Can You Imagine?
The Bible texts from which this post was written are pasted below the text for reference.
Peter did not want to lose Jesus. But in order for Jesus to be Jesus – to do what God intended for Jesus – Peter and the rest of the disciples had to let go. They had to be willing to lose their life, in order to understand life in a new way.
Jesus said: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
When we lose the things we don’t want to lose, we discover that we have the gift of being free from those things that keep us from being fully human. And being fully human means that we let go of our desire to be perfect.
David Lose, in his blog this week, made this observation: “Peter couldn’t imagine that Jesus had come not to just comfort people, but to free them. Comforting isn’t that hard: we give someone a little more of what they have and tell them it will be alright.
But freedom is different.
Freedom requires that we see that what we have isn’t life-giving in the first place. Being free means that we let go of what we have, even our very lives, so that we live not for self, but for others.
Blogger Karoline Lewis in her blog this week says: “Before the cross was something in which to believe, it was a moment in time, a moment in the life of the first disciples, when they learned how to believe.”
I have lots of crosses.
Now most days I wear a cross that depicts a shepherd with a sheep over his shoulders. There are more sheep behind the shepherd and the sheep the shepherd is carrying. Above the shepherd is a symbol of dove representing the reality that the shepherd is empowered by the Spirit to do the carrying.
Wearing the cross is not just about identifying myself as a Christian. Wearing the cross reminds me that each day, each moment, I am at a crossroads, a decision point. Every moment is an opportunity for me to embrace the freedom that I have to let go and turn my self and my life over to God, minute by minute.
Wearing a cross is a reminder that I need to hear Jesus’ words to Peter, words to me: “Get behind me Satan.”
Jesus is not just about suffering and sin and salvation, Jesus is about the freedom for us to be and proclaim and live the kingdom of God.
This is not easy. It is not easy because we don’t want to put our lives into God’s perspective, we would rather live our lives from our perspective.
Blogger David Lose identifies our need for an act of imagination. I would call it holy imagination.
Can you imagine?” Maybe that’s the question to ask ourselves this week.
Can you imagine that God is at work in and through your life for the good of the world?
Can you imagine that this congregation has something of value to offer its community?
Can you imagine that when you befriend the lonely or encourage the frightened, heaven rejoices?
Can you imagine that, though afraid, when you stand up to those who spew hate, God is with you?
Can you imagine that even small acts of love and generosity challenge the world order and introduce a different reality?
Can you imagine that God wants for us not just comfort but freedom?
Can you imagine that love is more powerful than hate?
Can you imagine that God raised Jesus from the dead?
Can you imagine a world that Paul must have imagined?
Paul writes: 9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
(A patchwork quilt of a type traditionally made in North America, with patches of randomly varying sizes, shapes, colors, and fabrics.)
They do not make them any more,
For quilts are cheaper at the store
Than woman’s labor, though a wife
Men think the cheapest thing in life.
But now and then a quilt is spread
Upon a quaint old walnut bed,
A crazy quilt of those old days
That I am old enough to praise.
Some women sewed these points and squares
Into a pattern like life’s cares.
Here is a velvet that was strong,
The poplin that she wore so long,
A fragment from her daughter’s dress,
Like her, a vanished loveliness;
Old patches of such things as these,
Old garments and old memories.
And what is life? A crazy quilt;
Sorrow and joy, and grace and guilt,
With here and there a square of blue
For some old happiness we knew;
And so the hand of time will take
The fragments of our lives and make,
Out of life’s remnants, as they fall,
A thing of beauty, after all.
– Douglas Malloch from The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America.
Can you imagine a crazy quilt made with our lives, lives that imagine what God imagines for us?
Second Reading: Romans 12:9-21
Paul presents benchmarks for faithful relationships with Christians and non-Christians. Love is the unflagging standard of our behavior. When we encounter evil, we do not resort to its tactics but seek to overcome it with good. While Christians cannot control the actions and attitudes of others, we seek to live at peace with all people.
9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28
After Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16), Jesus reveals the ultimate purpose of his ministry. These words prove hard to accept, even for a disciple whom Jesus has called a “rock.”
21From that time on, [after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah,] 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. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he 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.”
24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For 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?
27“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. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”