“God’s just gonna do what God’s gonna do” Matthew 20:1-16

Here’s the deal, let’s just get this over with right off the top.  God is going to do what God pleases to do, and there isn’t much that you or I can do about that.


As strange as that may sound, that is precisely the problem we have with the scripture lessons today.

The point of the Jonah story is that God is going to choose to have mercy on those rotten Ninevites no matter how Jonah tries to thwart God.

You can be forgiven if you are confused as to why Jonah hope a boat to Tarshish and is reluctant at the start of the story, because he really doesn’t tell you until near the end.

Jonah wants those lousy folks in Assyria to fry.

Jonah wants to see Assyria punished because of what they did to the Northern Tribes of Israel.  He wants God’s judgment rained down upon them, to see them consumed in righteous anger as they so rightly deserve.   And so, when God calls him to go preach, he goes the opposite direction.

It is only toward the end of the story that we find out that Jonah knew God all too well!   Jonah knew that God would forgive Assyria if they responded to the call to repentance.   So, despite all his evading  of the trip, and being swallowed by the fish, and his lousy preaching once he actually got there, God had compassion on them anyway.

The only one who ends up suffering in this story is Jonah, and that’s because of his own stubbornness.

Well, Jonah and the plant.

And in this Gospel lesson, what sticks in our craw is how unfair the situation ends up being.

It doesn’t matter in the Kingdom of God, if you’ve sweated and born the heat of the day all day, or whether you just had an hour of work and were one of the last ones in the field…you get the same payroll.

It doesn’t matter if you worked your hands raw, or whether you just dropped a few grapes in the basket at the end of the day.   The wages are still the same.

And, it doesn’t do you a lick of good of you to complain about it, or to point out to the landowner, (to God) the unfairness of it all.   The land owner is just going to go ahead and do what he wants to do anyway.

In fact, the landowner in the parable sets up the situation in which all can see what he intends to do.  He sets up the pay line so that the folks who broke their backs all day long get to see that the late-comers are paid the same as them.    He seems to invite controversy.

What is the point of that?

This is a parable of the Kingdom.  The whole point here is to help us see that the way things work in this world is not the way things work in the Kingdom of God.

And that, my friends, is meant to annoy us.


Because we are so in bondage to this world. 

We are so ingrained in the concept of things being fair, and just, and we are invested in the firm belief that you get what you pay for, and that you get what you deserve, and that is how it should be.

Isn’t that the truth?

Much as we want to believe in grace, when push comes to shove, we really don’t want to believe in it, or at least believe it should be applied equally to others.

We want to believe that grace for us, that we are God’s own people and due preferential treatment.

That is the definition of Privilege, after all.  These good things apply to us, and we expect them, but that person over there?  Well, he should get a little straightening up done before he is eligible for the grace of God!

We want to believe in grace when it comes to us, but want to hold out a little as it is applied to others.   After all, if we didn’t the world just wouldn’t work.  At least not in our favor.

Here’s the DACA immigration dilemma in a nutshell is it not?   You have these young people who came here as dependent children with undocumented parents.

They have no green card, and no pathway to citizenship.

They know only this country and this language, so the call to “send them back home” is nonsense.  This is their home.

They fit no legal criteria to make them citizens, because the laws to do so do not exist.

The only way forward, really, is to extend grace to them, but oh, but how we chafe at that idea!   To do so would only encourage more to come!  We wouldn’t want people just coming to this country as children to make a life here… not like our European ancestors did.

Of course, we tell ourselves, that was different.  The rules were different.  Borders were open.   Immigration was encouraged… or as I like to put it sometimes, grace was extended — to our ancestors from Europe.

Or let’s take this table here, the Lord’s table.

Your pastor stands up here and announces that this is an open table…. anyone can come, open their hands, and receive the gifts of God that are given here; Everlasting life, the forgiveness of sins, and salvation.

He doesn’t even ask if you’re baptized!

I don’t check your membership, or your giving status, or anything…even to children if they thrust their hands out and want some “Jesus” too.

