What Stops a Hero 9-3-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 16:21-28, I explore the continued back and forth between Peter and Jesus following Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as Messiah. Its an odd situation that reveals the human expectations of Peter.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-stops-a-hero-9-3-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Earlier this week I saw a headline that grabbed my attention…that after months and months of rehab, Tiger Woods has been cleared by his doctors to start swinging a golf club again…and as I thought about this I realized just how far he has fallen.

Now putting aside all the regrettable personal decisions that Tiger has made in his life…there was a time when watching him play golf was the most exciting thing in the world. From the time he came onto the PGA tour in the mid 90’s he had one goal in mind…total domination…to be the greatest golfer of all time. And it didn’t take long for the rest of the golfing world to take notice.

He won his first major in 1997, crushing the competition to take home the Green Jacket of the Masters…and from there on out, there was no stopping him. Now it was right about that time that I really developed my love for the game…and you can bet that when Tiger started knocking off major after major with his eyes set on the prize of passing Jack Nicolaus and his record setting 18 majors…that Tiger quickly earned the distinction of hero in my book…and not just mine either.

I think pretty much everyone agreed that it was only a matter of time before he took the record…getting his major victories up to 13 by the end of 2007…and then he managed to knock off number 14 by winning the US Open in 2008, all while nursing a major fracture in his leg.

Admittedly that was the first time I saw a crack in the armor…and he had to sit out the rest of the 2008 season following surgery on his leg…but midway through 2009 he was back on form and going into the final major of the year, Tiger held the lead going into the final round. I was elated, because he had a record…Tiger had never been beaten in a major when he held the lead going into the final day. And I was confident my hero was going to walk away with major number 15.  But then a little known South Korean golfer with only 1 other win on the PGA tour caught Tiger…and beat him on the final day of a major…and Tiger hasn’t won another one since.

Looking back, that was the beginning of an important lesson for me. Inevitably, without question nor exception…our heroes will fall. Sometimes it’s the result of time taking its toll…sometimes its something more extreme like a severe illness or even death. History has shown us this time after time…whether it’s a sports hero…or the leader of some political movement…or a religious situation…every single one has fallen. (Pause)

Now maybe this is a bit of a downer today…but we are seeing evidence of this within this story of the back and forth between Peter and Jesus.  If you were here last week, you caught the gist of what’s going on here. Jesus has asked the disciples who they say he is and Peter makes the divinely-inspired public proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah…and as we discussed last week…there’s a pretty big misconception on Peter’s part of just what that means. He’s got history working against him here…so maybe it’s understandable.

But regardless…Jesus begins to reveal the truth of what it means that he is the messiah…and that this movement that he’s begun…this ministry that he’s been leading…its going to lead them all to Jerusalem where he’ll be betrayed and tortured and killed by the powers that be…Just like every other hero in history…Jesus’ time is going to come to a pretty dramatic close. (pause)
Now for us…as we consider this through the lens of hindsight, its not that shocking…but imagine what it would have been like for Peter…Jesus is the hero…but not only that…he’s their friend…their mentor…the one who has healed diseases…he’s the one who has performed miracles…he’s the one who has stood up against the hypocrisy of the religious elite and even challenged the political power of the Roman occupation…and at this point…all of that is still going really well.

Now if you’d have told me back in about 2005 that Tiger was going to stop winning majors…that he was going to destroy his back to the point of not being able to swing a club…and only that but that he was going to turn out to be a a-1 sleazeball within his personal life…I wouldn’t have believed it either…because in the midst he was my hero…and he untouchable. (Pause) Maybe my response would have sounded a lot like Peter…God forbid it…this must not be. And yet, in both cases…Tiger Woods and Jesus of Nazareth…that’s exactly what happened.

Now Tiger aside…I can’t help but feel bad for Peter in this instance…he’s just been called the Rock on which Jesus will build his church…something so strong and powerful that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. But now, when he expresses his utter shock at the prediction that Jesus has made his status is immediately knocked down to a stumbling block…and even worse…Get behind me Satan…and Jesus points out that Peter’s focused on human thoughts.

