Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The Rev. Scott Trotter
St Stephen’s, Blytheville; Calvary, Osceola
Aug. 2011
Year A, Proper 17
Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Last week, we heard Jesus declare Peter to be rock on which he will build his church, and that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. That’s about as high praise as one can get. This week we hear Jesus declare Peter to be a rock whose earthly thinking threatens to be a stumbling block to him. His sharp rebuke reminds us all of Jesus’ rejection of Satan as his temptation in the wilderness draws to an end. Peter holds the world record for the fastest change in spiritual status. He goes from Rocky the Blessed to Satan the Scandal! in three verses.

Truth is, we have seen many folks make the journey from hero to rogue. Take politicians for example: our own Wilber Mills goes from celebrated to leader, to splashing around in the reflection pool. There are numerous sports heroes: Brett Favre went from throwing spectacular game winning TD’s to tossing heart breaking season killing interceptions.

And all of us have been, are, or will be, parents who fall from the fount of all wisdom and protection to a foolish hovering hindrance. One of our favorite stories, is Angie, in frustration, telling our daughter I don’t know! and her amazed response: You don’t!

You may know that Peter has plenty of company in the bible. There is Solomon who goes from the wisest of all men, to the decrepit king who divides God’s people into 2, soon to be warring, peoples. He has excellent precedence, Saul goes from being God’s chosen one, to one haunted by divine rejection. And of course there is Moses. He begins life as a condemned Hebrew slave, becomes a prince of Egypt, and protector (at least a want to be protector) of his people. He falls from protector to rejected murderous felon; hiding in Median working as a lowly shepherd for his itinerate father in law. All of them, manifest in Peter’s rapid fall, leave us between a rock and a rock.

One the one hand Peter and Moses are standards of righteousness. We know them to be strong God centered bible heroes. They are our models. And we also know that there is no way that we can ever measure up. We don’t have whatever it is a fisherman a slave / prince / shepherd have. On the other hand, we know that Peter and Moses are just as mortal as you and I. Knowing they are just as full of impetuous actions just a fearful have just as many excuses, and are as burdened with failures and shorting comes, as we are -well it really doesn’t help. Okay, they are human that might make us feel better, perhaps lowers the bar. But, we still know they heard and followed God’s call. And we know God is calling us. So, how do we avoid being a stumbling rock, and be a building rock of Christ’s church?

We begin by confessing, that like Peter, our vision for the future is based on visions that belong to this world; security based on political, military and economic systems, unencumbered by competing forces like: terrorist threats, growing foreign economic prowess, and ideologies grounded in conflicting religious constructs. Our vision for the future emerges from individual authority and power over others.

That confession bring us to transformation ~ our transformation. Early in Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph’s obedience to God’s word, to accept Jesus as his son, to talk Jesus to Egypt, to return home, reveals the need for a new appraisal, even a reversal of what it means to be righteous. Strict adherence to Torah is no longer the way. I suspect this remergence of righteousness is further complicated because every generation has to come to this moment on their own, and that means older generations have to let go; it means we, at least most of us, have to let go. Our fear of: acknowledging, replying to, or speaking to God, doesn’t help. Neither does our intuitive realization that all this means we will be in conflict with prevailing cultural values. In spite of the overtly political tantrums, institutions and structures of our world believe the Church should not meddle in politics, business, etc. Our culture expects / demands the Church to stick to spiritual matters. A glaring sign of this reality is that we place crosses at locations of death, ground zero, road side accidents sights etc. We do not put crosses in places of life. The deeper our transformation the more the cross is present in everyday life; in every conversation, in every interaction, in every decision. A cross’s presence on the wall is not a sign of the cross on our hearts. And all this really comes home, as we begin to see how this way of life demands that we are actively, not merely mindfully, or prayerfully, but actively responsive to the needs of others.

All of this is difficult; impossibly difficult. We lack the critical self-confidence.

But strangely enough, the answer to the question, Do you have it in you? is No. Confidence in ourselves is not crucial; confidence in God is. And yes we say With God all things are possible. However, we need to stop trying to do all things being disappointed when, on our own we fail, then assuming we are incapable and expecting God will take care of it. Let go and let God ,is incomplete. Let go and let God transform us is rock solid.

Most, perhaps all of you will demur from such a transformative experience. After all, you are to busy, you have jobs, and families, you have business, social, and other obligations.

There simply is no time to go away to a holy place, to meet and be transformed by God’s holy presence. Just remember, God met Moses, on the side of the road, in the midst of his ordinary work. And Jesus calls Peter, while he is in daily routine, doing routine work.

Any place, a bush by the side of the road, work, home, even church, can be holy. Any moment, work, play, rest, even prayer, can be holy. Any place, any time you can hear God’s call to divine service. And it does not even matter if you respond from burning desire, humble obedience, or reluctant acquiesce. All that matters, is that in trust and faith, we follow the divine calling. It is the only worship that makes sense, it is the only way to offer our lives, our bodies, our imaginations, our skills, our possession as a living sacrifice.

We live between and rock and a rock. We are where we are, and everything in scriptures tells us God in Christ Jesus will meet us right here. Right here is where divine work, in and through us, brings forth fruits of good works. From right here we will see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom; we will see Jesus.