13th Sunday of Pentecost August 30, 2020
First Reading: Jeremiah 15:15-21
Second Reading: Romans 12:9-21
Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28
Prayer of the Day:
O God, we thank you for your Son, who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world. Humble us by his example, point us to the path of obedience, and give us strength to follow your commands, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Hymns of the Day
If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.
Jesus, Still Lead On (ELW #624)
Precious Lord, Take My Hand (ELW #773)
O Holy Spirit, Enter In (ELW #786)
Send Me, Jesus (ELW #549)
All the Way My Savior Leads Me (Chris Tomlin)
Reflection on Matthew 16:21-28
by Pastor Tim Dean
Getting Behind Jesus
Today’s gospel is the second half of the scene with Jesus and Peter when they are in Caesarea Phillipi. Last week, Peter nails it when he confesses Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16). Jesus calls Peter a “rock”—for his confession of faith. Peter gets it so right.
And then he gets it so wrong. Peter goes from rock to stumbling block, as he tries to convince Jesus that all his talk about suffering, and being executed, and raising on the third day, is not really where the Messiah should be going.
The exchange turns testy when Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me.” The rock has turned into a demonic block.
But notice that Jesus doesn’t tell Peter to “go away and never come back” or “get lost.” What he tells him literally is: “go behind me” or “follow behind me” (16:23).
Biblical scholar Audrey West notes that these words are discipleship words. The proper place for a disciple is behind Jesus: following not in front of him. Not away from, but close behind. (Audrey West, workingpreacher.org, August 30, 2020)
Then Jesus uses these same words to invite other disciples, including us, to follow behind him. “If any want to become my followers”—the same words he says to Peter, “if you want to go behind me…deny yourselves and take up your cross and follow me.” (16:24)
Jesus offers challenging discipleship words for us today: deny yourselves, take up your cross, and get behind me.
Often these words have been mis-used to keep people submissive or complacent in the face of oppression or abusive relationships. They have been wielded like a club to keep people from speaking out against injustice.
Yet I see them as a call to trust Jesus, to be faithful to the kingdom of love, mercy and justice that Jesus preached, lived and died for.
David Lose writes that the cross was not Jesus’ goal. He didn’t set out to be crucified, but rather, it was the outcome of his faithfulness to God’s reign. “He didn’t choose the cross but rather trusted God to work even through the extreme of the cross for the sake of the world God loves so much. Similarly, the cross isn’t something we choose, but…something that finds us.” (David Lose, In the Meantime, Aug. 24, 2020)
Taking up our cross does not mean that we set out to achieve martyrdom, or that we become passive in the face of evil or injustice.
Rather, taking up our cross is getting behind him, and letting him work through us to share God’s love. And when we suffer because of our discipleship actions, words and choices, we trust that Christ continues to be with us and give us life.
The cross of Jesus’ suffering has found us again this week.
The tragic sin of racism has broken out again in Kenosha, just 100 miles east of McFarland. A black man, Jacob Blake, was shot 7 times in the back by a white police officer; Jacob is now fighting for his life. Non-violent protests of this shooting have slipped into looting and chaos. And disturbingly, a 17-year-old, Kyle Rittenhouse, has been arrested in connection with shooting protesters as part of a white armed militia.
How can we not weep? How can we not weep again, as we have wept over George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others?
My heart is broken over this suffering, and I am distressed over the trauma of racial injustice and rising violence.
We need prayers for Jacob and his family, for police officers and elected leaders in Kenosha, our state and our country, and for all of us, as we walk through what feels like a firestorm.
Suffering has found us. The wounds of racism and injustice are the crosses we carry right now—not just in Kenosha, but in McFarland, Madison and Dane County.
And in this suffering, we desperately need the promise that Christ himself meets us with healing and love.
As we walk through this storm over racial injustice, the on-going struggles with Covid, and other storms in our lives, two voices speak hope to me.
The first is Jacob Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson. I can’t imagine the pain she is going through. Yet in the midst of her tears and grief, she spoke with amazing courage at a press conference. She said that the property destruction does not reflect her son or their family.
Then she said, “So I’m really asking and encouraging everyone in Wisconsin and abroad to take a moment and examine your hearts. We need healing. As I pray for my son’s healing—physically, emotionally and spiritually—I also have been praying even before this for the healing of our country. God has placed each and every one of us in this country because he wanted us to be here.
“How dare we hate what we are. We are humans…No one is superior to the other.”
(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 26, 2020)
Watch her full statement here:
Her words encourage us to walk behind Jesus, and work for his way of healing and equality for black lives, for every human life. We are all created in God’s image.
The second testimony of hope are the words of civil rights activist John Lewis, who died in July. He wrote these words shortly before he died:
“In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Not it is your turn to let freedom ring.” (New York Times, July 30, 2020)
Lewis’ words remind us to get behind Jesus—walking the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence, the way of freedom. For he is the most excellent way.
Dear friends, in the midst of everything going on in the world right now, in this heavy climate of anxiety, hate and fear, we are called to trust Jesus, by lining up behind him and following.
And know, dear beloved people, that when we experience suffering, we will also know the presence of the One who is with us. He endured the cross and also opened the door to resurrection and a new way for us to live together.
The One we follow holds us today, as we weep, as we lament, as we strive for justice, as we suffer. He holds us so that we can have the courage to keep walking, keep following, and keep encouraging each other with hope.
The love of Christ is still the more excellent way. He remains with us as we line up behind him and keep walking. Amen.
Let Us Pray
God of inclusive, expansive love, thank you for welcoming us in your house of prayer for all people. Help us to find new ways to welcome those different from us, as you have welcomed us. Expand our ministries to share your healing grace with all your children who are marginalized and oppressed by inequality and injustice. Fill those who are ill and lonely with strength and hope. Thank you for the expansive promise of your love in Christ, our rock and salvation. Amen.