Clippesby Church and Countryside Norfolk
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A stumbling block or a stepping-stone?

 

                                                                                        Matthew 16:21-28 b

 

Isn't it strange that princes and kings

And clowns that caper in sawdust rings

And common folk like you and me

Are the builders of eternity.

 

To each is given a bag of tools,

A shapeless mass and a book of rules;

And each must make, ere time is flown,

A stumbling-block or a stepping-stone.

 

This is a short poem from the book “Verses I Like” by Major Edward Bowes. What caught my attention in these lines, not that they are witty or that they rhyme but the fact that we are ‘builders of eternity.” We are given “a bag of tools, a shapeless mass and a book of rules.” Last week we were thinking about choice:  - ‘what shadow are we casting?’ and  in this poem we are reminded that we have a choice of what we can make. We can make ‘a stumbling-block or a stepping-stone.’

 

In the 16th chapter of Matthew we get a staggering look at the person of Simon Peter. In verse 13 we read about a glorious moment for him. Jesus asks the question, “Who do say that I am?” Peter answers Jesus correctly; he says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus celebrates this answer by blessing Peter. He tells him, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Peter gets the keys to heaven. He gets permission to bind things up, and to throw into chains, anything he wants. He is allowed to set free, or to loose anything he desires as well. This is great power that Jesus bestows on Peter. And it goes straight to his head.

 

The schools will open again this coming week (hoorah). This is an exciting time and a scary time. It is the start of another school year, and for some it is another year of ridicule, and shame for others, for sadly  bullying is a huge problem in our schools and always has been. But today it can go viral in an instant. Now if you make a mistake in the gym, or are not wearing the right uniform, wear glasses, come from an ethnic minority, or are in any way different, instead of just being a story that can be shared in the playground, or a harmless joke,  there is fear it can turn into a YouTube  movie.  Here children are now forced to relive embarrassing moments over and over again because of the technology they possess in the palm of their hands.

 

That mobile phone that is also a camera and camcorder is power, the power to capture moments in life that a decade before would simply be a memory. Now though, they can last for a lifetime on the internet. Power can quickly go to people’s head because of these abilities. The internet would be really boring if You Tube ceased to exist, as some of it is interesting and entertaining. But it is only funny for those not involved.

The author of Matthew’s Gospel found this conversation between Jesus and Peter memorable enough to put it in the text today. He must have found something meaningful in knowing that Peter had put his foot in his mouth. There had to be a reason why this is important. It has stood the test of time, as we use, “Get behind me Satan!” in our vocabulary today. The reason lies behind Peter’s new-found power.  We have to be careful what we do with power.

 

Peter is the rock that the church was built on. God decided that instead of using a nation to show the world what life following him would look like, He would use individuals who would come together to be the Church. They would work, worship, and pray together to make this world a better place and bring in the Kingdom of God.  Peter was to be in charge, and they could bind and loose anything they wanted. If they wanted to bind up poverty, they could feed the hungry, they could offer up forgiveness. If they wanted to bind oppression, injustice, pain and sorrow they could demonstrate to the world the way to live and act.  All that was available to Peter – he had the keys.

 

BUT the first thing Peter does with this new power was to rebuke Jesus. What changed? What made Peter move from this high moment to this low moment in two verses? The scripture tells us that “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  Notice that it is after Peter receives to keys to kingdom of heaven; after the disciples  watch Peter being praised for calling Jesus the “the Messiah, the Son of the living God;” and after Jesus feels that the disciples finally begin to get what he is about, does he start to fill them in on God’s plan which would end in death and resurrection.

 

Peter hears Jesus say that he will go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. He completely misses the last part of the statement and he jumps to his own conclusions. He pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him. Just think how astounding that is. Peter 'rebukes' Jesus. He pulls him to one side and the conversation goes something like this: “Never, Lord. You are here to restore the Jewish Kingdom. We have this all figured out. We’ve seen you walk on water, feed 5,000  and heal the sick. When you go into Jerusalem we were thinking more of fire and brimstone raining from the sky. We want real Sodom and Gomorra stuff. You are not going to suffer and die, I won’t let that happen.”

 

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”    I have this picture in my mind of Peter just standing there with his mouth gaping open, stunned because Jesus had just told him off.  Peter had made a huge mistake. He had recreated the original sin. He felt the keys of the Kingdom of God in his hand and he the power to bind and loose. They weighed heavy and he felt important. He felt powerful. He felt he was now on equal status with Jesus, the Son of the living God. With this new power the first way he uses it was to attempt to bind Jesus. He felt equal enough to Jesus Christ that he pulled him aside and stood up to him.  Just as Genesis describes the original sin of Adam and Eve when they wanted to have the same knowledge as God, here is Peter already thinking he is God’s equal.

 

Here we are witness to Peter being brought down a rung or five from his loftily position.  In this text there were two phrases that caught my attention. One was stumbling block, which is what Jesus calls Peter. The Greek word that the author of Matthew’s gospel uses for stumbling block is the word ‘skandalon’.  It means a trigger or to trap. That part of a mouse trap you put the cheese on, is a skandalon. It is also means any person or thing by which one is drawn into error or sin, a stumbling-block in one’s life. This is how Jesus describes Peter. Four verses earlier he was the rock on which the church would be built and now he is a stumbling block for Jesus. Jesus renames Simon Peter; it means rock, but how Peter lived out his life would depend on whether he was a stumbling-block rock or a stepping stone rock.

 

Wherever skandalon is used it is always in reference to something or someone who gets in the way of God’s will. It is something that causes offense or causes others to sin. It is a false teaching or a wrong impression that pulls others away from God. We know what these things are in our lives. We have seen them before. The covers on our bed can trap us under them for hours on rainy Sunday mornings. I can feel God wants me to do something in my life but I end up saying . “I can’t do that God, that will never happen. ”  I am sure we have thought or said similar things at one time or another.

 

Which brings me to the other phrase that stood out .“Never, Lord.”  I am sure that when we say ‘never’ he laughs and says “just wait and see.” At the beginning of ministry training we were asked to share our ‘calling to ministry’ stories. People stood up and told their story. Many people in ministry today are in a second career.  Over and over we heard people stand up and say that they ran from God for most of their lives. “Never, Lord. I’m not called into ministry. That is for someone else, not me.” But God’s will is stronger than ours and God usually wins in the end. Where we see trouble, the unknown, or a dead end, God just sees opportunity.

 

Peter closed his ears as Jesus told him what would happen to him in Jerusalem. He missed the part where Jesus says he will rise again in three days. As Peter tries to squash the painful reality of the crucifixion he misses out the glory of the resurrection too. If we close our minds off to the reality of what God is calling us to do then we too will miss out on the glory that waits on the other side.

 

A stepping stone is used to move a person from one place to another. It is something that takes us over rushing water or mud, and can safely move us to the other side. Sometimes these stepping stones can be awkward and we are filled with fear and trepidation. What we do with what we have been given is up to us. Jesus gives us directions “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

 

Isn't it strange that princes and kings

And clowns that caper in sawdust rings

And common folk like you and me

Are the builders of eternity.

 

To each is given a bag of tools,

A shapeless mass and a book of rules;

And each must make, ere time is flown,

A stumbling-block or a stepping-stone.

 

Last week we ended with the question, "what shadow will you cast?"   This week we have another question: what will kind of stone will you make?