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Get Behind me Satan

Scripture: Matthew 16:21-28

In the name of One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Many of you know that I was delayed in starting this position back in May because I was at the U.S. Army’s Chaplain School this summer. I’m in my second year of serving as a Chaplain Candidate to the 450th Civil Affairs BN in White Plains, MD and I love my job and the paratroopers that I serve. But before I was a Chaplain Candidate in the Army, I was an infantryman in the Marine Corps Reserve where I served in 3/25 Kilo Company in North Versailles.

For nearly two decades, the Marines used a recruiting poster picturing Drill Instructor Sgt. Charles Taliano staring into the face of a scared-looking recruit with the caption “We don’t promise you a rose garden. The Marines are looking for a few good men.” Even though I was recruited under the slogan, “The few, the proud, the Marines,” I’ve always been fond of this classic recruiting campaign. It was honest, straightforward, and to the point. If you signed up to do the job, it wasn’t going to be easy, but they were looking for a few good men to do it anyway.

“We don’t promise you a rose garden. The Marines are looking for a few good men.”

In our Gospel passage, at first glance, it can be unclear what Saint Peter did so wrong as to receive such a strong reaction from Jesus. It seems like Peter was outraged that Jesus would be murdered. He was enraged at the scandal of the torture, the pain, the suffering that Jesus would endure. The words “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” may be exactly what I would want my friends to say if I told them I was to be brutalized and executed.

To Peter, Jesus’s succumbing to death by human hands, by an occupying government at that, was unimaginable. In the conversation before, Peter had just proclaimed Jesus to be God. God willfully submitting to the suffering of this world would be incomprehensible – and he was right to be angry – the cross was a scandal.

But, just like God saw the suffering of the Israelites in today’s reading from Exodus, he saw the suffering of his people in the 1st Century and still sees them today. It was theologian Jon Sobrino who asserted “that in history there is no such thing as love without solidarity and there is no solidarity without incarnation.”

And this proves to be true with any examination of the character of our God. Throughout all of the history of our God, time and time again, God wanted to show his solidarity with our experience. He did it when he walked with humanity in the Garden, when he made a covenant through Abraham, when he led his people out of bondage with Moses, he spoke through the prophets, and yes, when he sent Jesus Christ to die on the tree. There was no greater way for God to show his desire to be in union with us than to succumb to the consequences of our own sin.

This is what Peter was missing. Peter was missing mercy.

Up until this point, I have only addressed the suffering of Christ - and it would have been enough for God to suffer at our hands to prove his mercy for us. But notice that Peter’s words addressed Jesus’s suffering, but not the foretelling of his resurrection; the second significance of the words of Jesus that Peter could simply not understand. But thankfully, we know the rest of the story. The things that Jesus foretold to St. Peter that day did come to fruition.

Christ did truly die and was truly raised from the dead. And thus, we have the advantage that we can more fully understand the words of Jesus than Peter did. We can see that the mercy of God extended beyond his solidarity with our state and into a remedy for the injustice of eternal separation from God.

Or as our catechism eloquently states: “By his obedience, even to suffering and death, Jesus made the offering which we could not make; in him we are freed from the power of sin and reconciled to God.” Peter could not see God’s mercy working throughout the suffering inflicted on the incarnate Son.

Unlike Peter in that moment, we must have a view of life that is informed by the centrality of the mercy of Christ’s suffering and resurrection. If the suffering and death of Jesus Christ is the starting point of our understanding of God, the resurrection must be the starting point of our Christian practice. The summary of this mandate is found in the Book of Common Prayer, which states that the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

In baptism, we die with Christ and are initiated into a newness of life in Christ, a foretaste of what is to come. This newness of life we are initiated to in Baptism does not exempt us from suffering. It does, however, call us to have a renewed understanding of it. We must be in unity and solidarity with those who are suffering due to our present state, just as God put himself in unity with us as he suffered for the sake of the world. And as we are heirs to the justice of the resurrection, we must remedy the injustices that keep us away from God and one another.

And because of this mission and our call as baptized believers, when we are suffering: when a rose garden is the furthest thing from the state of our mind or the sum of our experience, we must think of Christ on the cross. We must know that our God intended – willfully - in a way that is wholly unimaginable to prove his desire to be in union with you in your suffering by submitting to suffering himself. The mercy that God extended to us by the succumbing of Jesus to human suffering cannot be overstated as a sign that God desires to walk with you in all your trials. Jesus did not promise us a rose garden, but he wore a crown of thorns to prove God’s mercy on our state.

And if the resurrection is the starting point of our practice, we must always work to end separation from God and others wherever possible. Because we seek union with one another we must be our neighbors’ rose garden when they are suffering. To “gain the world and lose our life”, is to ignore our obligation to live in solidarity and unity as our God did with the pain of our neighbors. Because when we ignore the plight of our neighbors, we do not acknowledge their humanity or our own. To ignore the mercy that we have been freely given is to deny the mercy that God extends to the entire world.

The God that we follow asks us not to ignore the pain of the world, but to deeply address it, and sets the example of how to do it through his own suffering, death, and resurrection – through an embodiment of mercy, that shows itself despite any suffering that the world can inflict.

The rebuke of Peter in this passage is a recognition that none of us are alone in our suffering – not only are we called to a life where we deeply love one another through pain as the church, but that our God walks alongside us through it too. The same God that extended mercy to the suffering of his people in Egypt and who even extended mercy to Peter when he realized his best friend was to die, sees your pain, and sent Jesus Christ to prove his mercy for you.

We may not be promised a rose garden, but we are promised the mercy of our God. Because of this Good News: walk with your neighbor, love them deeply, and live in the fullness of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Amen.

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