St. James the Less #104
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Reflecting on the Past
What have the past five months been like for you? Take a moment and sit with that question. Maybe come up with a few words in your head. What have the past five months been like for you?
If I had to guess I would think many of us would describe this year as chaotic, stressful, maybe even heartbreaking—pretty much any word other than normal.
I hope I’m not projecting my feelings onto you—preachers have to be careful of that, and I’d love to hear the words you came up with after the service.
But for a moment I want to be honest with you about how it’s been for me. I will say that trying to lead a church during a pandemic has been tough, even for a small church like ours. We are completely out of our usual rhythm. There were no social events this summer, which are so much fun, and they build a real sense of community.
There’s been no fall kickoff as the kids go back to school and we start our various formation classes.
The momentum we were feeling about the direction of the church has slowed down considerably. Due to the pandemic, our attendance has shrunk, we have fewer things going on, and it’s been hard to feel connected to our members.
Talking with other clergy friends of mine, we’ve agreed that we will inevitably lose some members through all of this. Some have come back, some will return when there’s a vaccine, but there will be some who won’t be back—no matter how much we reach out.
And it’s not just our church that is dealing with these tough realities, but every church is struggling with staying connected with its members, and all the while learning how to do everything online.
It’s been stressful and draining for me, and I realized the other day why it’s been so hard. It’s because I’m a Three on the Enneagram. The Enneagram, for those of you who’ve never heard of it, is a way of describing different personality types. It has ancient roots but has regained popularity in modern times.
Categories include the Helper, the Investigator, the Peacemaker, along with a few others—and each is given a number.
A Three on this scale is known as the Achiever; someone who is success-oriented, driven, and image-conscious. People like Michael Jordan, Paul McCartney, and Oprah are Three’s on the Enneagram (but so is Bernie Madoff).
And so it is no wonder that the past few months have been hard for me because I have had to throw out any typical way of measuring success. How can someone even think of being seen as successful when so many people around the world are suffering and dying from a virus, and when such serious issues are being played out in our country?
How can I be anxious about average Sunday attendance when families are worried about how they’re going to pay the bills this month, or how they’re going to keep a full-time job and educate their kids at home?
An Achiever loves to have control. For the Achievers in the room, we love to control the appearance of things and the messaging that is used. Achievers can get a lot of things done, but we can feel helpless and even useless when circumstances are out of our control.
And there’s nothing like a pandemic to make you feel out of control. And you really don’t have to be a Type Three to feel all of that angst.
Get Behind Me Satan
Now I say all that because I think Peter was a Three on the Enneagram. As we saw last week, Peter boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Way to go Peter!
Jesus then tells the disciples that the Messiah must suffer (which was a new idea—no one ever said the Messiah must suffer before) and this statement offended Peter to the core. He is sure that the Messiah and suffering don’t go together. The Messiah will triumph and win, not suffer.
And ironically, only moments after making this monumental statement of faith, Peter, as the representative of the disciples (such an Achiever place to be) he takes Jesus aside to tell him that he’s got it all wrong.
Peter wants to control the messaging—he knows all this talk about suffering will not grow the movement. You have to keep people excited and engaged—they sure don’t want to be a part of a suffering and dying movement.
An adage that I live by is, “Be wary of those who love to give unsolicited advice.” You know those people in your life who love to give you advice though you never asked them for it. Typically, the people who love to give advice, I’ve found, give really crummy advice.
Peter, in rebuking Jesus, gives him some unsolicited advice, and Jesus isn’t having any of it. Jesus whirls around and says one of the most shocking statements in all of the gospels, “Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling block to me.”
In the matter of a few minutes, Peter, known as Rocky and whose rock the church will be built on has turned into a stumbling block; he goes from being filled with God’s revelation to being filled with the devil’s.
He calls Peter, Satan--the enemy of God.
In another place in the Bible, John the Evangelist uses the word “antichrist” not to talk about the devil or one evil being, but he says anyone who does not do the will of God is an antichrist.
Jesus sees Peter in this moment as ignorantly opposed to the will of God. By resisting Jesus’ words and even trying to control or correct his words, Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, you are anti/against-Christ.”
In a rare moment, Jesus doesn’t say, “Come, follow me,” but, “Go, leave, and get behind me.”
Like most Achievers, myself included, we strive and strive, and then we must be knocked down a bit. When Jesus tells Peter to get behind him he is very firmly saying, “Learn your place.”
Hopefully, no one has told you that before, but it does happen when we become overly confident or even cocky about our importance or influence. If you’re new at a job and give one too many bits of advice to a senior member then you will likely hear them say, “Learn your place.” Every fall freshmen have to learn this when they enter high school or college.
As disciples of Jesus the Suffering-Messiah it is essential that we learn our place. We must embrace that our role is to get behind Jesus, and not even attempt to get a step ahead of him.
Like Peter, I think we’ve all learned the hard way that we cannot control God, and that many times he doesn’t even fit into our expectations of him. It is not our role to evaluate his performance, to give him tips on what he should do next, or how he could intervene in our lives and in the world.
Instead, our job is fairly straightforward: we are to learn our place in the kingdom and get behind him.
The Christian Way
Now that may either come as a great relief to you this morning, or it might make you a little frustrated. For the Type Three’s in the room, the question remains: What am I supposed to do once I check my ego at the door and get in behind Jesus? What then?
Thankfully, Paul tells us this morning exactly what we are to do once we’re behind our Lord.
Using the Message translation, he says this, “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.”
He goes on a bit later to say, “Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath… Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.”
This is how you and I are called to live. It isn’t easy, it’s not glamorous, and yet this is what looks like to get behind Jesus. We are to make friends with nobodies and not try to be the great somebody.
We are to love from the center of who we are. Man, that’s tough, especially with all the tension we are feeling.
Though we may want to have full control of our lives, we may want to manage the circumstances so that we can get back to how our lives were six months ago, but control is something we gave up when at our baptism we said that Jesus is Lord.
From that moment, we publicly stated we were not in sole control of our destiny anymore, instead, we were entrusting ourselves fully to the Lord of Life, come what may.
Paul gives us the Christian ethic to live by, and it’s astounding in its ability to mine deep into our hearts and drill straight through our pride and self-reliance.
Being a follower is far from easy; the ethic that we are called to embrace will challenge us to not simply be our best selves but to be the kind of follower that clearly reflects the values of God’s kingdom.
And the only way that we can do that is by letting go of our need to control, to manage, to succeed, and to be right (there’s a little bit of Peter in all of us, after all).
First, we must learn our place and get behind Jesus.