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August 30, 2020
Matthew 16: 21-28
Lost and Found
Rev. Nancy Talbot at Mount Seymour United Church
Last Sunday, in the verses of scripture that come right before today’s reading, we witnessed an intimate conversation between Jesus and one of his closest followers, Peter. After asking Peter what people were saying about him, we heard Jesus turn to Peter and ask “ but what about you, Peter, who do you say that I am?” When Peter replied you are the Messiah, Jesus praised him saying, “Peter are the rock upon whom I will build my church.”
Fast forward to today’s reading, just a few verses later and Jesus is now calling Peter a stumbling block and the devil incarnate.
Peter goes from being rock to block in the blink of an eye. It’s one of the reasons Peter has been revered by so many over the centuries. He characterizes both the highs and the lows of our humanity so well. One moment we are standing firmly in our convictions about life and its purpose, we feel grounded and strong and right in our being. The next minute we’re stumbling off course and cutting ourselves off from the life we’re meant to lead and the deep well of power, peace and purpose that dwells within us. Suddenly and sometimes subtly over time we find ourselves block the courage, the love and the grace that sets us free. Sometimes we become a block for the flow of that courage, love and grace for others. It happens when we get caught up in our protective fear and sometimes because we just lose our way. We get lost.
Last week I mentioned that when Peter called Jesus the Messiah he didn’t really know what he was saying. Today’s reading provides evidence of that misunderstanding. Peter thought Jesus was the one who would ride into Jerusalem, the seat of imperial power, drive out the Romans who were occupying the land and oppressing the people and liberate the Israelites ushering in a new day. His expectation was likely that Jesus would do that with a show of violent force because that’s how political regimes had risen and fallen from power for centuries. To hear Jesus say that instead he would undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes and be killed by them was not the plan in Peter’s playbook.
Imagine Martin Luther King saying to his closest advisors: I’m going to Memphis to march with the African American City Sanitation Workers who have been demonstrating to win equal wages to their white counterparts in that city. I’m going to give a speech and when I’m finished, I’m going to be shot and killed outside my hotel room. Imagine his advisors saying to him in response then we’re not going to Memphis and you are not going to deliver any more speeches because we can’t lose you. To lose you would be to lose the fight and we have lost too much already. Imagine Martin Luther King’s advisors saying that to him and you can imagine what Peter is thinking about Jesus. We’ve lost too much to lose you too and surely to lose you would be to lose what we are fighting for. God forbid that we would lose you.
When I first looked at today’s reading earlier this week, it was the part about loss that I found myself stumbling over. “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 will find it.” Not more loss I thought to myself. Haven’t we already lost too much already?
In the last several weeks I feel like I’ve been surrounded by loss. At the beginning of July, one of the young adults in my life experienced the death of her best friend due to an aneurism. Last week one of my colleagues, the Rev. Blake Field lost his life to cancer at the age of 54. Blake was serving the congregation of Wilson Heights United, the community my partner Brenda served for many years before Blake took over from her and so our hearts have been heavy for the loss sustained by those good and faithful people. And then just as we were trying to appropriate Blake’s death we received news that our financial advisor who we have known for over 20 years lost her 48 year old husband when he died suddenly of unknown causes.
And then of course there are the beloved members of our community of faith who have died, all the people who have died from Covid-19 and the increasing numbers of people losing their jobs and livelihoods because of it. There’s all the losses we are feeling due to restrictions on our travel and social interactions, changes to our worshipping life and to our volunteer life in the Thrift shop and beyond. To all of this we add in the larger societal losses, the continued loss of Black lives that still don’t matter enough to many, and losses from building explosions in Beirut and forest fires here at home and hurricane destruction and I could just keep going on.
Haven’t we had enough loss already? I’m not sure I’m up for losing anything else.
My colleague David Ewart says that we all know how to lose our life so it is lost. I’ve lost more life watching bad tv than I care to admit and I will never get that life back. I hate to think of what I could have accomplished with all those wasted hours. Some of us have lost our lives to alcohol and drug additions, some of us to fear and worry and some of us to grief. Most of us have woken up at one point in our lives or another without a clue where we are headed with our lives and what we are doing with them.
We all know how to lose our life so it is lost or at least we know what it is like to be lost. The question, David Ewart asks is whether we know how to lose our lives so that they will be found. The key to that mystery, he says, is to lose our life for Jesus’ sake, for Jesus’ purpose, aim and end, for the purpose of mending and healing, compassion and grace, for the aim of raising up the lowly and bringing down the mighty, feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, for the end in which justice is served and peace is sustained.
Jesus was willing to lose his life for those purposes, aims and ends and so was Martin Luther King. Whether they would articulate it in this way or not, I think losing their lives for Jesus’ sake is what the NBA and WNBA players, the Major League Baseball, Soccer and NHL players who chose to lose their game times this week did when they collectively said “no more Black lives lost.” I think it’s what the woman from Beirut who despite losing the use of both her hands and arms in the recent explosion in that city is doing as she continues to write and share poetry by reciting it to her daughter who records it for her. She is choosing to lose what could have been a life of bitterness and anger for the sake of creativity and hope.
In the face of all that we are losing, all that is being taken from us, in these days, do we know how to lose our lives so that they will be found? Do we know how to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake? Are we willing to say this is what I am going to choose to lose, to leave behind, for the sake of a more noble life, a more faithful life, a more authentic life, a more outward looking life, even if it entails suffering, even if it entails even more loss. Are we willing to say I will chose to lose a life of fear and worry, perhaps a life without clear purpose, for the sake of others, for the sake of Jesus and what he stood and stands for.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks in today’s reading is that we pick up our bibles, start reading and all we can see is the cross and the loss in this passage and like Peter we don’t want any part of it. When we do that, what we fail to see is the resurrection, the part in the story where Jesus says: when it appears that all is lost, when I myself have been crucified and lost to you, do not lose hope. God, the force of good, the source of life, the fountain of love and well of grace is on our side. Christ will rise again and so will we.
At the end of today’s reading there is a lovely piece about reward and repayment. It is a foretaste of the mystery that happens after the loss is sustained. God will repay everyone for what has been done and some will even see the reign of God, the realm of heaven here on earth before the end of their lifetimes.
This part about what we “do” to receive payment has to do with something we call orthopraxy. Orthodoxy is right praise, orthopraxy is right practice. It has to do with our behaviour and attitude. If we behave in such a way that we choose the things that Jesus chose: justice, compassion, courage, healing, love and concern for others, especially those on the margins, then the promise is that our lives will never be lived in vain and therefore never truly lost. In fact they will be found. And the promise is that some of us might even see our labours come to fruition in our lifetime.