Radical, open grace is extended here every week… and I’m sure that annoys the dickens out of a few people.

It is meant to!

It is meant to be a visible reminder that God doesn’t play fair.

God doesn’t check your reservation status when you come in, or respond to a bill slipped to the Maitre de to get you a better seat or a better quality wine or bigger piece of bread.

This is Christ’s body given for you, shed for you, and Jesus has this nasty habit of welcoming all, particularly sinners and the marginal in society.

These gifts are for you, whoever that “you” might be…this bread, this wine, this body and blood, and all the gifts that they convey are given without price and without restriction.

There is no nice way to get around this. The point today is that the Kingdom of God is not ours to manage.

It is not ours to control, not ours to put parameters around, and not ours to make decisions about.

You and I, we are a lot more like Jonah than we ever want to admit.   We can with our lips praise God, but in our hearts harbor all kinds of criteria.

This is who we’d like to have in church with us.

This is who we’d like to see in membership here.  These “kind” of folks.

We need more kids.

We need more young families.

We need more pantry volunteers, more readers and communion assistants and choir members.

It sure would be nice to have some more folks come and join us here…the “right kind” of folks.

And, it would be, but we have to acknowledge that as soon as we start to think like that, to think about who it is that we would like to see here, we are applying the standards of this world.  Our thoughts quickly become focused on how we would like to see things here, instead focused on the Kingdom and what God may already be doing in our midst.

That’s what’s going on in the parable.   These workers, who were just happy to have a job a little bit ago, happy to have received the customary wage, the agreed upon amount, suddenly sour when they see radical grace in action.

When the end of the day comes and wages are paid, they get a chance to see radical grace in action, and immediately their minds go to comparing things, and they begin to impose their own expectations of what should be, and that’s when the trouble starts.

This parable is meant to annoy us.  For you see, the one thing that we have gotten really good at is comparing ourselves to others, and looking at what others are getting, and what they have, and what we think we should have.

Those are the things of this world.

They are not the things that make for the Kingdom of God.

And to make for things that are of the Kingdom, God does only one thing consistently.   God invites, without questioning.  “Come in, and work.”

God has no criteria about who would be good workers.

God has no criteria about who might be the most useful to the task, or best suited for the job, or who would be most reliable or best able….if God did, he certainly wouldn’t have recruited from amongst the rag tag band of tax collectors, fishermen, zealots and Pharisees that he ended up with.

If God had any sense of criteria, in fact, he probably wouldn’t have recruited you, or me, with all of our faults, shortcomings, indecisions, cantankerousness and failings….

But, God is persistent with his invitation…and in giving the same benefits to all, no matter what.

It isn’t fair.

It isn’t incentive based.

It isn’t the way we would do things… but then that is precisely the point.

It is the way God does things, and there isn’t a blessed thing we can do about it.

It doesn’t matter it seems, in the Kingdom of God, if you’re an early adopter or the last one in the field…you get the same rewards.

It doesn’t matter if you work your hands raw, or just drop a few grapes in the basket at the end of the day.   The wages are still the same.

And, it doesn’t do you a lick of good to complain about it to God, or to point out to the unfairness of it all.  God’s just going to go ahead and extend grace and do what God wants with what is God’s to do with as God pleases.

For which we say…. “Thanks be to God!”

It is Grace, it is for us, and it is for everybody, and we’re just going to have to get used to that.   Now the call for you and for me is to do what God does, to extend such grace to others as well, without hesitation or condition.

“Lost in Transaction” Matthew 18:21-35

No doubt about it, we are most comfortable in the world of transactions.

Partly this is because of the consumer culture world in which we live.  A day doesn’t go by where we aren’t engaged in some kind of “goods for services” exchange or system of trade-offs.

One can scarcely keep track of the number of transactions one makes on any given day!

Setting aside altogether all the transactions one may do as a part of normal commerce, (the trips to the grocery store, the stopping for gas, the vending machine run, dance with wait staff over orders and what’s included in the special, the bartering back and forth for office supplies, and the clicks of a mouse on Amazon,) there is another whole level of transactions that we engage in daily.

