Together we are made into Christ’s body, and together we stand at the crossroads of life, find Christ’s path together, and walk it for the life of the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 22, year A
Texts: Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28; also Jeremiah 6:16 (not appointed for the day)
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
A few chapters before today’s reading, Jeremiah declares: “Thus says the LORD: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”
But the people said to Jeremiah, “We will not walk in it.” (Jeremiah 6:16)
This is a major crossroads for Peter and the others. As we heard last week, perhaps for the first time, someone following Jesus openly linked him to the promises in the Hebrew Scriptures that God would anoint another David, someone to lead God’s people to restoration. Peter claimed Jesus was God’s Anointed. God’s Christ. God’s Messiah.
But Peter’s enlightenment was shrouded in confusion. At this crossroads, Jesus had a path to take as God’s Christ that the disciples didn’t understand. At this crossroads, the same path was theirs, too. They didn’t understand that, either.
But the question for Peter isn’t whether he made a mistake at this crossroads.
He certainly did. Jesus called him “Satan,” the “adversary,” the anti-Christ, seeking the opposite path God’s Anointed must walk.
But the real question for Peter is whether he wants to learn to take the right path. Jeremiah’s people rejected the crossroads entirely, rejected looking for God’s ancient way of life. What will Peter, what will the other disciples do? Do they want to discover the true path of God’s Christ? Learn that it is also their path?
Do we? Not do we try to discern Christ’s path at the crossroads, which is hard enough. Do we even want to walk in it at all?
Stand at the crossroads and look: the path Jesus takes as the Christ is the hardest path.
Jesus says Peter’s right, he is God’s Messiah. But he’s going to suffer and die. That’s the path of God’s Anointed.
Can we accept this is how God always acts in the world? Giving up power, rejecting violence, offering love until God loses everything?
Forget about what kind of Messiah the Jews of Jesus’ day were expecting. What kind of Messiah do we expect?
We’ve got 1,700 years of Church history where we’ve acted as if God’s way is power and manipulation, control and oppression, as if God is exclusive and violent. 1,700 years of worshipping a conquering, military Christ.
We don’t see the cross as God’s continued path. We treat the cross as a past event, as our get out of jail free card, or as a chance to cluck against the religious leaders who rejected Jesus. We see the resurrection as reversing the whole point of the cross, seeing Jesus as a poor victim instead of a suffering God.
But the path of the cross is the only path God will take in healing this world. Ever. That’s what Jesus is saying. If we’re honest, too often we’re the ones taking Jesus aside, saying, “Don’t talk like that. It’s not going to work in the world to go that way.”
Well, now we know how that conversation will turn out. Assuming power and strength are the way of Christ, supporting and endorsing violence in Christ’s name, rejecting those who do not accept Jesus as Son of God, treating the Christian Gospel as our own personal salvation ticket, refusing to see God’s path of sacrificial love as God’s only way: all that is the way of Satan. Jesus has said so.
Stand at the crossroads and look more: the path Jesus takes as the Christ is the path his followers are called to take. Or we’re not following.
Being “Christ” is always more than Jesus. At the crossroads, Jesus always takes the path to the cross, and he always invites us to follow. It’s the very next thing he says here: “if you want to follow me, take up your cross, too. Deny yourselves. Lose your lives.”
Will we accept that we are also God’s Christ? God’s Anointed? God’s Messiah? Because the path of Christ is the path of the cross. That’s the only option. If we’re doing Satan’s work by trying to keep Jesus from this path, or using God’s sacrifice at the cross to endorse our worldly ways, whose work do you think we’re doing if we refuse to walk the hard path ourselves?
This is the hardest thing the Church ever faces. It’s why we’ve failed at the crossroads so often. Jesus’ path as Christ, one we don’t like to think deeply about or endorse, is also our path as Christ. Any other way is, as Jesus says, Satan’s way.
Paul today shows what the path of the cross actually looks like.
Paul’s talking about a very hard path of sacrificial love here. Genuine love, he calls it.
Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, he says. No justifying or explaining. Evil is evil. Good is good. And don’t repay evil for evil, return good every time. If it’s hard for us to name what is evil in us or in our society, and not excuse or ignore it, how much harder will it be to always stand against evil with good? Paul says such goodness will overcome evil. But this is a frightening path.
Contribute to the needs of the saints, Paul says. Show hospitality to strangers. These sound doable. But somehow, we don’t often choose a life lived for others. The path at the crossroads that makes us feel secure is the path we like better.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, Paul says. Even if you aren’t rejoicing yourself, share their joy anyway. Weep with those who weep, Paul says. Even if years after their suffering they still grieve, don’t say, “get over it.” Weep with them until they are done weeping. If this weren’t difficult, we’d see this a lot more.
Don’t be haughty or think you’re wiser than you are. The opposite of the world’s ways. This is the path at the crossroads that challenges our ego, our pride, our self-sufficiency.
Don’t seek vengeance, but as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all, Paul says. There’s no excuse for violence of speech or action, and no divine endorsement of the violence of the state. Peacemaking and non-violence are Christ’s only path at the crossroads.
After Paul, now maybe we understand the reaction of Jeremiah’s people a little better.
But stand at the crossroads and look again: Christ’s path is the path that leads to life.
Imagine a world where Romans 12 is the way of all. No one takes revenge, and all live peaceably. All love is genuine. All seek to honor and lift up others, and no one thinks they’re better than others.
Think of a world where, if evil happens, it always is returned with good. Where all love each other with mutual affection, and all strangers are welcomed and loved.
The secret to the Christ path at the crossroads is that it’s a path that looks hard, and is costly, but is filled with abundance of life and love. The other paths look easier, but cost far more in the end.
If Paul’s vision in Romans 12 was actually lived by all, we’d have a very different world. That should tell us something. There’s a reason Jesus said the paths that oppose Christ are Satan’s paths. They look good, but are rotten and deadly. And lead to more and more evil. But the paths of Christly love, of self-giving, always bring life, even at the start.
But there’s one more thing we need to do whenever we’re at a crossroads: look around.
Stand at the crossroads and look around you: the path of Christ is a path we take together.
All Paul’s words today follow last week’s words, so they all describe the transformed body of Christ we are together. It is together that we become Christ, together that we are saved. And yes, every pronoun and verb in Paul’s exhortations today are plural.
We stand at the crossroads together and look for the path of Christ, the path of the cross. All of these – genuine love, outpoured honor, shared joy, shared tears, peacemaking, the offering of good in the face of evil – all these we do together.
Alone, any one of us could make Peter’s mistake at the crossroads. Together, with the life of the Spirit in us, we strengthen each other, guide each other. Think of the shared wisdom we have together, the many eyes to see, the many hearts to love! Together we look for the path of costly love, and together we take it.
Last week Jesus said that even Hell’s gates couldn’t withstand the love of the transformed body of Christ. What chance does our fear of walking Christ’s path, our reluctance to face that challenge, have against this transformed body in which we live?
Stand, and look. Put out your hands and hold on. Together, with the grace of the Spirit, we will walk God’s ancient path that leads to life for the whole world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen