Losing our life to find it
Matthew 16:21-28

We’ve heard quite a bit about our final character in the series Great People in God’s Story in the last few weeks, he gets a mention on a regular basis throughout the gospels.  A couple of weeks ago we experienced him asking Jesus to allow him to walk on the water to him, only to lose focus and start to sink, then have Jesus rescue him.  Then last week our Gospel reading told of him answering with divine inspiration that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  He is of course Peter.

Today we visit for a moment with Peter and Jesus at a time when Jesus is preparing the disciples for his future, they will see and experience his suffering at the hands of the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and that he will be killed, then on the third day raised again.  Peter was just a bit upset with Jesus and took him aside to tell him off.  He has just finished proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah that they have all been waiting for and now Jesus is saying that he will die!  This can’t be right; they expect Jesus to be their new king, not a sacrifice.  Their focus was on human things again, not on the things of God. 
Peter and the other disciples were confused and perhaps rightly so.  In the span of a few verses Peter has gone from being the rock on which the church will be built to hearing “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me”.  Have you ever had that feeling, of going from most favoured one to the worst in a short span of time?  Jesus explained that the problem for Peter was that he had fixed his mind on human things rather than divine things.  That is often our mistake too; we see things from our perspective rather than God’s perspective.  We put ourselves before God and others, which is no different to every person in the world since Adam and Eve, so we aren’t like Robinson Crusoe and all alone in that!
Knowing this and following on from that theme the next important point in this encounter was Jesus telling 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.” 
There’s a bit of irony in this statement isn’t there, at least there is when you follow the life story of Peter.  Here Jesus says that if you want to follow him then you have to deny yourself, in the not too distant future Peter will be denying that he even knows Jesus rather than denying himself.  That’s a difficulty we all struggle with when it comes to this directive from Jesus.  We’re not good at denying ourselves for anything, and we certainly don’t want to lose our lives, it’s all pretty difficult to comprehend.  How can we possibly achieve such a difficult task?

Well if you think back over the last fourteen weeks of this series you may notice one common thread running through all of the so-called great people in God’s story, not one of them were capable of achieving the task that God put in front of them without his help.  Nearly all of them didn’t think that they were up to the task at hand, and those that did struggled without God and went astray, only to be brought back to the straight and narrow by him.  By ourselves we pretty much have no hope, but with God’s help all things are possible.

We’re not necessarily talking here about giving up life in the world and moving to a monastery or convent and having no interaction with anyone ever again.  Denying ourselves and taking up our cross is about shifting the focus in our lives from solely serving ourselves, to thinking about other people and those God may be calling us to serve and of shifting from human thinking to the things of God.  Part of that process is to spend time with God’s word and attempting to connect God’s living word with our lives and in our context.

During the week we had a small gathering of people who spent some time looking at God’s word and how it relates to the current hot topic of same-sex unions.  We looked at what the Bible might have to say on the issue of homosexuality and marriage in general.  Then moved on to some documents that have been released by various theologians to gauge their opinions on the issue and spent time discussing where our thinking lies.  This is the same process that we need to follow on all issues really.  The same sex union issue is just one of many that we could touch on.

As I was doing some additional research for Wednesday’s study session I stumbled across a resource from Lutheran Tract Mission, its closing paragraph issues a challenge not only to those who experience homosexual love but to all of us it states, “God’s forgiveness is the blessing of freedom in the struggle to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus in the way of life-changing obedience.

All of life is a call to deny ourselves in many and various ways.  For Peter it was a call firstly to leave his old life and follow Jesus and then to trust Jesus that he would provide for him and his safety as he was buffeted by storms, walked on water, denied Jesus, shared the good news of the gospel with many people and was eventually put to death for doing so.  For Moses it was an incredible shift from hiding in the desert and caring for the family flocks to leading God’s people out of slavery.  For Abraham and Sarah it was childbirth at an old age and becoming the ancestors to millions and millions of people.

What does it mean for you?  Is there some part of your life that is self-serving and selfish that could be put aside, just a small step in asking God to help you deny yourself and take up the cross in some way to serve him and his people?  No our salvation doesn’t necessarily depend on us seeking those things out and acting upon them, but when we aren’t denying ourselves and we are focusing on human things rather than divine things are we creating a stumbling block for ourselves and others?

Take comfort in knowing that even Peter, who was the rock on which the church was started was constantly slipping in his calling.  Take blessing from knowing that he was forgiven and so are you.  Remember that in baptism you received forgiveness, life and salvation too, and that as you struggle to follow in the calling to which God has placed you in, you are not alone, God is with you and loves you and is calling you to live your life with him and to serve others.

Amen