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The Invisible Disaster: Bethlehem, September 3rd 2017

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The Time after Pentecost

September 3rd 2017

Jeremiah 15:15-21 Psalm 26:1-8 Romans 12:9-21 Matthew 16:21-28

The Invisible Disaster


If we have eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart full of love and compassion, then we will see a disaster far worse that the one in Texas. I will explore this topic at the end of this sermon. (I later discovered this was my last sermon. I thought I was preaching two more.)

Last time we heard that Christ was the Rock, the Rock of our Salvation and we repeated the words from the well-known hymn: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.”

Now today you can see that Peter is not the rock, even though Christ renamed him Peter or Rock or perhaps Rocky and even though it is written inside the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome: “You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my church.” The popes sit in the chair of St. Peter. But Christ is the Rock, not Peter. In today’s lesson Peter turns into a stumbling block for Christ.

In all humility, we have to identify with Peter and realize that sometimes we witness to Christ with our words and our lives and sometimes we deny Christ with our words and our lives. We are sinners and saints. But like alcoholics, we hope to be recovering and not falling back for the bottle again and again, like a baby who never gives up the bottle. We have to be recovering sinners and become those who really follow Jesus, not only with our words, but also with our lives; not only with lip-talk, but also with soul-talk; not only superficially, but with all our hearts, with our whole lives.

To be honest, I have to confess that I am not there yet. Don’t you have to confess that as well? If we say we haven’t sinned, then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, in the words of John. Those words are in our liturgical confession of sin.

So, it’s dishonest to be self-righteous, to identify completely with our sun-shiny side, because we then see our sins in other people. It’s also a problem when we allow others to define us by our sinful side and we give in and see ourselves that way too. You all know better than I do, that is one of the features of bigotry, prejudice, and racism. Like Jennifer was telling us, the little Indian kids identified with the cowboys and killed the Indians! Even the Indian children had been convinced that the cowboys were the good guys and the Indians the bad guys! We are all good and bad and we have to take responsibility for our bad side and not project it onto others. (This psychological interpretation of prejudice needs to be complemented, however, by the systemic one. When government G.I. policies exclude Black people from home ownership, while granting it to their White counterparts, the policy itself furthers racism and in a much more drastic materialistic way.)

So, when we are self-righteous or even self-rejecting we forget that we become righteous by God’s grace. Our righteousness, our integrity is not our own, but we borrow it from Jesus Christ our Lord and as sinful as we are, God looks at us through rose colored glasses and loves us until we become lovable; accepts us, as unacceptable as we are, and makes us acceptable. God loves us so much, God finds out where we are hiding, where we have gotten lost, comes to us and makes us glow with the radiant beauty of Christ; yes, who comes and lives in our hearts, showing us the way.

Now in our lesson, Peter loved Jesus and naturally did not want him to come to harm; just like we don’t want the ones that we love to come to harm. Listen how a novelist tells this story:

He [Jesus] said, “Things are going to change now.” He [Jesus] heaved a sigh. We [disciples] all were moving with him now toward the little spring of water. He said, “I have to go to Jerusalem. When I get there, I will suffer many things form the elders and the chief priests and the scribes. I’m telling you now so that you need not be surprised when it happens. It will happen.”

Jesus knelt down by the spring, cold from the earth. He made a cup of his hands and scooped water. Just before he started to drink, he said, “I will be killed in Jerusalem, and on the third day be raised –“

I spoke again. [Peter is speaking.] I said the most natural thing there was to say.

Well, my feelings were so hurt by Jesus’ words. Be killed? Was this the gloomy thing he’d been thinking about all the time?

I grabbed his wrist and shouted, “No!” The water splashed from his hands. “No, God won’t allow it!” I cried.

On account of my feelings, I was gripping him with all my strength. But he started to pry my fingers from his wrist. He had terrible power in his hands.

I blustered on. Surely he knew that I was arguing out of love for him! “O Lord,” I said, “this can never happen to you!”

[After Jesus says to Peter, get thee behind me Satan! The author] emphasizes these thoughts in Peter:

“No, but I do care for the things of God! And I love you, Lord Jesus! This is so confusing. One minute I’m Peter; the next minute I’m Satan, but I didn’t change! How can plain love cause such outrage in the Lord?”[1]

Wasn’t that the most natural thing for Peter to do, because he loved Jesus? Wouldn’t we all try to preserve those we love from harm?

