Text: Matthew 16 21-28
“Line up behind me if you want to be on my team!” The apprehensive crowd looked at one another. The team captain was the strongest athlete they’d ever seen; he was fast and talented and was positively destined to make it to the post-season! “Line up behind me!” Some jumped at the opportunity to play alongside such a big name celebrity. Still others wondered if it was worth the effort and commitment. If they lined up behind the captain, they’d be committed to playing in games and attending practices. They’d have to meet new people and work together with those new people. They’d have to know how to play the game, they’d have to follow the captain’s orders, and they just weren’t sure they were ready for that level of commitment. It’s all fine and good calling out your opinions as you watch the game played from afar, but what happens when you’re called to roll up your sleeves and join in the team work?
Are you a spectator or a team player? Are you a member or a disciple?
Jesus calls us to discipleship through our gospel lesson today. Last week we heard how Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. By all accounts, the Messiah was to be an all-star: full of power and might, full of glory and prestige. Peter, I’m sure, was riding high after his faithful confession of Jesus as the Messiah was confirmed. In our text for today, however, Peter realizes that his expectations for the Messiah do not match God’s plan for the Messiah’s mission. Instead of power and might, glory and prestige, Jesus tells the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and be rejected by all the important people in society, that he must suffer, and that he must die. So devastating is this news that Peter and the other disciples fail to hear the next part: that on the third day he will be raised. Peter is stuck on the disillusioning news that Jesus must suffer and die. Peter is so shocked that he blurts out “God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to you!”
Last week, we heard how Peter was named Blessed and declared to be the foundation of the church. This week, Jesus calls Peter Satan –the tester of loyalties. But he doesn’t just tell him off for questioning God’s mission for the Messiah, he doesn’t just call him Satan, he gives him a chance to participate in the messy, inglorious mission. He says “Get behind me, Satan.” As if to say, “Suffering, Death, and Resurrection. Line up here to play on my team! Get behind my mission.”
There is no resurrection without the suffering and the death.
Jesus describes for Peter exactly what discipleship looks like: “If any want to become my disciples, 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.”
Our team captain encourages us to lose. Discipleship means LOSING for Jesus. Discipleship means following in our Lord’s example, pouring ourselves out for the sake of the world around us. Discipleship means not running away from the uncomfortable parts of life, but facing them head on with the conviction that God calls us not to our own glory but to hard and dirty ministry in support of those whom the world would pass on by. Living in the way of the cross means living for God and living for the world around us. Living in the way of the cross means pouring ourselves up and out until it hurts, until we start to feel like we can’t do it, and carrying on as God gives us what we need to bear the cross we’re called to.
Denial of self is a countercultural concept, in our world today as well as in the time of Jesus. By all accounts, we should be striving to make ourselves look good and feel good. By all accounts we should be keeping up with the Joneses and striving to acquire as much stuff for ourselves so that we can kick back and relax. But that is NOT what playing on Team Jesus looks like. Playing for Jesus, looks messy, dirty, and uncomfortable. It means entering into relationships with other people who may not make us look very good, other people who may be despised by the world at large. It means walking with other people in their suffering and sharing the burden of their pain. It means being the compassionate heart and the kind words of Christ in the midst of another’s living hell. It means voicing God’s righteous anger at the injustices and inequalities you see in the world. And it means following Jesus through death and into resurrection as you work to transform this world in big and small ways into God’s vision of life together. Where is Jesus calling you to bear the cross in this world? What position is the team captain calling on you to play?
Last Sunday, we celebrated camping Sunday with a slideshow and presentation of our youth’s experiences at camp this summer… our youth stood up and gave a countercultural witness to our community. Instead of lounging around the pool all summer or staying inside playing video games, many of them decided to go to work camp for a week. Many of them lost themselves in service to their neighbors, they listened to people’s stories and entered into their suffering. For a woman whose floor was rotting away, who had opossums getting into and scurrying around her home, our youth from St. James and others who joined them from across the country, were the physical embodiment of Christ in her life as they repaired her floor and restored her sense of dignity and hope. Playing on team Jesus, living as disciples of Christ Crucified, looks a whole lot like spending your summer not in leisure but covered in sweat, paint, and sawdust for the love of a neighbor you’ve only just met. It looks a whole lot like entering into one another’s suffering, and finding hope and transformation together because of Jesus.
This idea of entering into deep relationship with one another for the sake of Christ sounds uncomfortable and yet again countercultural –and it is! It is indeed a cross which Christ calls us to bear to share the burden of the neighbor’s cross. It is in relational service to the world around us that we remember whose we are and discover our truest selves.
Each one of us, at Baptism, is marked with the cross of Christ forever. Forever. This is our truest identity: Child of God, and Cross bearer. We are a family of disciples, whether we know each other’s names or not, we are family and bound together in the same life-giving Spirit. Our primary identity as child of God is that of cross-bearer. Each and every day we are to die to the old self and rise again to the new. Each and every day, we are called to remember the permanent mark of the cross upon our foreheads and boldly follow Jesus into the uncomfortable ministries to which he is calling us day by day. We’re not all called to work camp, but we are all called as disciples, through Baptism, to follow Jesus and to bear his saving and redeeming cross into the world in our own particular way. Discipleship, living and loving like Jesus, is a messy and sometimes painful way of life. It sometimes looks like a colossal loss-like an executed Messiah. It means pouring yourself out for the sake of the neighbor whose name you may not even know. It means losing your selfishness for the sake of finding yourself as God created you to be.
So, are you a spectator or a team player in the Kingdom of God? Lining up behind Jesus means the cross-formed life. It means that every game will look like a loss to the world, but as disciples we trust that God has already won the victory in the post-season. Amen.