God Sets Our Hands Apart!
The following sermon was preached by Craig A. Satterlee, Axel Jacob and Gerda Maria (Swanson) Carlson Chair of Homiletics; Dean, ACTS D.Min. in Preaching Program, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Tuesday, September 2, 2008.
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 Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." But Jesus 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 dominion."
Where do you suppose Peter's hands were when Peter rebuked Jesus? Where do you suppose Peter's hands were when Peter rebuked Jesus? Did Peter spin Jesus around, grab Jesus by the shoulders, and try to shake some sense into him? "God forbid it, Lord!" Did Peter put his arm around Jesus and pull Jesus into a private moment? "Let's just take a minute and think this suffering thing through." Or, was it a finger in the face? "This must never happen to you."
Where do you suppose your hands will be when you rebuke Jesus during this season of your Christian vocation, during this time of semianry education, duing the days and weeks and months that lie ahead? It's not a matter of if but of when. You will rebuke Jesus. People like my friends Vitor and Lea will get to hear some of it, when you talk about Jesus undergoing great suffering, and being killed, and on the third day being raised. You'll discuss atonement theories and our blood-thirsty God and all that stuff. And you will wind up rebuking. But most of you will raise your fist toward heaven and rebuke Jesus because the cross you want so desperately to take up is not the cross that Christ has laid on your shoulders during this season of your Christian vocation, this time of seminary education, during the days and weeks and months that lie ahead.
"If any want to become my followers," Jesus says, "let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." And there are so many glorious crosses to take up. Hyde Park, LSTC, the church and the planet all need saving. And courses in Hebrew and Greek, Old and New Testamrnt, Church History and Systematic Theology, Pastoral Care and Preaching can all feel academic, tame, remote, irrelevant. We don't want to talk about doing ministry. We want to do ministry. We know how the Messiah's mission is and is not supposed to happen, just as Peter knew how the Messiah's mission is and is not supposed to happen. "Not through a cross,"Peter said. And we might add, "And cerrtainly not through homework."
And Jesus says to us what Jesus said to Peter. "Get behind me!" Take the place of a follower, the place of a learner, the place of a student. "Don't get in my way so that I stumble over you," Jesus says. "For you are thinking like you think. You are thnking like human beings think. You're not thinking like God thinks."
Here's how God thinks: God saved the world through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, a mystery that we are still trying to figure out. And God, who brings life out of death, speech out of silence, and hope out of despair, will surely transform the world through people like you, who commit yourselves to take the time to be followers, learners, and students of Jesus. For we not only study, pray, and grow in faith for ourselves. We spend this season of our Christian vocation, this time of Christian education, for each other, for the church that we love, for the congregations we will serve, for people who do not have the privilege of studying their faith, and for the world that does not know what it does not know. What we begin this week, what we do this year, is a sign of the Spirit's presence, a way of following Christ, and a share in God's work of reconciling the world to God's own self. God invites us to trust, to have faith that what we are doing will make a difference.
And so, today, we anoint new students' hands as a sign of the Spirit setting them apart for the work of this season of their lives and ministries. During these years of seminary, there will be many calls for helping hands, many crosses that want to be taken up, all kinds of work that you will want to do. Yet, Jesus' call in this season of life is to study and preparation. During these years, the work of our hands is to open books, to turn pages, to write papers, and to manipulate keyboards. Our hands will do more praying for the world than serving in the world. This work is not separate from ministry. Our hands are set apart to minister to those we will one day serve in congregations by faithfully studying Scripture, diligently learning the faith, intentionally growing in spirit, and passionately practicing the arts of ministry. You see, when Jesus sets our hands apart for important work, Jesus also sets our hands apart from other equally important work. Jesus also sets our hands apart from activities that conflict with the work to which he calls us, such as acts of violence and injustice, and self-centered behaviors.
Having your hands anointed, deciding to come to-or to come back to-seminary is controversial. Seminary challenges our tendency to distinguish between the academic and practical, between learning the tradition and engaging in mission. Seminary challenges us to lay aside human things and set our minds on divine things, on the things of God. In the anointing, God sets our hands apart to engage in certain tasks and activities, to refrain from other tasks and activities, and to postpone still other work until another season of life. In the anointing, God sets limits and determines priorities. "Get behind me," Jesus says. "Follow. Learn. Be my student. Take up that cross. You will make a difference."