“He said this openly.” No wonder Peter responded as he did. Rebuke seems appropriate when you are hearing something you don’t want to hear, perhaps you’ve never heard, and likely never want to hear again.
Rebuke is perhaps necessary when you have not been adequately prepared for that which is to come.
Rebuke is often the only response when faced with the impossible. The incomprehensible. The incalculable.
Dear Working Preachers, open speech is not popular speech. Open speech is frequently offensive speech. Open speech is more often than not met with opposition. This is the truth of this text. And a very hard truth to hear. And an even harder truth to preach.
But that is exactly what is necessary at this time and this place. What is essential for bringing the Kingdom of God near and here. What is crucial for any kind of counter-attack against the reigns and realms that will continue to persist in undermining our convictions. That have abandoned accountability and responsibility, governing principles and policies, and any semblance of sympathy or empathy — all for the sake of perpetuating partisanship, insisting on ideals so as to save their own skin, and giving loyalty to lobbyists at the expense of their constituents and communities.
So, I find myself considering Jesus’ words as not condemnation of Peter but as a necessary reminder to Peter — and to us. As soon as we set our sights on someone or something other than the cross, we have most definitely traded the death and resurrection of Jesus with a more convenient and acceptable means of imagining what it means to follow Jesus. What it means to be a disciple. What it means to live and be in a world that desperately needs to know that being a Christian is not an easy ticket to heaven. Is not your guarantee of prosperity. Is not your bypass around the hardships of life.
Peter needs this reminder — and so do we. Otherwise Lent is nothing more than being left with our own devices of denial, our own practices of self-sacrifice, our own machinations that muster up a kind of fortitude we really don’t have — as if any of that can save us. Otherwise, being a Christian is nothing more than thoughts and prayers that never actually anticipate action.
Parkland; another school shooting in the United States, the eighth school shooting to have resulted in death or injury during the first seven weeks of the year.
Thoughts and prayers? Well, that’s not what Jesus suggests as an answer. They have their place and time. They mean the world — truly — in many places and times. I have no doubt when it comes to thoughts and prayers, and the power of thoughts and prayers. I’ve seen them at work. At the same time? “There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you’re unwilling to resolve” (Miroslav Volf1).
And so, Jesus says to his disciples, to us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Because that’s what happens when you are willing to take on the powers of this world. That’s what happens when you are determined to show the world that God’s love is greater than any human show of might. That’s what happens when you say, “the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news,” and then live as if you believe it.
If we are not preaching about how we help people engage in open speech? Well then, we might want to reconsider our calling. Because Gospel preaching is open speaking – about us, about the sins of our society, about the sins of our communal, national, and global world – and about how God wants it to be different.
Seriously, Dear Working Preachers. If we don’t do open speech, who will? Will you allow those who have the loudest voices to determine the tractectory of Christianity? The heart of Christianity? Or will you truly take up your cross and embody God’s presence in the world, blessedly known by Jesus’ incarnated presence?
That’s where we are right now, regardless whether or not we believe it. We can sit in denial and all kinds of pretension and pretending. Go ahead. But at the end of the day, when Jesus says and speaks openly who he his? We better be ready to speak openly in return. “Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
1 Attributed to Miroslav Volf by Kirsten Powers, “Why ‘thoughts and prayers’ is starting to sound so profane,” Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/10/03/why-thoughts-and-prayers-is-starting-to-sound-so-profane.