But you know what…I can’t help but think that Peter’s human thoughts…are just a reflection of the way that the rest of the world works isn’t it? Peter’s shocked at the news…because if Jesus dies, its over…we all know that…if someone dies there’s no coming back…and whatever mojo they were bringing into their particular sphere of influence, its over…and so if Jesus dies, this movement…this new way of thinking and acting and being in the world its over too.

Now while Peter sees this with shock and fear…the powers that be look at it as a more satisfying conclusion. Think about it…Jesus has been subverting the status quo…he’s been undermining the influence and power of the religious elite as well as the Roman Oppressors…and if you’ve got power…and you don’t want to lose it…you’ll go to any extreme to silence the source of the opposition won’t you…maybe even to the point of killing him? And as we know…that’s exactly what ends up happening in the long run isn’t it?

Eventually Peter’s fears…Jesus’ prediction…and the scheming of the worldly powers comes true and Jesus dies…and everything we have ever heard points to one truth…that this should be the end. (pause)

But…its…not. (pause) Because, through Jesus…through the event of God entering into our reality through Jesus…God’s doing something more.  Because God’s not just pushing back against the human made powers of the world…but God’s pushing back against another power that exists in this world…the power of death.

We’ve already been talking about it today…how death is so permanent…that it is so final…and because of that it can be…and often is quite scary…both for those who face it…and for those who find themselves left behind because of it…and I saw both this week.  I sat down with an individual this week who shared the words “brain tumor” and together we talked about the scary nature of what that could entail. And then, later on the very same day I got the news that one of my seminary classmates suddenly lost her husband…a young guy only a year older than me. Bloodclots formed and just that quick he’s gone, leaving behind his wife and son, who incidentally turned 4 two days later.  Death doesn’t care…and it doesn’t discriminate…and we can’t beat it can we?

But here’s the thing about death…as much as we hate it…as much as we fear it…we also know that God is well aware of it…and through Jesus…amazingly enough through the brutal death of Jesus on the cross…God is doing something about it.

I discovered something new this week as I worked with this text…particularly the crazy back and forth that Peter experiences…because I can’t hear one part without thinking of the other part…but in the midst of this I realized something. When Peter makes his confession, Jesus calls him the rock on which he will build the church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Now, I always thought of that phrase as Hades…which by the way is the realm of the dead…the place where dead people are…I thought that meant that Hades was attacking the church…but Jesus said the gate…and what’s a gate do?

Well, it either keeps something in…or it keeps something out…it’s the barrier…so what if we are being reminded that the church of Jesus…which includes not only his followers…but him…and the Holy Spirit…and the Gospel…and not only that but the divine power of God which goes WAY beyond our ability to comprehend…all of this…is invading Hades. Death’s not coming after us…through Jesus God’s going after death…and he’s bringing us along for the ride.

Now death’s funny…it’s the result of sin in the world…whatever the heck that means…but we’re reminded that the wages of sin is death…and we’re also confident enough to be able to recognize and call out the sinful brokenness that resides within each of us…and God sees it too…but amazingly, because of the perfectly love for each of us made manifest IN Jesus Christ…God’s grace for the world is revealed.

And God’s grace is invading enemy territory. God’s grace is invading the realm of death…and the gates of Hades will not prevail.

Now I say all that and yet I know that death is still a reality for us. We see it in those around us and we will experience it…but we have God that makes new life out of death. I don’t know how…but its true…and it is the promise that is made to us by Jesus that we have joined with him as heirs to eternal life, whatever that’s gonna look like. (pause)

Heroes fall…because our heroes are human…and given enough time even the strongest will falter…which if you think about it…should help us cut ourselves some slack every once in a while…I mean, even Jesus died…and he was God.

But the amazing thing about these powers that flair up in the world…whether human or otherwise…is that ultimately they too will fail.  In the life of Jesus, God tried to show the world that his love was bigger than anything we could throw at it…and the world got so offended that they killed him…the cross is the world’s way of saying no to God…but remember that we have the gift of hindsight…and we know that three days later that tomb was empty…the cross might be a no…but it wasn’t the end of the story…because God looked at the world and said “Oh you think I was finished?” And God looked at an angel and said “Here, hold my beer.” Because in the resurrection of Jesus, God takes the world’s “no” and God says “yes” anyway. How’s that for a hero? Amen

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