Did that good-bye kiss from my spouse before I rushed out of the house this morning come to me without expectation of return of affection?   Or was there an expectation buried in there?

When I barter with my grandson to “go-potty” before we get in the car, am I doing that strictly for his own benefit so he doesn’t have an accident?   Or, is there an element of my own self-interest involved so I don’t have to clean up a soiled child?

There are a lot of transactions undertaken daily for which we all hold some kind of expectation of a return, whether it is implicitly voiced or not.  Sometimes consciously, sometimes sub-consciously.

This is the air we breath in the 21st century consumer society.

But another part of the reason why we are so comfortable in this world of transactions is because it is orderly and predictable.

Unpredictability makes us suspicious.

There is always a cost for something, and we expect that.  Even the “free” samples at the grocery store have attached to them the sales pitch of where you can buy it.

We are deeply suspicious of anything that does not have some strings attached, some cost associated, some measure of “you will get this IF…”

So Peter’s question makes perfect sense to us.

In a world that runs on transactions where predictability of outcome is valued, when does one pull do the cost/benefit analysis on the matter of forgiveness, and decide that “enough is enough.”

“How often should I forgive?”

In a world that runs on transactions and expects transactions and predictability, it is a natural question, and one to which we all eagerly await the response.


Because you and I, we have our list, don’t we?

Our list, which is like the ultimate “pop-up reminder” on our computer or smart phone.

Our list, which is like the slip of paper we use for a bookmark.

The list of folks who have wronged us.

The list of people who irritate us to no end.

The list of people with whom we do not agree, never will agree probably, and who we have either run afoul of, or whom we have wronged in some egregious way so as to set up this perpetual road block to relationship.

You know this list, because it probably popped up on your screen or fell out of your book the moment Peter asked his question in the Gospel reading today.

“Yes, Jesus, do tell, when can I finally scratch this person off so that he/she is not a perpetual reminder to me of the pain, the hurt, and the anger they caused me?”

When can I write them off?

We are most comfortable in the world of transactions, and Peter’s question is a transactional question.  “How often?”

Jesus understands this, and so his response is poised in an answer that Peter, and that we will find particularly uncomfortable.

How often must one forgive?   Peter tries to introduce the “7” as a number of heavenly perfection… and Jesus instead of doing what Peter expected of taking that as a good figure, ups the ante and makes it a multiplier. – “Not 7 times, but 77…” which is not a very satisfying answer if you are looking for a tit-for-tat concrete “transaction of this world” number of when you’re finally done with that other person.

And then, as if to double down on the illustration Jesus tells a parable of comparison of the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is thoroughly transactional.

This King wants to “settle” his accounts.

This King sets about “reckoning” with the slave who owes more than twenty lifetimes could ever repay.

The point of this debt in the parable is that it is NOT a transaction that can be satisfied by any normal means.

Patience is what the slave asks for, although all the patience in the world will not avail because the sum owed is beyond any hope.

Pity is the slave’s only hope.   Mercy and forgiveness of the debt is the only way forward here, and that is not even asked for by the slave.

Patience was requested.

Time was bartered for, but the decision of the King is not made on a transactional basis.   It is an unpredictable outcome for release of debt and forgiveness with no expectation of repayment.

In other words, the King in the parable is throwing out the economy upon which transactions are built and upon which the exchange of goods and services is expected!

This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like!  Do you want to know how God operates?  It’s like this:  “I therefore declare unto you the entire forgiveness of all your sins.”

And what does God now expect from you, the one forgiven in return for that?

Nothing!   Nothing from you.   Nothing that returns to God at all.

God’s list, God’s pop up on God’s phone, the bookmark in the book on God’s reading stand that contains your name?  That name has been deleted.  It’s gone.  But not because God has written you off, but rather because God has settle the account and reckoned you as paid in full.  God has no more expectations from you of repayment.

And now, having received that, you have a choice to make yourself, with your own list, do you not?

Will you join in the economy of the Kingdom of God, and strike those names off because you will no longer hold what is owed accountable or will you revert to the transactional economy of this world with which you are ever so comfortable?

