Fr. Terry Gatwood: Must

Sermon delivered on Trinity 12A, Sunday, September 3, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH. It’s a splendid day to listen to this sermon.

We will post the audio podcast of today’s sermon at a later time.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 3.1-15; Psalm 105.1-6, 23-26; Romans 12.9-21; Matthew 16.21-28.

“Must” is a harsh word – a hard word! It doesn’t leave room for anything else!  It is an “either-or” word.  What “must” happen will happen!  Whatever is going to take place is not subject to negotiation or arbitration!

That is what was so jarring to Peter when Jesus made it plain that he “must” go to Jerusalem where he “must” suffer many things and he “must” be killed!

This “must” simply could not be, so far as Peter was concerned. He had just come from confessing that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and Jesus had commended him for having seen so clearly who Jesus was over against all the rumors running amuck among people who had been impressed with him.  Peter acknowledged that “others say Jesus is John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 

None of those names, however, were adequate to the task of identifying exactly who Jesus was, Peter said.  He recognized Jesus to be “the Son of the Living God” – and “the Son of the Living God” was not to suffer and be killed and buried – at least not in Peter’s mind.  All the others agreed with him.

So Peter “took him aside and began to rebuke him,” as any good child of God should do.  If Jesus kept talking like that people would begin to wonder about him.  They would say that he could never do that which everyone agreed the Christ,  the Messiah, should do if he gave himself over to suffering, dying and being buried.  He should be the one in charge…the one who would lead the people of God in a revolt against the hated Roman regime, free Israel from its oppressor and renew the reign of David. He, David, was God’s Anointed One whose renewed manifestation in this man Jesus would restore the glory of the old Israel.

So this talk about being killed – which was to say that instead of him controlling what was ahead of him (as the Messiah certainly should be in control) was outrageous. He spoke of becoming subject to the ruling authorities instead of overthrowing them, instead of establishing a power base to control events.  That turned all expectations of the Messiah inside out and upside down.  The Messiah was to be in command of what was happening.  He should not speak of beingcontrolled by others.  He simply MUST stop talking like that.

That was Peter’s “MUST”!

But it wasn’t Jesus’ “must.” Nor was it the Father’s “must.”

Why “MUST”? Why Not At Least “Maybe”?

It was Jesus’ urgent statement concerning the necessity to be killed and buried that was first and foremost in Peter’s rebuke.  Anyone who was even semi-acquainted with the dangers in Jerusalem knew that it had the reputation of being the city where prophets are put to death.  But the “must” suggested that Jesus intended to be put to death there, and that is what bothered Peter.

After all, one could go to Jerusalem and NOT suffer and be killed and buried!  Since he clearly knew the danger, he could put up his guard against the danger.  He could call on his disciples to be prepared to defend him in that perilous city.  Moreover, he was very popular among the general population, and surely people would make quite a stir if anybody even tried to kill Jesus, would they not?

Furthermore, this “must” had the implication of temporal immediacy along with the implied danger itself. It was as though Jesus, having established a purpose in his going to Jerusalem, was now virtually rushing toward whatever that end of which he spoke was.

Little did Peter – nor anyone else around this little band of men – have any idea concerning what Jesus’ eye was really set upon. None had any idea of what was driving this urgent necessity.  Only Jesus himself knew that it was precisely for this hour that he had been born.  What had been behind everything prior to this from birth to baptism to words to miracles to conflict with the religious authorities – all had been preparation for this moment.  As he put it a short time before his death, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”  

Whose “Must” is Behind This?

Who made this moment a “must”? Surely you who have placed your trust in Jesus for your temporal and eternal welfare know who made this moment “necessary,” do you not?  It was for the sin of the world that this death was necessary – and we are part and parcel of that “sin of the world.”

The rebellious actions of our first parents have been repeated in numberless ways throughout the time between theirs and ours by people just like us. Not “just like us,” in fact, but repeated over and over by us, ourselves.  This defiance of God’s will and word is so deeply imbedded in all the children of those parents that it cannot even be fully recognized much less dispelled, driven out, purged from those deepest parts of our human heart – those dark subterranean vaults deep within us where we rarely if ever dare to visit much less to purify – those places called “sin” that pop up seemingly out of nowhere in ways that frighten even those of us who know they are there – often when we least expect them to appear.

We, ourselves, find it difficult and even nigh unto impossible to even recognize or admit to that which is hidden in those deep recesses of our inner beings much less to deal with them. But those things that we can neither fully realize or deal with, the Father knows them.  And once in a while someone realizes they are there and cries out, as did the psalmist, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.”  Psalm 19:12

It was for us, for those deepest “hidden faults” no less than for our more obvious shortcomings, that Jesus knew he “must” go to Jerusalem where he “must” suffer and die.  It was because of us that it was “necessary” for Jesus to suffer and die and be buried.  But it was not only because of us that he had to do this.  It was for us, mind you, that he did it!

But precisely because of that his “must” was also generated by none other than the Father himself. He did not send his Son merely as a “good will gesture” to the world.  The Father sent his Son to the world with a “must” written into his heart.  The Father’s will and intent to redeem the world through this man Jesus was the source of Jesus’ “must.”  He had to do it because the Father had sent him – and the Spirit had enlivened him in Mary’s womb – for this very hour!

Satan had attempted to short-circuit all this from the beginning of his ministry. Jesus had had to firmly, resolutely and decisively tell Satan to “BE GONE” after he offered to give the whole world to Jesus if he would just recognize Satan’s control of the world – and therefore his ability to hand it over to Jesus lock, stock and  barrel if only Jesus would give him such a recognition.  He needn’t “pay the price” for a world that Satan would gladly and simply “give him,” hand it over to him, no questions asked.  Why go to a cross when Jesus could have it so easily?