     But listen to the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “When God calls you, God bids you come and die!” We love to sing “I will make you fishers of men!” – I changed it slightly to: “I will make you fishers again of women and men, and also children!” But when you have a fish on the line, it fights you for its life, because when you pull it in and take it out of the water, it dies and becomes your food. Like Jesus, we become the food of life, the food for abundant, everlasting life.

     Jesus says, “If you want to become my followers, deny yourselves, take up your 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 gain it.”

     There’s a strong death wish in each of us. Is Jesus saying that we mistake death for life? I think this call is first of all a spiritual thing. “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose your life.” Or what is more precious than your life? I like to translate it: “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose yourself.” Or what is more precious than yourself?

     The commentary points out that this was usually said to soldiers before a battle: they will gain their lives by losing them. And also in loyalty to friends and in love: by losing your life you will gain it.

     Sometimes it is not only spiritual, but also real and physical, for example in Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But when we are baptized, we lose our old Adam and Eve selves. They die and we are raised up in our new Christ selves. Talking about love, when we lose our self in our marriage, we get a new self, lifted up in the love of our partner and we even get a collective marriage self as well as a family self when the children come. Each of these new selves require self-denial and the reward is a larger self, a more glorious self.

     Jesus was setting his face to Jerusalem to die there: to suffer, to be crucified, and to die; descend into Hell and then in his resurrection to open up the way to everlasting life in heaven for you and me. How could Peter have known that?

     When we can give up ourselves in our baptisms or give up our egos, give ourselves away, a foretaste of being the children of heaven to come, can already be experienced.

     Like the first one to make the way was Jesus Christ our Lord, and now all the martyrs, like Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are already experiencing the feature presentation of the kingdom of Heaven. They are the church triumphant, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine. God allows us, however, to have previews of the coming attractions.

     The Holy Spirit brings this about among us. In our natural state, we are like a herd of cats that the Good Shepherd is trying to herd. You can’t herd cats. They just go off into all kinds of different directions. Just like, you can’t herd chickens. We have to be more like ducks and geese, because they stay together in their flock. If only we were more like them.

     Let me try to get at something that will bring hope to the poor people around Corpus Christi and Houston, Texas. They are together experiencing a great disaster. I was once driving home from Boston, north to where we lived in Haverhill, when it started snowing. It turned into an incredible snow storm which dumped snow on us. It snowed so hard our cars were getting buried in snow and we just had to leave our cars on the highway and go into stores to keep warm. The stores remained open for us and helped us. Suddenly everyone became one. We talked with complete strangers like we had known each other all our lives. The crisis we faced in the cold and needing to abandon our cars in the snow made us all one and we all helped each other in whatever way we could.

     Before the storm there was the usual road rage, people overtaking each other, and cutting others off for their own advantage. That great Northeaster, as those snow storms are called in New England, changed us all making us have one heart and soul together.

     That is what is happening in Texas right now. The people are coming together with those who help them too, as one heart and soul. It does not matter if you voted for Trump or Hillary, you’re rich or poor, or native or an immigrant wearing an ankle bracelet in the water. If you are in danger of drowning, people will try to rescue you. People place their own lives at risk to save the lives of complete strangers.

Jesus did that for all of us by going to the cross and the Holy Spirit can change us into those kinds of people with hearts and souls together. We have to save people from an invisible disaster far greater than the flooding in Texas. We don’t have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, or the hearts to perceive the disaster among us. We can only see the physical, natural disasters.

That is what I said we had to ponder last time. Why are our churches closing? We have to become one heart and soul together to save people from the human disaster in slow motion among us, which is worse than what is happening in Texas, kills many more people, (Just think of all the overdoses just in Ohio.) and destroys many more households than a natural disaster could do.

     But our churches refuse to be awakened and activated. Christ tries to lead us like a flock and we’re making like cats running off in all our own directions. Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to light up our hearts and minds with the love and compassion for the lost among us. Feeding the homeless is a good first step.

So often here in Bethlehem the 99 sheep are looking for the lost shepherd. But Jesus Christ comes to us through the Holy Spirit – so Bethlehem can become a center for the lost and found, where many can come and find their souls by losing them here – losing them lost in wonder, love, and praise. Amen.


[1] Walter Wangerin, The Book of God. He is the Novelist quoted in Brian Stoffregen’s CrossMarks:


Written by peterkrey

September 5, 2017 at 9:13 am

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