The parable hangs for an awful moment right here, and I want you to look at it again because there is something missing in this parable.   Something that should be located right after the slave has received release and forgiveness of his debt.

Something, that if it had been there before his own going out to meet his fellow slave might have made all the difference in the world as to his own outcome.

What is missing?

Okay let me put it another way.   How many of you have car loans right now?     Go ahead, raise your hands.    How about mortgages?   Let’s see them, up in the air?    Credit card debt?

Now imagine if when you opened the mail on Monday you received a letter than none of that was owed by you any longer.

What would be the first thing you would do?

Would it not be some expression of relief, thanksgiving, thankfulness and praise at being spared?    At least write a note to the company for the forgiveness of the debt?

You see, what is missing in the parable is the thankful heart of the slave who received so much forgiveness.

What is missing is the joyful, or relieved or surprised response from the slave for what has just happened to him.

We have no indicator that he was moved at all, no glimpse into his heart.

In fact, his actions upon leaving the presence of the king tell us everything we need to know.  He is so comfortable in the world of transactions that he can’t wait to get his hands on the neck of his fellow slave who owes him money, and while patience is requested by his fellow slave, and while this sum owed is completely repayable, — refusal is what takes place.

There is no mercy on the part of the one who was shown much mercy.

No pity in the heart of the one who was forgiven much.

The world of transactions is back in force with a vengeance, despite the King (God) intervening in that world and saving him from it.

And who is most disturbed by this?   The slave’s community!   They are the ones who inform the King that the slave who was forgiven much has had no change of heart.

And, because there is no change of heart, and the Slave is more comfortable with the earthly world transactions than with the economy of the Kingdom of Heaven… that slave ends up consigned to the world with which he is so comfortable, and is bound again by his own actions to a life of punishment from which he had been freed!

It is the tag line from Jesus for the parable that makes us so uncomfortableIt’s a warning to all of us who still have our lists firmly in our hand.   “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

No doubt about it, we are most comfortable in the world of transactions, and that is where we are left if there is no thankfulness in our own hearts over what God has done for us.

Transactions you see, are an action of the head.   How much, how often? How many times? Patience, I’ll get there, maybe later…”  All those transactional phrases with which we are so comfortable, — those are head things and we really wish Jesus would just tell us when enough is enough and when we can write people off, as if the heart has no place and no say.

But the Kingdom of Heaven is not much interested in the matters of the head.   It is instead very interested in the matters of the heart.

So that list, the one that popped up, that resides in your head and is still in your hand?

It’s not that you owe anything to God.   It is that you owe it to yourself, and to your community to forgive as you have been forgiven.

That’s how the economy of the Kingdom of God enters into this world takes over. God changes forgiveness from a matter of the head for us, into a matter of the heart, that we might never be simply “lost in transaction” again.

“Faith is Hard” Matthew 18:15-22

Let’s just start out by saying that the choices for scripture for today are not exactly my favorites.

The Old Testament lesson puts Ezekiel in the spot of having to be a sentinel, a watchman.  He is to sound a warning to Israel, so that they can repent.

If they repent, they are still going to die. However, because Ezekiel’s preaching has been successful, he will not be held to blame for their death.  He did what God called him to do.

If however, Ezekiel doesn’t speak out, Israel is still going to die, but the people’s blood will be now be on Ezekiel’s hands because he failed to give the proper warning from God.

Do what you’re supposed to do, and everyone dies.   Fail to do what God calls you to do, and everyone dies, but it’s your fault.

That didn’t strike me as a positive “Word of the Lord” for our time.

So I moved on to the lesson from Romans.  The Apostle Paul always plays well in a Lutheran congregation.  And sure enough, “Owe no one anything except to love one another.”  That message has potential!

Except from there Paul lifts up the commandments and the call to keep them and finally an admonition to lay aside darkness or and not revel drunkenness.   So even though this one starts well, option # 2 it ends up bringing up all kinds of stuff that we may or may not want to talk about.   It ends up in keeping the law which is finally impossible for us to keep perfectly, and legalism is not helpful in these days of political maneuvering and wrangling.

So, I thought surely, option #3, the Gospel, would give me some relief, some good news to deliver.

But this is Matthew 18, the chapter on church discipline.  Depending on how you understand Jesus here, he is either doing one of two things.

The classic understanding of Matthew 18 is that Jesus is giving us a prescription for how to deal with difficult people in your midst.  “This is what you do…”

Go first yourself, and speak to that person.

If that doesn’t work take another person with you.

If that doesn’t work, then go ahead, call everyone together, take the vote, kick them out, and treat them like a tax collector or a sinner.

Having done church discipline a few times in previous congregations, I can tell you that Matthew 18, (while written into all of our constitutions,) never works out as neatly and cleanly as Jesus seems to indicate it should.

Sinners will continue to sin.  And tax collectors will make your life miserable and take you for every dime you have, if given a chance and made angry.   Doing an official action rarely removes them from influencing you.

Another take on this lesson is that what Jesus is affirming is that there simply WILL be difficulties in your community.  “Where two or three are gathered…” is a double-edged kind of promise.   Jesus is there in your midst, but if you can get ANY agreement it’s surely a sign of God’s presence and it will be granted!

So, you see why I don’t particularly like the lessons selected for this day?   They are tough ones if you are looking for any word of grace and hope!

I toyed with scraping these and picking a lesson of my own, and then I stopped, because it suddenly occurred to me that while I didn’t really like any of the lessons individually, – if you put them together they do affirm something worth being reminded of from time to time.

They remind us that being a person of faith is hard.

This matter of being a person of faith, this is hard work!

This is dealing with the hard stuff of life.

This is about what our often calls us to do, and who we are to be as people of God, and that is worth proclaiming.

Being a person of faith does involve you having to do some difficult things.  You sometimes even find yourself in a place where you have a no-win scenario that must be played out.

Poor Ezekiel!   Even if he does it all right, things are going to go terribly wrong for Israel!   His only assurance is that this is going to grieve God as much, (more even) than it grieves God’s messenger.

“I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked!”  God cries out through Ezekiel.  “Why will you die, O house of Israel?   Why won’t you come to me?”

To be a person of faith is to find yourself sometimes caught in things you would rather not have to do, rather not have to deal with, rather not have to experience, and God grieves that you find yourself there

God does not want you to be in this position, but that does not change the call to speak out on God’s behalf in the midst of it, or to act for the sake of others, or to simply find a way to live through it all.

To be a person of faith is to find your life complicated by that commandment that is never truly fulfilled.

“Love one another.”  Jesus says to us, as if that were a simple thing.

It is a never ending thing!

“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

Oh Paul, all the other commandments are simple in comparison to that!  All the others are about figuring out what to avoid!

Don’t commit adultery, ok, watch that wandering eye.

Don’t commit murder.  Fine, I’ll keep my hands to myself.

Sabbath pretty much is covered if I show up at church regularly, or if I do self-care to find rest in the midst of the frenzy of life.  I know I’ve kept Sabbath if I have a sense of peace and restfulness.

But how do I know if I have loved enough?

How do I know when I’ve satisfied that obligation, that command?

This commandment is not about avoiding, it’s about engaging, and once you start engaging people, well that never seems to end!

If I owe someone my love, how do I ever know when I’ve paid it off?   How do you pay off a debt of love?   You don’t!

That is the complication for the person of faith.  God never stops loving you, and the command is for you to never stop loving one another, but boy, is that hard!  That will complicate your life!  It will make demands upon your time, your resources, and your whole being that sometimes stretches you pretty thin.

Sometimes we wish there was a “cared enough” meter somewhere that we could consult when it comes to dealing with people.

But there is not.

It doesn’t appear that God has any interest in giving us one, not until the Kingdom arrives in its fullness.  And that of course, is the grand irony, for when the Kingdom comes in its fullness, we will finally be able to love without end and without limitation!

But for now, this command of Jesus to owe only love, complicates our lives greatly.

The Matthew text reminds us that even in communities of faith, there will be conflicts and turmoil.