That same sharpness rang out when Peter tried to short-circuit his route as he set his foot toward Jerusalem. “Never shall you suffer and die,” Peter insisted.  “That is not how a Savior goes about his work of saving!”  But again the sharp rebuke from Jesus, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me!”

His life was no longer to be lived in the mere shadow of the cross. Now that cross was his priority, his destiny.  His purpose was now clearly defined.  His mission of salvation was immediately at hand in those moments whether Peter knew it or not – or whether Peter approved of the method or not.

The Problem Wasn’t Hearing. It Was NOT Hearing!

All that still laid before them, to be sure. It was quite hidden from Peter, of course, when he rebuked Jesus, intending to interfere with this divinely ordained “plan of salvation.”  Peter’s ears, however, had been quietened long before Jesus said that all this “must” take place, for Peter either had not heard or else had heard and simply disregarded the final “must” that Jesus uttered – “and on the third day be raised.” Peter had quite other plans for Jesus’ future in mind.

Even if he had been able to listen to that last part of what Jesus “must” do, however, he would still have had a hard time really hearing it, for everybody knew that people who are killed are not raised again on any day. Killed is killed – and that certainly “must NOT” happen to Jesus in Peter’s pre-resurrection world.  Yet it was in Jesus “being raised again” that his death was confirmed as pleasing to the Father – as having completed, that for which he had been made flesh, the “satisfaction for our sins” that was at the root of his crucifixion. “It is finished,” he said in his dying.

Yes, this “must” rings loud and clear in this text when one follows Jesus to his death and resurrection.

A “NEW Must” Surfaces Out Of Jesus’ “Must”

Once it was clear that the “must” of Jesus was incontrovertible, beyond negotiation, in all likelihood the disciples shook their collective heads in resignation, heaved a sigh of acquiescence, and quietly but reluctantly agreed among themselves that they would have to let him have his way even though all were equally agreed that he was fashioning a very risky path.  We are told that Thomas had even resignedly said, following the uproar surrounding the raising of Lazarus shortly before they entered Jerusalem, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

It must nevertheless have caught them up short to hear Jesus now put another “must” before them.  This time it was THEY who “must” do something, though!.  The word “must” is not found, but it is implied: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  He who had said he “must” go to Jerusalem where he would suffer, die, be buried and then be raised again now told them plainly that if they wanted to go with him, they must be prepared to share the same “fate” that was his.

Jesus spoke of the path that he “must” follow and linked it to the path that his disciples “must” also walk. The verbs are as strong as the “must” Jesus used to define their way of walking with Jesus..  “Deny himself;” “take up his cross;” “follow me” to the cross they had to take up for themselves.  They “must” die to their “old selves” so that a “new self” could be raised from the dust of the death of their old selves just as Adam was created out of dust.  They “must” suffer the loss of all the former values that had been set before them and by which they had lived as the desired ways of life before they knew Jesus.  Only when they suffered that loss could an entirely new set of values replace them.  They would of necessity have to reorient their whole worldview and life toward the “Good News” that God had acted decisively and ultimately through Jesus to displace the world of sin with a world of godly righteousness.

None of this was entirely “new” to them, of course, for from the beginning of his ministry Jesus had made all this clear – as early as the Sermon on the Mount – to those who would be his disciples. But now, as we say, “the rubber had to hit the road” as they turned their steps to Jerusalem.  Now they were on their way to the city that killed the prophets as they accompanied Jesus.  Now his path was to become their path, his dying was to become integral with their own life and dying (as it has become integral to our lives in our baptism).  Now one’s welfare and life was to be laid on the line, both literally and spiritually, in the shape of a cross upon which the “old being” was to be hung so that, having buried it, it could be raised to a new baptismal life.

Refusing to do so was to lose the very thing that they had sought when they had initially put their lives into the custody and guardianship of the man who now insisted that he must go to Jerusalem – taking those who would follow him to the hill called Calvary. To “gain the whole world” was to “lose it,” but to go with Jesus to the death of sin so that the richest life imaginable would be theirs – that was the new ambition!

With those words “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” Jesus laid all the chips on the table.  There wasn’t a “maybe” available.  There wasn’t a “follow me now and then” available.  There wasn’t a “wait a while and I will come” available.  The cross was a finality – and those who would take up his cross, which essentially meant turning one’s entire life over to him who offered to make it available, were not offered ways of compromise or negotiation.  It didn’t have to do with deeds done now and then.  It didn’t have to do with a balancing of good and bad in one’s life.  It didn’t have to do with merely an appetizer or a dessert to life.

It had to do with the whole of their lives.  Would they turn loose of everything that they were so tempted to hang onto, giving it all away to the wind, and take up a cross-shaped life.  That may have meant persecution, but little did that matter.  It may have meant hardships of many kinds.  It may have meant being considered an “outsider” to the world; appearing to be a stranger to the values so treasured by those around them.  Or it may have meant actually suffering and dying in the confession of the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as Peter had so clearly named him and for which name Peter died as a Christ-confessor.

It was an “all in” proposition – not just for them, but for us here, also – one and all. Are we willing to go with him who “must” go to suffer, be killed, buried and be raised again – or is it just more than you care to undertake?

One must always remember, though, that the question is “What will a person give in return for his life?” Is one willing to die to all that the world has to offer so that one is free to go with him who calls us to “come and follow me”?  What, after all is said and done, “will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life”?

Through his work on the cross, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, God has made it possible for us to follow him, to carry our cross daily, to find real, true, and abundant life. In his must we have the strength to carry out our must

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.