Not Today, Satan

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on August 30, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here. 

Matthew 16:21-28

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, “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.”

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 God, 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.”

I’ve told many of you about my call story, the moment I tell committees and boards that I knew I was supposed to do this work, but I don’t talk as much about the times where I felt a call and ignored it. Like the time I was 6 and was asked to read scripture in church, even though I barely spoke a word to the pastor who asked me. Like the time when I felt God move as a camper at church camp for the first and second and third time. Like when I would talk about church in school, as something I loved being a part of, because Jesus was really cool. Like the time when I yearned for a role at my campus ministry in college, even though I was a woman and therefore not allowed to speak in that particular denomination?

What is a risky thing you have done in your life?

These moments are easy to see looking back as things I just missed somehow. But knowing my stubbornness and my tendency to do only things I was good at, I would guess that most of these instances were moments I pushed away or ignored as a call from God, because I was too afraid of what might come from it. 

Let’s face it. Discipleship is scary stuff. It really is. It’s scary to see or become aware of God leading us somewhere or telling us something, then asking us to trust that it is true enough to follow along. Yes, faith is about believing in things that we often can not see, at least not literally, but it doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. And Jesus has something to say about that today. 

This passage starts out in a declaratory way: Jesus is foretelling his own death. He told his disciples they needed to go back to Jerusalem, because his death and then his resurrection were coming up next in his story. Now, put yourself in their shoes. How would you be feeling right now, after your teacher and travel partner, your leader just told you to turn around because he needed to report back for his own brutal death?

How would you be feeling if your leader just gave this news of their impending death to you?

Jesus shows his authority in a really important way, bravely leading, even though he knows that scary things are coming. 

And even though they trusted Jesus, the disciples still didn’t like the idea Jesus was proposing, and Peter specifically responded to him, saying, “Jesus, no. Are you crazy? This isn’t happening.” Jesus replied to him “get behind me, Satan”. Peter was trying to tell Jesus that he should protect his own life instead of sacrificing himself for the world, and Jesus replies “Get behind me, Satan”. It’s not that Jesus didn’t want to validate Peter’s concerns or fears. But he did want to show that he knows the story, that it will be tough, and still, that Jesus himself was the one called to lead them through it.

Get behind me, Satan, it may seem like a strong insult. But when we break it down, it’s actually a really compassionate remark. The phrase ‘get behind me’ indicates discipleship. It’s as if Jesus was saying, let me lead you. Trust me that I’m leading you well. And the echo of Satan gives a nod to Jesus being tested in the wilderness. So it’s not so much that Peter was being compared to Satan at all actually. Jesus was simply asking Peter to trust him, that he knew what had to be done, and that he was the leader for this risky job.

Peter said no, that they shouldn’t go back to Jerusalem, and Jesus said “get behind me, Satan”, as if to say, no wait, I’m in charge here. I am God. Follow me.

God leads us like that too. God brings us to holy ground again and again, through our prayers, through our calls, through the leanings and nudges we feel. And sometimes, it’s easy for us to make excuses, to say to God “I’m not good enough” or “Surely you can’t mean *I* am called to that” or “Someone else can do that better than me”. And God patiently responds to us, listen, I am God, you’re going to do this. And you can either do it kicking and screaming, or you can just do it and trust that I am God and that this is where you’re meant to be. Let’s do this thing.

We sometimes want a risk-free discipleship, a faith that requires some action, but only the amount we want. We sometimes want the kind of faith where we can slip out the backdoor without people noticing, or where we can read our bibles and call it good. Will that be the reality sometimes? Is that okay? Yes. But here, Jesus is arguing for a more expansive faith, one that is risky, active, and one where we don’t yet know all the answers.

Last week, we talked about the need for action in our faith, the need to show people Jesus in addition to telling people about him. And this week, we continue that challenge, this time by asking how you will step out in risky discipleship. 

You can answer in your own mind or in your family, but I want you to leave today with an idea of how you will step out in risky discipleship.

Will you have a risky conversation with a friend or neighbor or stranger?

Will you enroll in a program you’ve always wanted to try?

Will you share your faith with the church, through a sermon or a musical offering, or through membership?

Will you attend a protest or march that means something to you?

When we step out in faith, believing that like Jesus led his disciples, that God leads us where we need to go, we move closer and closer towards the resurrection, that newness and everlasting life God promises us.

What does God offer in return for our discipleship? What does God promise us?

Verses 27-28 say this: 

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of God, 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.”

God offers truth, and grace and justice, and God offers God’s self, which in itself is a promise of relationship and hope and love. 

As you leave this place today, may you commit to growing in risky discipleship, following Jesus, even when it feels scary, even when there is risk involved. May you commit to moving towards your own resurrection, God leading the way in truth and love.

Amen.

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