute normal life into total perfection. To live for ourselves is to imagine that we can seduce or marry joy, that we would be perfectly content if only the right partner were to come along. To live for ourselves is to imagine that we can earn joy by working hard enough, becoming successful enough, popular enough, famous enough, but all of these are just illusions and dead ends. These are the carrots that life keeps dangling before us, which never provide true fulfillment, and the one who loves them, who loves their life, loses it in chasing after wind.

Contrary to intuition, embracing self-denial, rejecting revenge for resolution, dismissing material accumulation as victory, and surrendering one's life leads to genuine existence.

Paul asks, "How do you honor others? In face-to-face interactions, conversations about others not present, inner reflections? What about those testing your patience or rubbing you up the wrong way? Do you value them as God's embodiment?"

How much do you dedicate yourself to prayer? Is making time for a deep connection with God a top priority? Or does your mind become preoccupied with other responsibilities – like relationship issues, financial matters, housing, running a business, or feelings of frustration from unmet needs and wishes?

"How much of your wealth serves others or the Church. Family, friends, strangers? How much serves you?"

"Faced with adversity, how do you react? Kindness or coldness?"

Are you giving or failing as a Christian? Are you clutching life or offering it in Christ's service? Despite appearances, Jesus' way is simple, his burden light. As you shed illusions of greed, lust, and selfishness, you'll find solace.

And as we reflect on the message of love, compassion, and selflessness that Jesus embodies, let's also remember the importance of inclusivity and diversity in our understanding of God's message. Just as Jesus rebuked the temptation of distraction, let us also resist the temptation to judge or exclude others based on factors such as gender identity or sexual orientation. Our Creator delights in the beautiful diversity of humanity, and as followers of Christ, we are called to mirror that love by welcoming and valuing every person. 

This week, can you shift focus from self to others? Whom can you serve, honor, nourish? Jesus beckons – take your cross, follow him. Will you heed his call? Jesus went first class, and you can do the same – lift your cross and walk in his footsteps. Amen.

Sermon: Embracing the Divine Outlook: Transitioning from Self to Service and Sacrifice Sermon: Embracing the Divine Outlook: Transitioning from Self to Service and Sacrifice Reviewed by Shane St Reynolds on September 03, 2023 Rating: 5

No comments: