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Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on August 28, 2005

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Pentecost 15

Sermon preached by

The Rev. Ethan Cole

August 28, 2005, 8:00 a.m. Service

Last week we heard Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ-and on the rock of that insight, that Jesus is Christ, he will build his Church-for if Jesus is not Christ, we are in the wrong place this morning.

But in the next verses after Peter states his powerful faith in Christ, that same disciple misunderstands what it means for Jesus to be Christ. Jesus teaches his disciples that he must undergo great suffering and be killed, and on the third day rise again. Peter says "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." Jesus, who had called Peter, "Rock", just a few verses earlier now calls him "Satan." "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." From "Rock" to "Satan" is a long fall.

I think Jesus tells Peter he is a stumbling block to him, because Peter has offered him a temptation. Even though Jesus is Christ, he is still Mary and Joseph's son, flesh and blood, human. He knows the path that stretches out before him leads to Calvary, and he is tempted by Peter to turn away. It is a strong temptation-perhaps if Jesus had accepted this temptation the story would look more like the Da Vinci Code's vision of Jesus life rather than the gospel as we know it.

Nor Jesus does not take the route that Peter offers him, just as he did not take the route that Satan offered him in the wilderness. Instead he taught the way he was going to walk was the way his followers would need to walk as well. Jesus said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

It is not an easy way that Jesus has invited us into. It is such a tough road that Jesus himself was tempted not to take it, but there it is: if any want to be his followers, let them take up their cross and follow him.

The Collect at Morning Prayer for Fridays is, I think, one of the most beautiful prayers we have, and a simple and profound way to explain what Jesus is on about here.

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is one of the central Christian paradoxes. The way of the cross is the way of life and peace. It can be profoundly personal what the way of the cross means to each believer, or it can be clearly public. The life and peace found from the cross can similarly be an intimate experience in the believers' heart, or a radiating public joy. Regardless of how the cross looks in your life or mine, regardless of when or how the life and peace promised manifest themselves, we have a good explanation of the way of the cross in community living in the passage from Paul's Epistle to the Romans. It is a strikingly clear exposition of how we ought to live. "Let love be genuine…love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor….Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer….Bless those who persecute you…Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep….Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Beloved, never avenge yourselves…if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty give them something to drink."

These are not easy commands-it is much easier to hold grudges, be angry at those who wrong us and try to pay them back. It is hard to weep with the weeping sometimes. It is easier to shy away from human grief.

Paul's words about enemies are in stark contrast to Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson's call for the US to assassinate the president of Venezuela last week. And they are in stark contrast to the way we often live our day to day.

My invitation to you today is to continue walking the way of the cross-let us try always to live our community life the way St. Paul exhorts. But since the way of the cross is so difficult, let us rejoice that it has already been walked for us by our Jesus who stumbled and fell on that hard road so that he might pick us up when we too stumble and fall, always remembering that the end of the cross is Resurrection and not death. Amen.

 

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2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York