Maybe even, especially here, because that which you care about deeply is also that for which you are willing to go to the line, to give your all.

It’s no surprise that congregations will have conflicts, difficulties, and disagreements.  It is a part of the landscape of faith.  When we care deeply, we want to have a community of integrity, and so we call one another to account for the sake of our witness, and for our very souls.

To be a person of faith is to sometimes find yourself struggling with what it is that God is calling you to do, and how you respond to that call will be your witness to this world.

These lessons today remind us of how hard it is follow Jesus and how hard it is to be a person of faith.

So the good news in these lessons comes from the promise of God’s persistent presence with us in the midst of difficult things.

“I am with you.”

That is the promise.

That promise made by Jesus that informs and empowers how we respond to every event that comes our way.

That is the promise that influences each interaction we have with every human being… with each other, and even the outsider who threatens us.

“I am with you.”  Jesus says.

He tells us that, and then urges us to pray for our persecutor.

He tells us “I am with you” even as he urges us to forgive not just once, not just seven times, but seventy times seven.

Jesus reminds us that the great promise of God is that God is with us, even and especially has God makes great demands of those who follow.   God is present as Jesus sends us out as disciples to heal, and to talk about the Kingdom of God coming near, to feed those who are hungry, to clothe those who are naked and to advocate for those who have no voice.   “Do all of that because I am with you!” Jesus says.

That is what it means to be a person of faith in the Christian context.  It is to lay hold of a promise that God enters the human story, and not just long ago in a stable, but each and every day and in each and every moment, and in each and every interaction that you have, that I have throughout every day!

We do nothing alone!

“Where two or three or gathered,” Jesus said.  The promise is that he will be there.

No matter what the circumstances we may face.

No matter what the issues presented.

No matter what he hardships, or the heartaches, or the partings of ways required, – the promise is the same.

“I am with you.”  — Through it all, in it all. God says.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t complain.  Ezekial sure did!

That doesn’t mean that we can’t lament our situation.  Paul surely did!

That doesn’t mean that we can’t expect some difficulties and conflicts.  Jesus surely did!

What it does mean is that God is bigger than all those things, and it is God’s good, gracious and firm decision to stick with us, no matter what.

That’s something worth being reminded of this day.

May the God of grace, be with you this day, and may you feel God’s presence, even and especially, when the matter of being a person of faith seems really hard.

“Crosstalk” Matthew 16:21-28

As someone who works with words on a regular basis I’m sometimes delighted, sometimes amazed, and quite often thoughtful about how particular words or phrases impact me at any given time.

As I was preparing this sermon I stumbled upon the word “Crosstalk.”  It comes from the discipline of electrical engineering.  Crosstalk is any phenomenon by which a signal transmitted on one circuit or channel of a transmission system creates an undesired effect in another circuit or channel.

Sometimes crosstalk is simple interference, hissing, popping, or humming.

Sometimes crosstalk results in garbled transmissions, unintelligible communications in the radio or phone line.

You’ve probably experienced “crosstalk” on your wireless phone, your cell phone, when the person on the other end begins to sound distant, or funny, or the voice begins to break up.

You know crosstalk mostly by what it does.   It annoys you.   It frustrates you.  You want it to just go away.

At any rate, it just struck me how this term from the world of Electrical engineering fits so well with the Gospel lesson, centuries before there was anything like radio, for it is indeed “cross talk” that Jesus and Peter experience here.   This is clearly a case of one transmission (the one made by Jesus about going to Jerusalem) is creating an undesired effect on the other (namely, Peter.)

The same Peter who just before this reading in Matthew had professed Jesus as Messiah now finds himself at odds with Jesus, and it has to do with this “crosstalk.” – or talk about the cross.

Jesus begins to lay out for his disciples what will happen to him.  He tells them how he must go to Jerusalem, and how he will there encounter resistance, opposition, suffering and death.

In response to Jesus’ message, Peter experiences an “undesired effect.”

“God forbid it, Lord, this must never happen to you!”

