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.