The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s055g08 Sunday 22 31/8/08
'God forbid it, Lord!' Matthew 16.22
We have been focusing on Peter over the last few weeks in our gospel readings. After the feeding of the 5000 in Matthew 14, when all the disciples would have been on a 'high' (s18), we had Peter leaving the disciples and walking on water to Jesus (s19), Peter's request to Jesus to explain the saying about what defiles (s20), then last week Peter's confession of Jesus as 'the Messiah, the Son of the living God' (s21) and this morning, Jesus' rebuke of Peter after Peter prayed that God might spare him the fate that Jesus foresaw befalling him.
Often the last two of these are linked, but I wonder if in fact all four should be included. Here was a time when Peter was experiencing a real spiritual high - for sometimes it is when we are on a high that we say and do things that are inappropriate. They might not seemingly be self seeking. Peter was expressing a wish for Jesus but this wish for Jesus' well being defiled him!
Peter had walked on water, he had taken the lead in asking for an explanation, seemingly he had been commended for his recognition of who Jesus was now he wanted to stay on this high, and he didn't want anything untoward to happen to Jesus. Clearly he didn't really know who Jesus was - what Messiah, the Son of the living God, actually meant.
In the western world we have an epidemic of depression. It is not unusual for high achieving people to 'come out' and reveal their battles with depression and this has been liberating for many other sufferers. But less well recognised and understood is bipolar disorder, where the sufferer consider the times when they are 'high' as normality and dismiss their ailment as simply depression. But as we see from Peter, it is often when we are 'high' that we make mistakes. And often those closest to us bear the brunt. It is when we are 'up' that real problems can occur. And I suspect that until we manage to control our highs, the inevitable troughs will never be managed either.
And it is important to see this is just as applicable in our spiritual life as it is in our emotional life if such can actually be separated. For all we are inspired by our worship and devotion, that is not what 'christianity' is all about. We cannot stay there. For others need to be lifted up, and the very wideness of lifting others up ensures the enmity of those who consider themselves in a privileged position in the kingdom.
One symptom of bipolar, in its manic phase, is feelings of grandeur, a feeling that the person is specially privileged.
There are times when we come to church and need to be lifted up. I recall talking to someone a while back. Her husband, not normally a church-goer, had decided to attend after a very close friend and associate was tragically killed. That morning the 'sermon' was filling out the 'national church life survey'! Needless to say he didn't bother attending again.
But on the other hand, sometimes church can become a spectator sport, where people demand to be entertained as an antidote for their boredom. I was amused at Ron's St Gargolye's cartoon in 'Church Times' this week as I always am.
It seems those spiritualities which promise so much personally, those that are designed to deliver a spiritual high to worshippers can also be precisely those which exclude others.
'The Lord is **my** shepherd'. 'Blessed assurance, Jesus is **mine**'. 'Jesus is a friend of **mine**'. 'O, how **I** love Jesus'. '**My** Jesus, **my** Saviour Lord there is none like you'. Again, it is what comes out of our mouth, our very praise of Jesus, that defiles! No wonder Jesus sternly ordered them not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Jesus going to the Cross was not an optional extra. It was the inevitable outcome of including others that so enraged those who considered themselves in some privileged position in the kingdom. If we simply take someone else's supposed privileged position for ourselves, what makes us any different? Is our spirituality any different, any **better**? Or do we actually crucify Jesus anew all the while thinking that we are worshipping him, as Peter wanted to do eternally? No matter who assumes a supposed spiritual privilege, it is never any more than supposed.
God ordained Jesus to come and associate with the others with whom the religious would not associate, and that would lead to their animosity and his death. If we want to be disciples of Jesus we too will have to follow the same path, to associate with others. If we proclaim that we are 'in Christ' we can't be anywhere else other than with others. To quote St Paul, we are baptised into the death of Jesus so we are intimately involved in the same mission of associating with others or we are not baptised into his death. This is not pacificism or not non-violent opposition, it is an active 'doing unto others' as we would have done to us, it is a taking of the initiative. This cannot be achieved in worship in churches it has to spill out into our real life amongst others. Our faith involves the inclusion of others outside our worshipping community or it is not the faith of Jesus. Perhaps more accurately this is expressed by saying that Jesus' worshipping community includes those 'outside' as much as those 'inside'. The most important sentence in the service is: 'Go in peace to love and serve the Lord' that is in others for we have already served the Lord in worship.
And it is not insignificant that next week's gospel reading is the leaving of the 99 to search for the one lost sheep, so frequently interpreted in how everyone has to become part of our communion and fellowship to be saved, when in reality it is about Jesus seeking out the religious who have separated themselves from the mass of humanity and bringing them back kicking and screaming into the real world they want to spend their existence decrying.
Jesus proclaims to us a God who is not the god of the church-goers but the God of all in society. It matters not how frequently we genuflect in worship, how frequently we read the Bible, or how confidently we pray - if we are thereby proclaiming a god of the elite, a god of church-goers, a god of a privileged few, even if we dignify it by calling ourselves 'christians', then Jesus' rebuke of Peter tells us that we are doing Satan's work, not God's.
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