Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder
August 28, 2011 Pentecost XI
Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 105:1-5, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28
From the Book of Exodus:
God said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’; this is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up the cross and follow me.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Imagine for a moment that God actually spoke to you; what would your reaction be? Would you say, “Sure God, whatever you want.” Would your response be “Are you talking to me?” Perhaps you would be in denial and say, “I must be dreaming” or “God, you must be mistaken. You have the wrong guy.”
This might help you to understand what Moses was going through when God spoke to him. Remember, Moses was of Jewish birth and was saved from the slaughter of innocent children that Pharaoh had ordered. Then ironically, Moses was saved and adopted by Pharaoh and lived a life of luxury and royalty. When the truth was discovered, he was banished and went to live in Midian as a shepherd for 40 years. During those many days and nights in the field, he no doubt meditated on the things of God and prayed for his people who were suffering in Egypt.
We need to remember that anything is possible with God. So when God decided that the time had come to put Moses into action, He took an insignificant bush, ignited it, and turned it into a miracle; and that’s what He wanted to do with Moses. Some see in the burning bush a picture of the nation of Israel; they are God’s light in the world, persecuted but not consumed. But the burning bush was also a picture of what God had planned for Moses: he was the weak bush but God was the empowering fire; and with God’s help, Moses could accomplish anything.
God spoke to Moses and assured him that He was the God of his fathers and that He felt the suffering of the Jews in Egypt. He was now ready to deliver them out of Egypt and lead them into the Promised land, and Moses would be His chosen leader. God’s statement “Behold, I will send you” must have astonished Moses. Why would God choose me?
Moses should have rejoiced because God was at last answering prayer, and he should have submitted to God’s will saying, “Here I am! Send me!” But instead, he argued with the Lord and tried to escape the divine call to rescue Israel from slavery. Many questions must have been going on in Moses’ head like: “Why me, Lord?” or “I am too old” or “I am a lowly shepherd, surely there must be someone else more qualified.” These are very human questions that perhaps all of us might have if God were to choose us to follow Him. It’s an indication of where a person is, with their relationship with God; an indication of how strong our faith is in God. When God calls us to do something, we need to walk with faith, that He will be there with us every step of the way and providing us with the tools to accomplish His plan.
In our Gospel reading today, we continue where we left off last week. Simon, now Peter, had just declared Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God and Jesus confirmed it! Having declared His person, Jesus now declared His work; for the two must go together. He would go to Jerusalem, suffer and die, and be raised from the dead. This was His first clear statement of His death, though He had hinted at this before (Matt. 12:39-40; 16:4; John 2:19; 3:14, 6:51).
Peter’s response to this shocking statement certainly represented the feelings of the rest of the disciples; “Pity Thyself, Lord! This shall never happen to Thee!” Jesus turned His back on Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me! Peter the “stone” who had just been blest (Matt. 16:18) became Peter the stumbling block who was not a blessing to Jesus! Peter reacted just like any one of us would if we were told that our loved one was going to die. We wouldn’t want it to happen; we wouldn’t want to let go. We would want our loved one to stay with us. Peter’s mistake was that he was thinking like a human being and not understanding God’s plan. Peter has enough faith to declare Jesus is the Son of God, but he did not have the faith to believe that it was right for Jesus to suffer and die.
Today the cross is an accepted symbol of love and sacrifice. But in that day the cross was a horrible means of capital punishment. No Roman citizen could be crucified; this terrible death was reserved for their enemies.
Jesus presented to His disciples His expectations:
Deny yourself Take up your cross follow Christ
Forsake the world keep your soul lose your life for His sake
Share His reward and glory
To deny self does not mean to deny things. It means to give yourself wholly to Christ and share in His shame and death. To take up a cross does not mean to carry burdens or have problems. To take up the cross means to identify with Christ in His rejection, shame, suffering, and death.
But suffering always lead to glory. This is why Jesus ended this short sermon with a reference to his glorious kingdom (Matt. 16:28). This statement would be fulfilled within a week on the Mount of Transfiguration.
If we are to follow Jesus Christ, we need to have a right relationship to God and with man. In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans it says, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” The emphasis here is on the attitudes of those who exercise the spiritual gifts that God has given us. Love is the circulatory system of the spiritual body, which enables all the members to function in a healthy, harmonious way. This must be an honest love; and it must be humble, not proud (Rom. 11:10). “Preferring one another” means treating others as more important than ourselves.
Serving Christ usually means satanic opposition and days of discouragement or challenge. Paul encouraged his readers to maintain their spiritual zeal because they were serving the Lord and not men. When life becomes difficult, the Christian cannot permit his zeal to grow cold. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).
As children of God, we must live on the highest level – returning good for evil. Anyone can return good for good and evil for evil (an eye for an eye). The only way to overcome evil is with good. Even if our enemy is not changed by our love, we have still experienced the love of God in our own hearts and have grown in grace.
Finally, Paul reminded them that they must enter into the feelings of others. Christian fellowship is much more than a pat on the back and a handshake. It means sharing the burdens and the blessings of others so that we all grow together and glorify the Lord. If Christians cannot get along with one another, how can they face their enemies? A humble attitude and a willingness to share are the marks of a Christian who truly ministers to the body.
We need to take on the role of a servant, by serving others. We need to submit our will to God and have faith that God will always be with us and will supply our needs: Serving faith. It is this serving faith, a humble and trusting obedience, that enables us to follow Christ wherever He leads.
Let us pray:
O Lord, You are the Christ! May our inner being proclaim Your Holy Name. May we experience Your love so that we may share it with others. Help us to realize the spiritual gifts that you have given us, so that we will use them for your church and your glory. Make us instruments of your peace. May we have the serving faith that enables us to follow You. Take us Lord and use us in Your plan. May we always trust in You and Your Holy Word; that through faith we may have the courage to answer the call. Transform us to be your disciples. May we always live according to Your will, until your coming again. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.