Peter’s rebuke is met by an even stronger rebuke from Jesus.   The “rock” upon whom the church was to be built now becomes a stumbling block to Jesus!  There is something in the transmission of his intent that causes an “undesired effect” in Peter.

Now, we can’t read this or hear these words from Jesus without understanding the fate of Jesus in Jerusalem.  This is the first of the predictions of what awaits Jesus, and so “the Cross” comes naturally to our minds.   We think of Jesus dying on the cross, and in our minds we equate Jesus’ death on a cross with overcoming sin, and God’s redemption, and a whole host of other things that the image of “the cross” has come to mean now over the centuries.

But listen to this again!  Jesus does not talk about a “cross” at all when he first begins to lay out his plans or what will happen for his disciples.

He talks about going to Jerusalem.

He talks about suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes.

He tells them that he will be killed.

He predicts the resurrection, how on the third day he would rise again.

But where does Jesus talk about the Cross?

It is nowhere in this first prediction!  He doesn’t say he will die on a cross, only that he will be killed.

So, we need to take a step back and hear this as Peter and the other disciples would have heard it.  We need to hear Jesus’ words afresh for what those words would have done to cause the objection in their minds.  What was Jesus “signaling” (in other words) with his words that would have had an “undesirable effect?”

When you begin to look for that, you discover that Jesus is talking about going to the seat of power in the region to confront those who are in power.  That is what elicits the reaction, the “God forbid!”

You go to Jerusalem if you want to say something directly to Herod, or to the Roman Occupying Forces through their governor, Pilate.

You go to Jerusalem if you want to say something directly to the keepers of the religious institution, the temples, to the elders, the chief priest, and the scribes.

You go to Jerusalem if you want to speak truth to power, and speaking truth to power will get you in a world of trouble!  Such confrontation will cause you to suffer, and it will ultimately get you killed.

That is what elicits the rebuke from Peter.

“God forbid, Jesus!   Don’t get messed up in politics, or religion!”

That’s what Peter and the other disciples heard in Jesus’ comments.  To go to Jerusalem was to walk into the den of the powers who contend for this world.

Is that something with which we can relate?

What are the two things that one is not supposed to bring up in polite conversation?    Is it not “Religion” and “Politics?”

I know from experience that the fastest way to see if my e-mail is still working is to speak from the pulpit something that sounds just a little bit too “Political” or if I make a pronouncement about God’s grace that is uncomfortably too broad, too inclusive of those who we just can’t imagine God would have mercy on, or love.

We know the sensitivity in this area, and it’s not just a 21st century phenomenon.  When we start to wade into the waters of politics and religion the possibility of “crosstalk” is great.

Sometimes it’s just static, the irritating hiss of not wanting to think about such things.  We are comfortable in our silos, our own little bubbles of belief, so don’t go rocking the boat!

At other times, we experience the garbled transmissions that catch us or that we get caught up in.  Saying something that you thought was clear, but it comes off unclear, or unintelligible, or simply misunderstood by the other person.   “Do you really think that?  Did I hear you correctly?”

And still other times the meaning of what is said is all too clear, but it is not what that other person, (or what we)  want to hear or anything with which they or we wish to contend.

“God forbid, don’t go there….”

We know intuitively what this feels like.

We’ve probably had half a dozen conversations this past week on one political decision or situation or another that has brought this into sharp focus for us.

We are well acquainted with who we can say some things around, and with whom we simply cannot bring up certain subjects.

This is the world in which we live, and every fiber of our being resonates with Peter here.

“God forbid! Let it lie!  Don’t go there!”

And oh, how I wish I could affirm to you that Jesus says it’s just fine to do just that.

I’d love to be able to say that there is an alternate reading of this Gospel that says, “And Jesus, sensing the discomfort of his disciples, decided that a trip to the beach was a better option than Jerusalem, and so he repented of entering the world of politics and religion, and lo, they went forth and had a Labor Day picnic, or attended the Irish Festival instead.”

But you and I both know that’s not how this story goes.

Rebuked for going to Jerusalem, Jesus “doubles down” on his original insistence.

