From that time on, 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, “Getbehind 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.”
Glenn was in his mid 80‘s when he took me hiking in the mountains of Montana where I did my seminary internship. He told me at this point in his life he only had a “low gear” left for hiking but I’m here to tell you that gear never got tired! As we wound our way up the switchbacks, it became very clear that there was only room on this path for one leader. Assuming I had the energy to pass Glenn (which would be a HORRIBLE assumption) there just wasn’t room to pass him without falling off the side of the mountain.
Last week, Peter did good. He called Jesus the Messiah. This week when Jesus as the leader decided to hike down a trail that was VERY different from the one Peter had imagined he didn’t do as well. Peter, like almost everybody else in that day and time, imagined the Messiah would go to Jerusalem, kick the Romans out, restore the boarders of Israel, clean house at the Temple, and then become King, ruling over a thousand year reign of peace and prosperity. THAT’S the Messiah Peter and all the people were waiting for!
When Jesus decided to NOT take that expected path and instead told the disciples that he planned to take the totally UNEXPECTED trail to death with a side trip through major suffering, it was WAY too much for Peter to get his mind around. Peter figured Jesus must have just gotten a little confused. So to “help” Peter decided to give Jesus some directions. The problem was that in giving Jesus directions, he was in essence, trying to take over the leadership of the group. Peter had stopped following and now was trying to lead.
In the end, Peter and the disciples did decide to get back behind Jesus and walk with him down the trail to Jerusalem... right to the corner of Suffering Drive and Death Boulevard. And they were right! It wasn’t a pretty path. They too experienced hardship, suffering and in most cases their own terrible deaths, because they chose to follow Jesus. These days, you and I are not called to walk to Jerusalem in modern day Israel, but as disciples, we are still called to follow Jesus on a particular path.
Paul outlines the path we are called to follow. 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. This isn’t meant to be just a philosophy or something that only happens for an hour on Sunday morning. We are called to get off our sitters and walk this particular path every single day and in every part of our lives. We are called to live our lives, put our necks on the line, take the risk and actively work for the things that are good and actively fight the things that are evil. That means more than just giving some money to feed someone who’s hungry. It means also asking WHY that person is hungry. It means working to change the systems so that we put ourselves out of the feeding-hungry-people business, because we’ve changed the world so that everybody is now able to feed themselves! It means looking in the mirror and trying to see how we might play a part in systemic injustice. It means much more than charity... even though that is a powerful and essential thing... it is about also working for real and lasting justice.
Hiking this path, I know, can burn. This path can get pretty uncomfortable, but this is our call as Christians. Going down a different, more comfortable path is an option. Just look around. The world hops on that path like it’s a superhighway. Ignoring injustice, might makes right, wealth at the expense of the poor, demonizing the oppressed... it happens every day... but I’ve got to warn you, the path that takes you to that sort of comfort and brings success at the expense of others and gets it’s way though violence is not the path Jesus is headed down. According to Jesus, that path doesn’t lead to the abundant life God created us to live. That path leads to a crumpled mess at the bottom of a great big cliff.
So, we’re confronted again with last week’s question. Who will we follow? Jesus is geared up and headed down a difficult path that demands generosity, grace, forgiveness, justice and compassion. The world... well, the world is headed I don’t know where these days... but we need to choose. We need to choose either to follow the leader or go our own way and remember, not choosing is actually a choice too, to NOT follow the leader.
One trail calls us to welcome the stranger, work for a world of justice, live in harmony and feed our enemies. The other trail calls us to concentrate on making it big in the world, living high on the hog at the expense of others and looking out for number one. One trail leads to thinking first about ourselves. The other leads to putting the needs of others before ourselves. One path leads to a destination called death. The other path takes, not a short cut, but the LONG-CUT called suffering and then goes THROUGH death and ends at a rather scenic vista called abundant and eternal life. Jesus has his boots laced up, his pack cinched up and is headed down the path. Are you ready to follow the leader? Amen.