Friday, September 2, 2011
What was I thinking, anyway?
Have you ever been caught gazing out into space, daydreaming another world away, only to have someone bring you back to reality, "Earth to Larry!" Now they have a diagnosis for this but it is far too common not to be normal. Or maybe you have looked back on some decision you made and then asked yourself, "What was I thinking?" I am sure that somewhere there is a diagnosis for this but it is part of ordinary life, too. We live within the twin poles of distraction and regret all our lives. We shrug these off as if they were not important but when distraction or regret take our focus off of Christ, we have a real problem. In the midst of this is often the pride that presumes to know better than others and, maybe, better than God what we need or what must be done. This is also a real problem. Today a distracted and presumptive Peter got a wake up call from Jesus and perhaps it left him with a few real regrets..
Jesus was talking about the future that awaited Him in Jerusalem. Again! Jesus did not hide the reality of the cross but kept telling His disciples what was waiting for Him. It was not something they wanted to hear about. Betrayal, suffering death, and resurrection – Peter got tired of hearing about it and stopped Jesus. "Don’t talk this way. I am not going to let this happen to You, Jesus." Peter's pride got in the way of his faith, his real life fears took over from his trust in the Lord, and he found himself with a big regret over opening his mouth at all.
Jesus stopped Peter in his tracks. "Get behind me, Satan. You are a hindrance to Me. Your mind is not set on the things of God but of man." Now remember, it was only a few verses ago that Jesus called Peter and his confession the rock on which He would build His Church. Now, all of sudden, Jesus is calling Peter satanic. Peter might have expected Jesus to commend him for his bravery or determination that nothing bad was going to happen to Jesus if Peter had any say in it. But Peter did not understand that the cross was the future Jesus has come for – that the pattern of Jesus whole life was cross shaped. Ahhh, how quickly the mighty have fallen. But it is not just the mighty. Anything that comes before Jesus is an idol. What ever occupies our minds and hearts in place of Jesus, is satanic. This was not some minor issue for Peter and it is not some little problem for us. This is a matter of life and death.
What happens when OUR minds are not on Christ, when our hearts shy away from trusting in Christ and deferring to His will? Because He loved Peter and because Jesus loves us, He calls us out in exactly the same way. Whatever distracts us from Him is an idol and Satan at work. Period. There is no muddy middle. It does not matter if our cause is self-less. Peter was not trying to protect himself. He was trying to protect Jesus but from whom? From the saving will and purpose of God, laid down through the prophets? From the sacrificial death on the cross that would result in forgiveness and salvation for the whole world? No matter how good our motives, what gets between us and Jesus is always an idol.
We are often distracted by the cares and troubles of this life. We are often distracted by our accomplishments and joys. We are often overcome by regrets over words and actions that cannot be undone. We are often marked with the scars of these words and actions. We are tempted by the pride that presumes to think we know better than God. All of these are idols. And because God loves us, He will call us out and confront these demons and not let us live under their spell and darkness. Just like He did for Peter.
Set your minds on the things of God, says Jesus. Well, what does this mean? This is not left up to us to figure out. Jesus spells is out for us. Deny yourself. Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, as St. Paul put it in the Epistle a week or so ago. Do not be deceived by an exaggerated sense of your wisdom, ability, or intelligence. Deny yourself and take up your cross. Jesus is not talking about suffering through the trouble you cause yourself – without whining. The cross He is talking about is not about making your bed and having to sleep in it. The cross He is talking about is THE cross.
Your cross is not living with the flawed husband or wife you married or not getting all the toys money can buy or even living with the pain of illness or loss. Your cross is His cross – it became yours in your baptism. You deny yourself in order to know, as Paul said, Jesus Christ and Him crucified! Your cross is not some bad choice you made and now you have to live with it. Your cross is THE cross. The cross of Christ has become the pattern and shape of your life as a Christian. You live not by earthly power and might but by forgiveness and love. You live not by the righteousness of your own making but the righteousness given you in Your baptism. You live not as one person alone but within the community and family of Christ's Church.
The world calls this surely the loser's path but in Christ we see that this is the one and only path to victory. Having been forgiven, we forgive. Having been declared worthy and righteous, we welcome others as He has welcomed us. Having been touched with mercy and compassion, we act in mercy and with compassion to those around us. Having been sought out from the darkness of our sin, idolatry, and self-righteousness, we seek out others with the Word of the Lord, with the truth of the Law and the Gospel.
So what is distracting you? What fills you with regret? What pride makes you think you know better than God? What self-righteousness tempts you to judge others? These are the idols that God calls out of us. He turns us to Jesus where we see the cross, where forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love overflows – even as lost sinners. God sets us back on the path of life in Christ, the way of the cross, to live cross shaped lives of forgiveness, love, mercy, and service. God restores us from our fallen condition to become whole and righteous in Christ. This is what it means to set your minds on the things of God. If you want to be reminded of this, pray the words of the hymn we just sang throughout the coming week: Come, Follow Me, the Savior Spoke (LSB 688).
Brothers and sisters, like Peter we are tempted to hold on to our lives, to the reality around us as miserable as it often is, but today we are bidden to come to God in Christ, to be daily reborn through repentance and forgiveness and then the lives that you seek will belong to You – not merely for the brief moment of this mortal life but for all eternity in Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen