“may I have a word” — confession and correction #sermon

Has anyone every pulled you aside and said: “You know, what you are doing is really not a great idea.”

Has anyone ever pulled you aside and said: “You know, you better stop and think about what you’re saying.”

When someone pulls you aside it’s generally because they care about you – they want to put the brakes on something you’re doing or saying before you get carried away. They care about you, and so instead of speaking to you publicly in a way that might make you look back or shame you – they gently pull you aside to have private word with you.

Sometimes when we are pulled aside, it’s some minor thing our friend wants to pass on to us.

We just need a little reminder.

We just need a little correction on some point.

We didn’t have quite the full picture, and someone just wanted to fill us in. 

On the other hand, sometimes when we are pulled aside, it is no minor thing our friend wants to share. Sometimes when we are pulled aside, the person who eases us off for a conversation has spent time wrestling with whether they should say something to us – they know it’s not going to be an easy conversation, and so they want to be careful. The friend or family member speaks with utmost seriousness. There is something serious at stake.

You know, I think your moving a too fast in this relationships – you hardly know him, he doesn’t seem much like your type, and I really think you should reconsider this.

You know, this career move seems a little odd to me. It seems to me you’re going to lose out on a lot of financial opportunities and career options by taking that position, by going down that path.

Sometimes when someone pulls us aside to have a word, it’s over a serious matter – at the very least, it’s about something that friend or family member thinks is serious.

 Jesus is in conversation with his disciples. In the narrative of Matthew’s gospel, we have just had that moment when Peter makes his remarkable confession – he confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. He confesses that Jesus is the king they’ve been waiting for. Jesus is the one the prophets promised. Jesus is the one who brings God’s kingdom among us. We looked at that remarkable confession of Peter last week – a confession that changes everything in our lives. But then following on from that conversation, Jesus offers his own comment about who he is, about what’s going to happen to him.

We read: From that time on, Jesus began to show 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, and on the third day be raised. 

Hearing these words of Jesus, Peter says to himself: “I’ve got to have a word with him. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.” But rather than embarrass Jesus by correcting him in front of the other disciples – or rather than shame Jesus by rebuking him publicly – Peter decides its better to just pull Jesus aside – better to have a private word with him. He does it because he loves Jesus. He does it because he cares for Jesus. He does it because he’s one of the more prominent disciples and if Jesus is going to listen to anyone, or take advice from anyone, it will likely be him.

“Jesus, can I talk to you for a minute…”

Sometimes when that friend pulls us aside to have a word us, we immediately appreciate what they’ve done – we immediately realize that they’re right. Maybe we already had our own doubts about the path we were following – maybe their words make clear something we hadn’t been able to see. They pull us aside to speak with us and we are immediately grateful they’ve done so. That’s the gift of a good friend, really. A friend who knows us and loves us; a friend who wants the best for us; they are honest and open and gracious and firm. Indeed, in Christ we are called to be just such a friend to one another. We pull one another aside and say, “you know…”

But on the other hand… It’s also possible that when our friend pulls us aside, and raises their concern – it’s possible that we immediately think to ourselves: “What on earth.” This friend thinks I’m making a poor career choice. This friend thinks the person I’m dating is all wrong for me. We might think to ourselves: “This friend doesn’t know me at all. How can we have been friends all this time, and they just don’t understand me – they don’t know what matters to me in life and work and relationships.” When they pull us aside and speak with us we might wonder whether this friend should really be a friend at all.

We read in the narrative:

And Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you. Jesus – you are the king. Jesus – you are the promised one. Jesus – I’ve just made my declaration, and you have affirmed me in it: You are the anointed one, the son of the living God. You can’t now start talking in such defeatist and pathetic terms.

The anointed one of God doesn’t die.

The anointed one of God isn’t defeated.

The anointed one of God doesn’t succumb to the forces of opposition.

The anointed one of God is strong, overcomes opposition, and liberates his people.”

And Jesus thinks to himself – what on earth? Peter’s been around; he’s been listening to me; he’s been watching me and travelling with me; he’s one of my closest disciples. And he just doesn’t get it.

He doesn’t understand me.

He doesn’t understand the kingdom of God.

He doesn’t understand what it means to be a disciple.

But it’s worse than that. It’s not just that Peter doesn’t understand Jesus. You see Jesus himself has wrestled with, and will again wrestle with, the calling of God on his life. In one of his earliest experiences of ministry, we remember, a period of testing in the wilderness, he was tempted to abandon the way of humble service – tempted to avoid the difficult path by seeking glory and triumph and power.

