August 31, 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Matthew 16: 21- 23
“Don’t Be a Stumbling Block”
Our lesson from the gospel this morning is a difficult one. Difficult in that we first hear Peter rebuking Jesus, then Jesus responds by scolding Peter, whom historically, we know becomes the pillar of the church after Jesus is gone. How is it that such an important person in the life of the Christian Church takes such a humiliating and public criticism from Jesus? As we begin our reflection on this let us consider the enormity of what Jesus is trying to express to Peter and the others that day. Jesus is foretelling them of his persecution and death and his ultimate resurrection, yet Peter’s humanness, his worldly perspective of things blocks his understanding of Jesus’ words.
It is easy for us, here in the Twenty-First Century to see and understand how Peter was clearly a stumbling block in this story. His misunderstanding of what Jesus was saying were interrupting the insight Jesus was offering to the disciples that day. Jesus was trying to express the very essence of his ministry and mission to the disciples and here was Peter getting in the way! It upset the human man Jesus so much that he rebuked him saying “Get ye behind me Satan!” Thus inferring quite plainly that Peter’s closed heart and closed mind was the very work of Satan himself!
Yes, this is a very difficult passage indeed!
In an effort to open up our hearts and our minds so that we can get to the essence of what this passage is about, let me take you back to the time of what was then called the Vietnam conflict.
This is a story about: “A wealthy man and his son who loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael. They would often sit together and admire the great works of art. When the Vietnam conflict broke out, the son went to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son.
About a month later, just before Christmas, There was a knock at the door. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands. He said, ‘Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly. He often talked about you, and your love for art.’ The young man held out this package ‘I know this isn’t much. I’m not really a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this.’
The father opened the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son in the painting. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture. ‘Oh, no sir, I could never repay what your son did for me. It’s a gift.’
The father hung the portrait over his mantle. Every time visitors came to his home he took them to see the portrait of his son before he showed them any of the other great works he had collected. The man died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people gathered, excited over seeing the great paintings and having an opportunity to purchase one for their collection.
On the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel. ‘We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?’ There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted, ‘We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one.’ But the auctioneer persisted. ‘Will somebody bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding, $100, $200?’
Another voice angrily, ‘We didn’t come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Gogh’s, the Rembrandts. Get on with the Real bids!’ But still the auctioneer continued: ‘The son! The son! Who’ll take the son?’ Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. ‘I’ll give $10 for the painting.’ Being a poor man, it was all he could afford.
‘We have $10, who will bid $20?’ ‘Give it to him for $10. Let’s see the masters.’ The crowd was becoming angry. They didn’t want the picture of the son. They wanted the more worthy investments for their collections. The auctioneer pounded the gavel. ‘Going once, twice, SOLD for $10!’
A man sitting on the second row shouted, ‘Now let’s get on with the collection!’ The auctioneer laid down his gavel. ‘I’m sorry, the auction is over.’ ‘What about the paintings?’ ‘I am sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings.
The man who took the son gets everything!’” /Author Unknown/
An amazing accounting is it not? It parallels the story of Jesus in a very provoking way, thus casting a new vantage point for our reflection on today’s gospel lesson. Let us continue on.
This passage makes one wonder: Was the human Jesus struggling to stay on track with the calling to his ministry? The scriptures go to great length to make it clear that Jesus was first human. If we allow ourselves to embrace this then we begin to realize what a tremendous burden he had. The human man Jesus suffered the same pains and had to deal with the same human emotions that you and I deal with. With this in mind we begin to draw a different image of Jesus as he begins to tell the disciples about how he must go to Jerusalem and suffer much. And we begin to see how the human Peter was struggling with all this information that Jesus was revealing and unveiling to them that day.
Was Peter, whom Jesus would later declare to be the very foundation of the Church, getting in the way when Jesus referred to him as Satan? Sure he was! Jesus was opening up to the disciples all that he was compelled to do and ultimately the human cost to fulfill the scriptures as the Messiah. And here was Peter, stuck in his human unacceptance of the sacrifice that Jesus was speaking about. For if Peter accepted Jesus’ pathway that involved suffering then Peter’s intellect was telling him that he too would need to suffer to follow him. Peter simply wasn’t ready for this information!
Of course it is now apparent and easy for us to conclude that Peter had to follow Jesus. It was the only way and he ultimately had to accept this. It was the right thing for Peter to do. But what about you, do you struggle to do what is right? Then something or someone gets in your way. Surely, you and I we would not have responded like Peter did, would we have? Have we put other things ahead of our willingness to a part of the ministry that we are called to participate in? On Sundays do we sometimes let a golf game or the beach get in the way of participating in our weekly service? Are we embarrassed to stand up for what we believe when those around us clearly are doing and saying things that we know go against what we have come to put our faith in?
For the collectors in our story they should have been willing to buy the picture of the son. Surely, it was evident that the father loved the son, as they had been shown the famous paintings over the years; especially those that had visited in those final months, they must had realized firsthand or heard the story from other collectors, stories about how the father kept showing the picture of his son first. Cleary the picture was of great important to him; wasn’t it obvious that the father loved the son? So why didn’t they show a bit of respect and bid on the picture? Was it their callous disrespect for the life of the father’s love of his son, a war hero even! Was it their haste and greed to get on with the buying of the famous paintings, thus foolishly closing their hearts, as they refused to even bid on the painting of the son?
In our all too real, day to day lives, there is a need to be willing to make hard choices from time to time; most of us as adults know this. There is the subliminal theme in the story of the painting of the son that suggests the father was aware of the fact that not everyone would be interested in his son. Thus he came up with his plan to give his fortune to the person willing to honor him and his son by bidding for and buying the painting of his son. He made a choice when he had that put in his Will. Jesus made a choice when he committed himself to his Father’s will and live out the scriptures and be the Messiah. Not the Messiah the people thought was coming and be the hero king like King David, that would lead a mighty army against their Roman oppressors. But the sacrificial Messiah that was willing to die for the greater good of humankind, dying for the sins of you and me.
Our life is good here in the society we live in. It really is, especially when we compare our social setting with those of others in countries like Iran and the plight of the Palestinians or those in the Ukraine. These societies are suffering persecution at the hands of various stages of war! When you and I speak of peace, as adults, we know that we must be willing to sacrifice for others sake and not just our own. This is why we raise up Veterans Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. We understand the sacrifice.
Virtually everyone is eventually faced with the temptation to ‘give up’ and just go home when faced with a difficult situation or two. Sacrifice does not come easy. Sometimes like a poker match you must go “all in”. To stick it out and commit to a difficult situation is frequently a risk for sure. Yet sometimes you have got to take the risk and commit yourself fully to an ideal or passion you believe in.
It is difficult to always stay in tune with the will of God. We need to be on guard at all times. We need to resist the luring temptations of our ‘friends’ our neighbors and acquaintances, and yes even our loved ones, who are not willing to make the hard choices of faithfulness to a belief in God, a belief in the greater good or the willingness to give up something for the sake of another! Spiritual readiness and continuous readiness to do God’s bidding is not easy. As we go forward in life are we willing to choose the pathway that the Son of God has laid out for us? Are you; are we able to identify who or what gets in our way to follow the will of God?
Have our stumbling blocks become like works of Satan and are now stumbling blocks to the very will of God that we profess to cherish and strive to follow? Will God need to rebuke us just as Jesus needed to rebuke Peter that day?
Matthew 16: 21-23
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”