by Brian Gegel
Well, here we are at the end of retreating, transitioning, orienting, and re-orienting. In the midst of change, we gather to worship and praise our steadfast God; our God who has called us here to be transformed.
We opened this week on Sunday with worship, too; if you weren’t here, our Pastor to the Community Joan Beck led us in a rousing rendition of the hokey-pokey. Now, I’ve been gone over a year; but being the perceptive feller I am, it’s evident to me that Dr Stewart has been encouraging the practice of liturgical dance. Well, I’m not much of a dancer, but I know one – here goes … (chicken dance).
Honestly – and I think I can speak for my fellow returning Seniors – it feels good to be back in this place. To see friends and mentors once again; to meet new brothers and sisters on this journey; to gather and worship in this beautiful space, and – for the moment – to not have any assignments.
It’s good to be back! God has called us to this place we call a seminary; all of our paths converge at this moment; we gather at this crossroad of our lives and faith. Moved in. Oriented. Getting acquainted. Gathered in the presence of God, in the peace of this chapel. I invite you to take a deep, cleansing breath. Anybody want another one? Ahhh – here we are – the transitions, the farewell-leavings, the road trips are behind us now. Steady as she goes, right?
Yeah – steady as she goes. That’s what Peter must have been thinking, as we join him in this week’s gospel account from Matthew. Peter had just had one of those rare “high” moments – saying just the right thing at just the right time. There they were – the disciples and Jesus, way up north in the gentile frontier district of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked the disciples who people were saying he, the Son of Man, was, and they answered the best they could – John the Baptist, Elijah, maybe Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.
And then, point blank: “Who do you say I am?” And Simon Peter, that blessed classmate who’s always the first to break an ominous classroom silence, responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” The right answer, given at the right time! Jesus patted him on the back, blessed him, and nicknamed him “The Rock,” the foundation stone on which Jesus would build his Church. Peter, the rock, the foundation – steady as she goes.
It must have been good to be Peter that day, to be assured of the path ahead, to have been blessed and given authority. It was as if he had received a positive entrance decision from his candidacy committee! Do you know that feeling, when you think you’ve made that right choice, said the right things – been given the green light to proceed? It’s like your approval essay for candidacy is completed, signed, sealed, and delivered? To have arrived in Hyde Park, unpacked, and established internet access in your apartment or the conference center?
Petros, bigger than life, the brash one, had been firmly mortared into place by Jesus. This Jesus, who then went about his business, unfolding the rest of his travel itinerary – a must-do, absolutely necessary trip to Jerusalem; to suffering, to death …. and to resurrection.
And it was at this point – this crossroad, if you will, that the foundation stone of the Church began to think that the divine will of God, manifested in Jesus, could maybe use a little “re-alignment.” So he discreetly took him aside for a little one-on-one session. “Uh, Jesus – uh, Jerusalem – to be killed? We’re over 100 miles – safe miles, that is – from Jerusalem. It’s dangerous back there! You’ve gotta be kidding – God Forbid!”
That’s what he said. God Forbid that you, Jesus, do what is necessary! God Forbid that you, Jesus, make me do what you think is necessary!
This moment is a holy time in our lives, a sacred arrival, this crossroad where we have come together today. But maybe you’ve known some of those “GOD FORBID!” moments too; perhaps you’ve experienced them on your own journey as you respond to God’s call to ministry. I know I’ve done my share of rebuking:
- God Forbid that I have to preach week-in and week-out at my internship site – without using notes!
- God Forbid that my CPE site supervisor lose his job mid-term because state funding was cut!
- God Forbid that my wife get diagnosed with breast cancer ten months before we planned to move to Chicago to start seminary!
Peter’s rebuke of Jesus was not unlike my rebuke of Jesus. Those scolding words came from the freshly-set foundation stone, and Jesus recognized the rebuke for what it was – a temptation to turn aside from the path he had come to follow.
Jesus knew what awaited him; he knew the necessity of the cross. And he knows that we, like Peter, can lose sight of God’s “divine things of grace” because of the clamoring and yammering of our own situations and circumstances, our human self-desires: Self-reliance, self-promotion, and self-preservation.
Jesus, Immanuel, God-with-us, stood at that crossroad – that road to the cross. And he experienced the temptations that we face as we stand there, too – considering whether to take up our own cross and follow him, or to take the path that seems to be the more sensible, easier, less uncomfortable.
But our self-preservation is an illusion! Jesus’ self-emptying obedience, his life and suffering, death and resurrection – that is our reality and our salvation. Jesus has shown us which path to take when we stand at the crossroads. It’s as if he’s left us a trail – a trail of breadcrumbs that mark out the path toward our God, holy breadcrumbs that lead to salvation.
And God gives each of us the gift of faith – to help us stick to the path. Look at us today, gathered here to remember and celebrate how Jesus promises his presence in bread and wine, and asks his followers to remember him in this meal.
Somehow, we’ve all managed to follow that trail of holy breadcrumbs – running or dancing, struggling or straggling – back to God’s Table to be renewed in faith and refreshed for life. All of us – students, professors, staff, family members – are drawn back to this Table.
Thanks be to God, Jesus invites and accompanies us as we follow that trail of holy breadcrumbs. They lead to the Table, but the trail by no means ends there. Filled and refreshed, we are led back out into our world, to live and love differently, to take up our cross and follow Christ, sharing those holy breadcrumbs of grace and life that we have been so abundantly given.