Clippesby Church and Countryside Norfolk
Background-page-doubled Background-page-doubled church viewSeptember version copy Painting by James Tissot

Building Eternity

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity                                                                       Matthew 16:21-28

 

 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. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 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.’

 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘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.  For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.  Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

 

May this written word lead us to the living word – Jesus Christ. Amen

 

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 prose 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 the ‘builders of eternity.” We are given “a bag of tools, a shapeless mass and a book of rules.” Last week we looked at who Jesus was and is.   In this poem we are reminded that we have a choice regarding 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 with permission to bind things up, and to throw into chains, anything he deems fit.  He is allowed to set free, or to lose anything he desires as well. This is great power that Jesus bestows on Peter and it looks like it goes straight to his head.

 

The author of Matthew’s Gospel found this conversation between Jesus and Peter memorable enough to include in in his account, he saw something meaningful in noting Peter putting his foot in his mouth again.  The phrase “Get behind me Satan” has stood the test of time and is still in use in our vocabulary today. One reason it is important is because it shows what happened to Peter’s newly appointed power.  We have to be careful what we do with power.

 

Peter had acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, been told he is to be the rock on which the church was to be built. Peter and the disciples would work, worship, and pray together to make this world a better place bringing 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 to be 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? “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. 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 took Jesus aside and rebuked him. Just think how astounding that is. The conversation went something like this: “Never, Lord. You are here to restore the Jewish Kingdom. We have this all figured out. We have seen you walk on water, feed 5,000 people 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 a mental picture of Peter just standing there with his mouth open, stunned because Jesus had just told him off.  Peter had made a huge mistake. 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 witness Peter being brought down a rung or five from his lofty 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, to trip up, to cause a fall and where we get our word scandalize.   It is also means any person or thing by which one is drawn into error or sin, a stumbling-block in one’s life.  Four verses earlier Peter was the rock on which the church would be built and now he is a stumbling block. Jesus had renamed Simon.  Now he was Peter, the rock, and how Peter would live would depend on whether he would become a stumbling-block rock or a stepping stone rock.

 

Where ever the word 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. When we feel God wants to do something in our life but we think ‘we can’t do that God.’  ‘That will never happen.’  Or we feel the urge to say or do something – but let the moment pass.   I am sure we have thought or had similar things at one time or another.

 

Which brings me to the other phrase that stood out . Peter said ‘God forbid it, Lord!  This must never happen to you.’“ I am sure that when we say ‘never’ God laughs and says “just wait and see.” At the beginning of training for the Ministry we were asked to share our ‘calling’ stories. As people shared their stories there was a repeated pattern, folk said they had been running from God for a long time, thinking. “Never, Lord. I’m not called into ministry. That is for someone else, not me.” But God is never ready to give up on us. 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. 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.”

 

Peter was just trying to protect his friend, he and I am sure the other disciples just wanted Jesus to stay and continue the wonderful miracles, but that was not in the plan. Sometimes our friends or family are only seeking to protect us from being hurt or making a mistake but in doing so they stop us taking a risk for God and what he asks of us.

 

St. Columban the Irish missionary, born about 540 AD, was of noble birth, strong intelligent and destined to be a ruler of his people. Columban heard the call of God and decided to dedicate his life and go into a monastery.  His Mother was distraught and tried to stop him. Holding on to him and sobbing and lying down across the door to stop him leaving.  It was difficult for the young man but he had set his sights on serving God.  He purposefully stepped over his Mother and set out for the monastery, where in time he became one of the greatest missionaries and teachers in Europe.

 

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 questions ‘who am I and who do you say that Jesus is?’  This week we have another question. What kind of stone will you be – a stumbling-block or a stepping-stone?

Painting by James Tissot