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  • Writer's pictureFather Nicholas Lang

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

One day a preacher came home and saw his wife in a brand new exotic red dress. He looked at her and said: "Didn't I tell you that you weren't supposed to buy any more clothes?"

Embarrassed the wife replied, " yes, but Satan tempted me and told me it looked good from the front!" The preacher was startled by what just came out of his wife's mouth. “I told you to say "Get thee behind me, Satan, didn’t I?" His wife said "yes, you did, but he told me it looked good from back there too!”

Today we find Peter, who has previously took a huge leap of faith and stepped out into the deep sea to meet Jesus, then making that profound statement of faith in Jesus as the Son of God, telling the Messiah that he should scrap his mission that will lead to the cross, death, and then resurrection.

Jesus responded with the harshest words ever directed toward one of his disciples: “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me!” A stumbling block to me. I wonder if the strong reaction Peter got from his reproach to Jesus had a lot to do with Jesus wanting to silence the “demons of negativity.” For they are, indeed, stumbling blocks.

We’ve all experienced them. We may recognize them in our personal life, our business endeavors, and they are especially present in the church. We are all at risk for being assaulted by them and clergy and church leaders are particularly susceptible. I’ve done my own battle with them. They are forces that sap our energy and distract us from the work that is really important.

I’ll bet that is what was going on with Jesus and Peter that day. Jesus knew that he could not let himself be sidetracked from the good work to which he was called by God. He could not let Peter’s negative outlook draw on his energy and obstruct his mission. He had to put Peter—and Satan—in their place. And what about us? Can we stand up to those devilish influences and pressures and simply say, “Get behind me! Get out of my way! I have good and important work to do and God – not Satan—is my partner in my calling.”

I want to say a few words about Jesus’ directive to take up our cross and follow. The denomination in which I was raised interpreted this to mean whatever might add pain, suffering and misery to your life—that was your cross to bear. Your cross was the job you hated or loved and lost, the abusive relationship in which you were stuck, a chronic illness, or one’s struggle with sexual identity, or any hardship that you were to bear patiently and graciously.

It was as if God zapped you by dealing you a really bad deck of cards and your only alternative was to grin and bear it. I think that is really bad theology. I can’t envision the God of such enormous and unconditional love conspiring to whack us over the head by laying this huge, onerous plank of wood on our shoulders and making us bear it to test our faithfulness.

There are certain realities of life, some over which we have no control and others that can be the catalyst for renewal and growth. When Jesus tells us that we must take up the cross, he is challenging us to live our life as a disciple who does our best—sometimes even at risk, with some cost to ourselves and denial of our own whims—disciples who go out into the world to make it a better, more godly place even in small, seemingly insignificant ways. How each of us might be called to do that is an individual thing.

Writer Melanie Juneau offers us this perspective: “It is the time for the little people to shine. God is choosing humble, ordinary people who have suffered and lived humble lives faithful to God to purify them and mold them into God’s presence. Such women and men attract others who are hungry for God because people sense the love and power of God in them. There is no room for pride or ego because it is all about God saving them in their littleness.”

She tells of the time she was stranded in an airport with an East-German archeologist. He spoke of his work and Melanie shared funny stories. She did not preach. She just told funny stories about living with nine kids. Suddenly he asked, “What is it about you? You are the most powerful person I ever met.”

He shocked her. Yes, she had felt joy bubbling up in that conversation, but she had not prayed for him or healed him. She simply made him laugh. And yet they were both aware of a power flowing around them even though he was an East German atheist. It was tangible. That’s what happens when our energy is given up to the unquestionable, affirming, creative work of God and not to the devilish tensions of the negative voices that can intrude on it, distract us from it, and zap our energy. I wonder if taking up the cross is simply letting go and letting God; allowing no room for ego or pride. We simply relax and enjoy, recognizing that it is all about God, not us. And, indeed, we may even get a glimpse of the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

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