 “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.” 

            Now, now comes the mention of the cross!   And, it is done so as to amplify the effect of what Jesus said earlier when he talked about going to Jerusalem and what would befall him there.

It’s as if Jesus were to say, “Just in case you didn’t get this, I am talking about insurrection here, I am talking about confronting Rome!   I’m talking about confronting Herod!  I’m talking about calling out the elders, chief priests and scribes here, because that is the only offense that will get you crucified!

“Let them take up their cross and follow me…”

That is the invitation made, one to join the insurrection!

It is an invitation to intentionally confront the political and religious powers that be in this world when they fail to protect the most vulnerable.

Jesus does that with a promise that Resurrection and life itself awaits on the other side of all this confronting and the suffering, but he does not minimize the suffering in any way, shape or form.

Jesus does not mince words, or offer ways to sidestep the inevitable discomfort that comes from the call to speak truth to power.

Jesus does not retreat from pointing out that talking about God’s Kingdom in the midst of living in this earthly kingdom will be a hard journey.

Jesus does not back down on what will happen at all in this collision of Kingdoms.

This will be uncomfortable, because the vision of the Kingdom that God brings, where all are fed, and all are welcome, and the outcasts are included, and the rich and powerful are brought low stands in direct opposition to the way the kingdoms of this world currently operate.

God forbid, people… you will be asked to get political.   I’m sorry.  That is just the way it is.

The kingdom of this world will make decisions that make perfect sense for the bottom line, and for the stockholders, and for the corporate structures, allowing them to make a profit and flourish and that is all good and well until such profit comes on the back of your neighbor.

You will have stock in those companies that are doing so well.

You will feel the pressure to be silent.

But the Gospel is going to continue to prick at you and make you examine your complicity in the suffering of others.

God forbid, people….Jesus is going to make you uncomfortable as he outlines God’s agenda, for it will come smack up against your own creature comforts.

God forbid, people,…. Following Jesus is going to make you uncomfortable in your journey, as you place the values of the Kingdom of God up against your own political and religious expediencies, trying to decide what it is that God is calling you to do amidst the static and crosstalk of this world.

There will come a point where insurrection is required, and you will have choice.   You can urge Jesus not to go there, not to make waves, not to confront, not to call you to confront, not to put you in this terrible position at the foot of the cross.

Or, you can pick up your cross and go where Jesus intends to go.

It will be yours to bear, this particular cross, and you will feel the weight of it.  For, you see,  what you feel God in Christ Jesus is compelling you to do may be entirely different from what I feel God in Christ Jesus compelling me to do.

So, each of our crosses is likely to be unique.

But here is the thing that Jesus assures us, even in the midst of his rebuke to Peter.

We are on this journey together.

While I may not feel particularly inclined to pick up the cross you are bearing, because we are yoked to Christ and yoked together as Jesus’ disciples, I will help you bear it.

Jesus, will help us both bear it.

I hope you will do the same for me, whatever it is that I feel compelled to speak about in the name of Christ and for the sake of his church and the Kingdom of God.

You may not even agree with me.

You may say, “Pastor, I don’t understand why you get yourself mixed up in this.”

I may, in fact, be completely wrong.

Few things in this world are clear cut, but I hope you will take seriously the call to bear one another’s burdens, for we are yoked together in love.

God forbid, this is where Jesus leads us this day.

He wants Peter, and the Disciples, and you and me to know that what we do in this world has consequence for the Kingdom of God.  We are not bystanders in the injustices of this world.  We are called to be participants and to engage in the conversations, no matter how difficult they may be, but we do so with love for one another, and for Jesus who loves us.

Jesus will go to Jerusalem, there is no stopping him.  Thanks be to God for because of that we have the promise of the Kingdom in our midst and life, and the promise that things done will be repaid at the time of judgment.

But God forbid, Jesus also makes us a part of that journey.

We walk with him.

We walk because of him.

We walk where it is a delight to go, and often where the journey is hard, not because it is easy, but because we are bound, yoked to one another, you and I and Christ, in the promise of the Kingdom breaking in.