Later in his ministry, when the day of the cross approaches, he will again face temptation. He will wrestle with God’s call in the garden as he groans and weeps before God: “If it is possible, let this path of suffering service give way to some other path. If it is possible, take this cup from me. But not my will, but yours be done.”

The last things Jesus needs is his friend’s and his disciples’ voices added to the voices that already tempt him and suggest an easier way. The last thing he needs is Peter’s suggestion that he resist God’s singular call on his life – even if Peter is doing it because he loves him; even if Peter is pulling him aside only because he wants the best for Jesus and for the people of God. It’s the last thing he needs, and the anger and judgment and frustration of Jesus comes out in his reply.

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”

Jesus wants Peter to understand what Peter has just done – he is placing himself in opposition to purposes of God – tempting Jesus to abandon the way that leads to life. “Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling-block to me.”

Jesus goes on: “If any want to be 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. For what will it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose you life – lose the life that is truly life.”

“Not only for me, Peter, but for all of you – the way is one of suffering love in faithfulness to me and in faithfulness to this way of love and ultimate service. When you resist my commitment ot the way of suffering love, you are refusing that path for yourself, also.”

We are frequently pulled aside – more frequently, perhaps, than we realize, you and I are encouraged to walk a path other than the one to which Jesus has called us – a path other than the one he walks with us. Sometimes it is a close friend who pulls us aside; sometimes it is a family member who just wants to have a word with us; sometimes it is the pressure of contemporary culture that wants to ease us in a certain direction; sometimes it is the sense of inevitability that presses in on us from the particular culture in which we life.

We’re pulled aside and the message comes either loud and clear or more often quietly and subtly – that there is a path we should choose other than the one we walk with Jesus.

Can I just have a word with you? You know, you really have to protect your savings and think about your retirement – hang onto every last penny – you can never be too secure in this kind of economy.

Hey – stop worrying so much about where your clothes are made, or your electronic devices – stop worrying about their working conditions – that’s their problem, not ours – stop making such a fuss.

You know, I’ve gotta say, you’re taking this whole forgiveness and reconciliation thing a bit to far – just do what you need to do for your own health and wellbeing. You don’t have to go back and actually talk to her.

You know I think we should just stick with people we’re comfortable with – if hospitality means anything, let it mean having a good time with people who, you know, are like us.

Maybe you should just keep that religious stuff to yourself – you know, keep that Jesus talk to a minimum – it makes everyone think your some kind of hold-out from the 1950s.

In the upside down world of Jesus – in the topsy turvy world of the kingdom of God – it is inevitable that we will be pulled aside and encouraged to live and think differently than Christ would have us.

Jesus uses the language of suffering and martyrdom to describe his own life and to describe the life to which we are called. But he also uses the language of profit in describing the temptations we may face – the temptation to follow some path other than the one of humility and love and compassion and service and self-sacrifice for others.

It is so easy to imagine a more profitable life.

Our culture consistently offers an alternative hierarchy of values.

It is so easy for us to be tempted that there is a more profitable way of life than the way we walk in the worship and service in the Body of Christ – maybe a more profitable way to spend Sunday mornings or to spend our time or to spend our money or to expend our emotional and relational energies.

At some level, perhaps it is from the martyrs that we can learn something of the love and fundamental self-forgetfulness that defines life on the way with Christ – the willingness to abandon our own well-being for the sake of following him, serving him, living in his way.

Over the past months and years, the crisis in Iraq has created a massive vacuum of power and authority. And as we know from the news these past weeks, that vacuum has been filled by the radical Islamic group ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Cities like Mosul, which have had some of the most ancient Christian traditions and communities, have been purged of Christians.

This summer, the last wave of 1,500 Christians was expelled from Mosul under the threat of forced conversion or execution. Church windows have been smashed, books burned, homes taken, property stolen, and so many Christians killed – the killing of Christians began more than a decade ago, with the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

We don’t face persecution for faith in our context – though if we took Jesus and his way more seriously we would probably get more sidelong glances than we do. The strong words of Jesus, and the suffering of sisters and brothers who have confessed Christ in Iraq, remind us that this way is not for the faint of heart, not for the complacent, not for the comfortably Canadian. It is for those who find their strength in Christ, and walk by the Spirit he sends.

If any want to be 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. For what will it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose your life – what will it profit you if you gain everything you want, but lose the life that is truly life – life with the risen Jesus.

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