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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

I'm Fixed Upon It

Wandering Heart, Lenten sermon series, week 4 of 6, using the life of Peter beside Jesus and the hymn “Come Thou Fount”, from SantifiedArt.com, preached March 10, 2024

Context

This Lent, we are studying encounters between Peter and Jesus, and looking for ourselves in Peter, his beliefs and his doubts, his confusion and his faith. Along the way, we are signing the hymn, Come Thou Fount, and finding key phrases from the song parallel Peter’s feelings.


Caitlan read from Luke 5, Jesus’ call of Peter and the disciples by the lakeshore, and we sang “Jesus Sought Me when a stranger”… Caitlan helped us see, we are never strangers to this God, who knows us better than we know ourselves.


We read from Matthew 14, Peter and the disciples in a boat, in a storm, and we sang “He to rescue me from danger.” We saw the doubt in Peter’s faith, and realized doubt is normal and needed for faith to grow.


We read from Matthew 16, where Jesus asks the disciples “Who does the world say that I am?”, and then asked, “But who do YOU say that I am?” and we sang “Praise the mount.”

We would have to tell Jesus the truth about who the world says he is, a myth, a divisive and harsh judge, or out of touch, out of reach. Then, we prayed for the courage to tell him we believe he is Lord of all, prince of peace, a Palestinian Jew, and the way to life itself.


Today, let’s pray, and listen for the word of the Lord.

Scripture MATTHEW 16:20-25

20 Then Jesus sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was[f] the Messiah.

21 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.


22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”


23 But Jesus 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.”


24 Then Jesus told all his disciples, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their own life will loose/destroy it/themself, and those who loose/destory their life for my sake will find it/themself…


This is the word of the Lord… Thanks be to God.


Sermon I’m Fixed Upon It

Their mom was dying, and we were standing around her bed in the ER. Mom had given orders not to do any more aggressive treatments, after suffering from many things over the last few years. One daughter was angry and lashing out at the doctors and nurses, but they said there was nothing they could do. Then she lashed out at her siblings for letting her sign the papers. Then she lashed out at me, angry that I made her do this. Our church had a seminar where we talked about wills, power of attorney, and advanced directives. The daughter was so fixed upon not suffering herself the pain and grief of mom dying, even if mom suffered, that she was willing to hurt everyone else around her.


It was Memorial Day weekend and worship had just ended. I was in the pastor’s study taking my robe off and putting things away. Two men came through, and one was red-faced. He said, “How dare you!?” “How dare I what?” I asked. “It’s Memorial Day and you didn’t ask us veterans to stand and be recognized.” I said back, probably too quickly, “Well, Memorial Day isn’t about those who can stand and be recognized.” He was a veteran of Vietnam, but he was so fixed upon being honored himself for some of the things he did for his country that he was dishonoring the memory of those who died.


When Jesus tells the disciples he’s going to keep going, and begins to imagine for them the resistance, and violence, and maybe death he could face, and imagines his trusted, hoped-for resurrection on the third day even if he dies, Peter lashes out, red faced, and dishonors his Lord.


This is a pivotal moment for Peter. Peter has just declared that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God—a praise the mount expression of faith. Then, Peter is faced with the reality of Jesus being the Messiah, and that reality challenges his understanding of messiah, of Jesus, of faithfulness itself. Jesus reveals the difficult path ahead for God’s messiah… not one of conquering and victory, but one of humility, honesty, conviction, submission — and if the those in charge do not change and bend to Jesus’ vision for God’s community, then they might arrest Jesus, torture him, or even crucify him. That possibility does not match Peter’s vision of a triumphant Messiah who would conquer enemies, establish an earthly kingdom, and rule for his people once again. In the face of such a radical change, even if from Jesus, Peter’s instinct is to deny that truth and avoid that path of hardship, grief, and struggle.


Peter is so “fixed upon” the way he thinks things should go. He is willing to confront and contradict Jesus, the one he just called Messiah. He is so scared and resistant to this perceived change of direction, this possibility, he’s willing to fight God over it. But Jesus is fixed upon staying faithful to God’s message, God’s love and justice, God’s beloved community no matter the consequences, and therefore, calls Peter out.


Jesus does not show pity or patience with that kind of response. Jesus rebukes Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” It’s a sharp reminder that sometimes our well-intentioned desires to protect and preserve can become stumbling blocks to our following God’s call.


Have you ever experienced something where life shatters and makes you question everything? We, too, can encounter upheaval and crisis, and our hearts may wander 6as old answers and assumed meanings don’t seem to work anymore. Do you remember times when you faced difficult or r the tension of those moments? Did you struggle and fight against them, or the ones telling you? Did you stop dead in your tracks and try to run backward, rather than proceed down the difficult but faithful path before you? Do you have any regrets for things you said or did to avoid faithful truths in those moments? Who doesn’t want to avoid pain and suffering?


See, faith doesn’t always shield us from hardship. In fact, it may point us deeper into troubles and problems, ones we’ve avoided seeing, or ones we’ve seen but denied. Faith makes us admit addictions. Faith makes us tell the truth to our partner, even if it might hurt or change everything. Faith makes us step up, step in if something doesn’t feel quite right. Faith doesn’t back away or keep a secret, or pretend like everything is fine, going to be fine, going to be normal, going to go back to how things used to be. Faith admits things are hard, things are changing. Faith rebukes a bully, or a gossip. Faith admits racism is active and alive in our country from slavery through Jim Crow through civil rights and those affects still linger in the systems and structures all around us today. Faith admits America generates enough wealth to house and feed every citizen and plenty of immigrants, but we’ve tipped the scales away from the poor toward the wealthy in how we do education, or minimum wage, or healthcare, or retirement, or taxes. Any effort to changing any of these things may cause resistance or violence, and faithful people are often rebuked for trying to do so. But faithful people who do NOTHING to walk these hard faithful roads, well, to those Jesus says, Get behind me Satan.


Like Peter, we may have to face inconvenient truths and drop our preconceived notions. Jesus’ response to Peter reminds us of the importance of our commitment to God’s mission, even when it’s difficult. When the path before us means change, grief, hardship, can we stay rooted to our convictions in Christ while also loosening our grip on control? Can we enter each new evolution of our faithful life like a welcome change of seasons, and embrace whatever difficulty from faith that may lie ahead with an open heart and open hands?


Sometimes, it is by leaning into change, grief, struggle that we begin the journey of healing in our own lives and in our relationship with God. This is because change, grief, struggle isn't about staying “fixed upon” what was as much as it is about learning new ways to bend all things toward God’s beloved community of love and justice.


Let’s fix our hearts and minds upon God's grace. Let’s trust we are always guided by the unwavering love of our Creator. Even if faithfulness leads us into the midst of change, grief, or suffering, let’s go there together trusting the transformative power of faith.


Let’s pray…


Prayer

Charge

Brian McLaren uses the image of tree rings to describe stages of faith. Like a tree, we may have dark rings which are from dormant seasons (fall and winter), when there isn’t much growth or change. Then there are wider, lighter areas between these darker rings that represent seasons of growth and change (spring and summer). It’s okay to be still and wait in certain seasons, when growth and change are not asked or expected of us. But when the time comes, and God calls us to grow and change, will we resist and get rebuked , or will we let go of our preferred life and in so doing find our true life with God?


Benediction

Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you this day, this night, this moment, and forever more. Amen? Amen.

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