Matthew 16: 21-28 Pentecost 13
30 AUG 20 R.C. Brown
When I read our Gospel lesson for today, I am reminded of the essential message of Jesus—Love!
There is a story that has circulated among clergy for a number of years. It concerns a small boy who found himself in a children’s home run by a religious organization. This poor child constantly found himself in trouble, and he was prone to take the possessions of his fellow students. When the headmaster, an ordained Christian minister, received these reports, he assembled the staff and suggested that this child was suffering from a lack of love and attention. He instructed the staff to show this little fellow an extra amount of love, and to express that love in a visible and physical manner. Sure enough, in a matter of months, this young fellow made the adjustment to his new surroundings, and stopped his destructive behavior.
The power of love.
In my former life, as a college president, I was associated with many other presidents of a variety of institutions. Once at a convention, we had an informal discussion about difficult and unreasonable employees—and that, regrettably, was a part of our common experience. One older, and much wiser, colleague suggested that the solution to this misbehavior was to show an extra amount of love to those persons. And he was correct.
The power of love.
This year of 2020 has been very difficult. We are beset with a global pandemic that has altered our lifestyle—even the way we worship. We mourn the dead and pray for their souls, even as we pray for comfort for those who still suffer under this horrible plague. The economy has collapsed like no other time since the 1930’s. We have seen racial problems erupt in a way we have not seen in many years. We are faced with climate change that threatens our stewardship of the earth that God has bequeathed to mankind.
And to make matters even worse—all of this has become very, very political! But, Jesus transcends politics!
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his ultimate fate. He will go to Jerusalem and offer himself, willingly, as a sacrifice for the imperfections of all of humanity.
And Peter, that most human of the disciples, who stands for all of us, says emphatically—NO MASTER– this must not happen to you! And Jesus, who has just called Peter the rock, proclaims him to be a stumbling stone—and an agent of Satan! All of us know that the human aspect of Jesus—and he is, after all, both human and divine– is being tempted, just as Satan tempted him in the wilderness
It is not that Peter does not love Jesus. His love for our Lord is very strong, indeed. But Peter is loving in the worldly sense. And Jesus knows his mission. And being of the Father, he has that divine love for all of mankind.
That divine love is about to put on display for all of the world to see. God loved humanity so much, that he becomes incarnate as a person in Jesus. And in the ultimate act of love, Jesus offers himself up to death, only to conquer sin and death in the resurrection.
Our presiding bishop, Rev. Michael Curry, says that love is the most powerful force in the universe. We see the power of love all around us in the romantic love that couples have for each other, and in the love that all of us feel for our children, family and friends. We know that many patriots have enormous love of country. Many, many more are motivated by love to be of service to others.
But Jesus, in his death and resurrection, demonstrates the love of God himself.
The Holy Trinity, that mystery of the three persons of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is held together by the force of love. It is a love that exceeds our human capacity to comprehend and understand. The love that is the Holy Trinity is why we Christians say that God is love!
And Bishop Curry is right. If God is love, and if we believe that God is truly omnipotent, that is that nothing exceeds the power of God, then love is the most powerful force in the universe!
I am enamored with our Eucharistic service in Rite I, even though the Elizabethan style language is sometimes obscure. Each service begins with the priest repeating the words of Jesus as given in the Gospel of Matthew. This if found on page 324 in our BCP.
The priest begins “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ Saith: Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
If we truly believe, then we know the solution for the ills of humanity. We have the key to undoing all of the strife and hatred that besets our society and the world in so many ways. The answer is love.
Love is not always the easiest path. Choosing the way of love can be difficult. And Jesus does not promise us an easy life in this world. But he does give to those who love him, and follow in his ways of love, the promise of eternal life with the Father. That is what he means when he says those who lose their life for his sake will, indeed find their life.
But one thing is for sure. The power of love can help us through the hard times, it can ameliorate the pain and suffering. It can overcome the strife and discord of this broken old world.
And love is the essence of our faith.