Looking for a Savior (Part 2)
Matthew 16:21–28 (NRSV): 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 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 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.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 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?
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. 28 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.”
Last week we talked about the significance of Jesus as our personal savior. Jesus comes to us, relates to us, calls us and loves us as unique individuals. When we see the humanness of Jesus, we can see a Jesus who enjoyed life and enjoys some of the same things in the world that we do. To call Jesus our personal savior describes his desire to be in relationship with us. And this week we are looking at how this personal relationship with Jesus opens the door to transform our relationship with other human beings and the whole world around us.
Jesus comes and meets us where we are and then he expands our line of vision. He helps us see the road ahead and to value the people who are suffering on the margins of society.
This is the divine heart of Jesus. He shows the character of our almighty creator, when he sees us in our suffering and, instead of just solving our problems, he comes alongside us and suffers with us. He help us through this suffering and then he cooperates with us to help us move forward and change our situation. Jesus chooses to share his ministry of bringing life where there is death. He shows us the power of God to resurrect himself, and then he helps us resurrect our own lives and rebuild our communities. Jesus acts as the divine savior of the world by working through humanity to make the world a better place for us and for those who will come after us.
When we commit to follow Jesus as our personal savior, he sets out to transform our perspective so that we might begin to see the world through his Savior tinted glasses.
Once we can look beyond our own suffering, we can see Jesus as the divine savior of the world, and we can see we are not the only ones who are suffering, we are not the only ones that need a savior, we are not the only ones that Jesus came to save.
Like Peter, our tendency can be to try to change Christ’s call to be more cheery, or hopeful, or less violent, but Jesus calls us to lay down our expectations for what is to come.
His disciples have seen the signs and recognize that he is here to be the promised Messiah to save their people from their suffering, but they missed that part of the prophet’s words, because, like we read last week in Isaiah, the Lord has already said that the servant will have to suffer to save the people from the oppression they face. Jesus tells them that he will be persecuted by their church leaders, their community leaders and their political leaders. He tells them that he will be killed and then raised from the dead.
This is just too much for Peter. Rev. Tom Long characterizes him as “a man who has just been named campaign manager of a promising presidential candidate who astonishingly hears the candidate proclaim that he can accomplish his goals only by being assassinated.” So Peter, the good politician, pulls Jesus aside and says, “Heaven forbid this should happen.” It’s like he’s saying to Jesus, "Don’t you have faith in God’s protection? Surely you will not be killed, you need to be more hopeful and trusting of God. Don’t be such a downer.”
Jesus pushes Peter back and says, “Get behind me, Satan. Yesterday you took on the calling the be the rock and foundation of my church, but today you are making yourself a stumbling block for me. Get behind me, follow me, and suffer with me. If you want to be my follower, you must also suffer for your neighbors. You must lay down your vision for what I will become and who you will become, so that God can give us creativity to see a future brighter than we can imagine. And to get to that freedom, we have to accept limitations. To taste the goodness and sweetness of heaven, we must endure and wrestle with the bitterness and frustrations of death. We will lose much, and at the same time God will bring new life."
Peter reveals to us how easy it is to transform our Christian calling to fit our needs. We are looking for someone to save us from the terrors of this world, but Jesus looks at this world and still sees Hope. Jesus asks us, "Did you follow me to make your life better or to make the world a better place? This world is worth fighting for, you are worth fighting for, so let’s work together. Pick up your cross, and let’s get to work. You will still suffer, but this suffering brings healing for others and ultimately healing for you."
Cornelius Plantiga, Jr, warns that we can easily convince ourselves that all suffering is meant to be endured. He says, “Self-deception is a shadowy phenomenon by which we pull the wool over some part of our own psyche…We deny, suppress, or minimize what we know to be true. We assert, adorn and elevate what we know to be false. We prettify ugly realities and sell ourselves the prettified versions.”
What kind of savior are we looking for? Are we looking for someone to make us feel better about ourselves and absolve us from any blame for the way things are in this world? Are we looking for someone to build the bridges between republicans and democrats, between whites and blacks, between poor and rich, between the haves and have nots? Are we looking for someone to bring us physical, mental and emotional healing? You bet we are!
And Jesus looks towards us with compassion and says, “I see your pain, and I am suffering with you. I suffer for you. And if you truly want harmony, peace and healing in this world, you must do the work, too. You must work towards rebuilding trust among your neighbors and people who think differently than you do. If you truly want to be my follower, you must value the life of those who are suffering, you must stand in their shoes and walk alongside them, just like I am doing."
The trouble is, when we are suffering, it can be hard to suffer with others. It’s hard to have empathy and understanding when we feel misunderstood or ignored. And I think it is no accident that Jesus says, “pick up your cross,” and not “pick up your neighbors cross.” We need to first recognize our own suffering, shame and sin, so that Christ can transform our lives and open our eyes to see the sufferings of others.
Together we suffer, and together we can build a better tomorrow.
Peter missed that Jesus was being hopeful. The foretelling of his death was also the foretelling of his resurrection. Death does not have the final word. Where there is loss and death, Jesus brings new life.
Our suffering will not last forever, because Jesus will work alongside us to bring new life out of our losses, to bring new relationships out of our pain, to bring new bridges out of the wreckage.
There sits a church in Dresden, Germany called the Frauenkirche, the Church of our Lady. The original building was destroyed by bombs during World War 2 and it wasn’t until the peaceful revolution and Re-unification of Germany in 1989 and 90 that rebuilding was allowed to begin. During that 40 some year stretch, the rubble remained untouched, reminding people of their suffering, but the people of the church and the community did not lose hope. Many gathered together to raise the funds and rebuild the church as they were rebuilding the city of Dresden in their new found freedom. In the reconstruction, one of their guiding principles was to use the rubble and previous architecture as much as possible, as to keep the memory. In their mission statement they explain, "The use of the building’s original substance to as large an extent as possible will make the fate of the destruction of the rebuilt Frauenkirche visibly evident for many years to come. The dark colouring of the old stones and the dimensional differences in the joint areas between the new and old masonry resemble the scars of healed wounds. In this way, the Frauenkirche will testify to the history of its destruction in the future too. At the same time, however, it is testimony to the overcoming of enmity and a sign of hope and reconciliation. “
This is what it looks like when Jesus brings new life where there was death and destruction. New relationships are formed, new shelters are built, and the life that is lived tells the story of freedom for the captives, food for the hungry, joy for the weeping, and peace for the suffering.
May we come together to be instruments of this peace for our suffering world. Amen.