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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 3:1–15, Romans 12:9–21 & Matthew 16:21–28

For those of us who take an active interest in the AFL, we are probably all very familiar with the saying, “A week is a long time in footy!” Well, after reading our gospel passage for today, I think we could also say that ‘a week is a long time in the Gospels!’.

It was only a week ago that we heard Jesus singing the praises of Peter, and proclaiming him as the rock on which Jesus would build his church. But in today’s reading, Jesus gives Peter as good a dressing down as any AFL coach could ever give one of his players, when he says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.” A very, definite contrast from last week’s response!

Of course the reason why Jesus has spoken this way to Peter, is that Peter has actually just berated Jesus for telling his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed. Jesus is angry with Peter, not because Peter has berated him, but because Peter still fails to understand who Jesus really is, and just what his mission in the world truly is.

Jesus then makes it clear to the disciples, that following him will not be what they thought being a disciple of the Messiah would be like. Perhaps they thought, like James and John (the sons of Zebedee), that they would hold positions of authority and power, and that their lives would be somehow glorious as followers of Jesus. Their lives will of course be glorious, but just not in the way that they were imagining. Jesus tells them that if they truly want to be his disciples, then they must put aside their own wants and desires, and instead, be prepared to bear witness to him (and to God), even if it results in suffering, and possibly death. They have answered his call, but they need to understand the responsibility that comes with that call.

Likewise in our reading from the Book of Exodus this morning, Moses answers a call from God, and just like the warning that Jesus gave the disciples about the responsibility that comes with the call to follow him, Moses finds himself bearing the burden of rescuing the entire nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt. And not just the burden of rescuing them from slavery; Moses also has the responsibility of leading the people of Israel through the wilderness for forty years as they make their way towards the Promised Land – the land of Canaan. We know from the stories that follow in the Book of Exodus, just how difficult and burdensome this proved to be for Moses. But Moses prevails in the end; not because of his own capability or skill, but because God is with him, and works through him, to bring about God’s purpose for the people of Israel.

Each of us, as Christians and disciples of Jesus, are also called in our own way, to bear witness to Jesus (and God) in the world today. Today’s gospel passage reminds us that bearing witness comes at a cost. We are called to deny ourselves, and take up our cross and follow Jesus. What might that mean for us? How are we to deny ourselves? We are not called to live a life without any pleasures or joy, however real discipleship implies real commitment.

In today’s passage from the Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul gives us some helpful clues on what real commitment looks like. It means we are called to love genuinely; to avoid what is evil; to hold on fast to what is good; to love one another with mutual affection; to live honourably; to be enthusiastic in our faith; to bear witness to Jesus; to be hopeful, and patient in suffering; to persevere in prayer; to bless those who curse us; to be humble; to not seek revenge when somebody wrongs us; and, where possible, to live peaceably with everyone. We are called to put God at the centre of our lives.

We are probably all familiar with people who put other things at the centre of their lives, be that wealth, power, social status, lifestyle, or even family. In the case of people of no faith or religious belief, God probably doesn’t exist at all in their lives. If, however, they are Christians, God is probably still present in their lives, but He is more than likely on the periphery, something they allocate time and attention to once they have dealt with the more important things in their lives.

That is the challenge for Christians. How de we put Jesus (and God) at the centre of our lives? How do we ensure that we make time and space for Him BEFORE we turn our attention to the other aspects of our lives? It is not easy to do. For as Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it”.

But Jesus also reminds us that the self-sacrifice is worth it. He told the disciples that he will come again with his angels in the glory of God, and he will repay everyone for what they have done, which is obviously a reference to what will happen at the time of the Second Coming. At that time, those who have placed God at the centre of their lives will be rewarded with eternal life in His presence.

Giving priority over God in our lives to other things might bring short term satisfaction, but what we accumulate here on earth has no value in gaining eternal life. Even the highest social or civic honours cannot gain us entrance into God’s eternal presence. And all the material possessions and privilege in the world won’t compensate us for spending an eternity separated from God.

When we don’t know Jesus, we make choices as though there is no afterlife. The reality is however, that this life is just the introduction to eternal life. How we live this life, determines our eternal state. If we evaluate our lifestyle from an eternal perspective, we will find our values and decisions changing.

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