Sunday, February 25, 2018

2 Lent B, 2018: Get behind me, Satan!

Lectionary: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30 ; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

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En el nombre del Dios, Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

I am aware that there are at least two puppies establishing their relationships with two families in this congregation. It’s such an exciting time, integrating a furry family member. The way we teach the puppies to relate to the people in our family, our homes, our furniture, our shoes… will determine the quality of our lives for the next 10-20 years.

The relationship we want to form with our pets takes time to build and it requires patience, discipline, and forgiveness. The same can be said about our relationship with God.

Our Scriptures today hold up for us today the concept of righteousness, that is, right relationship with God. So what exactly is righteousness?

The dictionary defines righteousness as something that is morally right or justifiable. It says a righteous person is virtuous, in other words, their behavior that is morally right.

By comparison, our Judeo-Christian tradition takes a radically different approach to this concept. For us, righteousness is right relationship, it’s a quality from within us, and the fruit of righteousness is wholeness, harmony, and peace, joy, and love. And righteousness, our relationship with God, is life.

For example, our story from Genesis describes how God invited Abraham into relationship. God offered Abraham a covenant, that is, a formal agreement – a contract – saying, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful…” Remember, he’s 99 years old and has no son, and God says, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful… I will make nations of you” and I will bring life from Sarah’s barren womb and I will make nations rise from her… “ I will keep this covenant with your descendants too. It will be an everlasting covenant.

Abraham’s part in the contract was to accept the offer, despite what earthly barriers seemed in the way. I love the part of Paul’s letter to the Romans (he rarely makes me laugh, but this time he did!) where he discusses this: “He did not weaken in the faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about 100 years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made [Abraham] waiver…”

That is righteousness… that is right relationship.

Compare that now with Peter, blessed Peter, who waivers… But I, for one, am grateful that he did. I waiver too.

Jesus is preparing his disciples for a difficult season in their relationship, one that will illustrate to them the cost of righteousness. He tells them that he is about to undergo great suffering, be rejected by the religious leadership, and be executed, after which he will rise again.

Peter must have quit listening before that last part, because he pulls Jesus aside and rebukea him privately: ‘Say it ain’t so!’ Peter’s love of Jesus, his respect and admiration for him, and his wisdom about Jesus’ identity as the Messiah are barriers to his being able to look beyond the earthly circumstances to the fulfillment of God’s plan in Jesus and these circumstances in which that plan will be fulfilled.

Jesus responds to Peter publicly indicating that this is an important lesson for all of his followers, not just his rock. So looking at the disciples, Jesus hit Peter with these biting words: “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”

Jesus calls Peter “Satan.” How are we to understand this?

Do you remember last week I said we should do a word study on ‘satan’? Let’s do al little bit of that right now…

In her book, “The Origin of Satan,” theologian Elaine Pagels teaches us this: The Hebrew term “the satan” describes an adversarial role, not a particular character. Since the 6th century the supernatural character has been discussed in Hebrew commentary as one of the angels sent by God for the specific purpose of blocking or obstructing human activity. The word “satan” literally means “one who throws something across one’s path.” If the path is bad, the obstruction is good, thus the satan may have been sent by the Lord to protect a person from worse harm. (pp 39, 40)

That’s how the idea of Satan started. So, I’m glad Jesus called Peter Satan, because it makes it impossible to veer off into the weird and unbiblical path of the personified Satan of our more recent Protestant-leaning brothers and sisters. Satan is not a red demon guy with a tail and pitchfork who is waiting to trick believers away from God. We’re perfectly capable of going astray ourselves.

Besides, if we believe in the power and efficacy of our Baptism, and Jesus’ own words that he would be with us always, even to the end of the age (Mt 28:20), then we can’t be tricked into unrighteousness. It isn’t possible. We can choose to go there. We can also choose to repent – to return to God.

Is evil real? Absolutely. I have personally confronted it. It’s real. But ‘evil’ and ‘satan’ are not synonyms. That’s another word study for another day…

Like Peter, we all waiver, but for God, whose glory it is to always have mercy, even our moments of unrighteousness can be used by God to restore us to righteousness and to further God’s plan toward its fulfillment. That’s why Peter is the quintessential disciple in formation.

Peter eventually did get there – after denying Jesus three times, abandoning him at his crucifixion, initially doubting his resurrection, and fighting with Paul (and losing) over whether Gentiles could become followers of the Way of Christ. Then God spoke to Peter in a dream which transformed him and set him on the path of righteousness, enabling him to fulfill his divine purpose as the rock upon which Christ built the church.

And that’s the point… God is always faithful to God’s covenant to us which is: I will be your God and you will be my people.

God is gracious, merciful, patient, and steadfast… God does not give up on us but continually gives us the time, support, and resources we need to grow into our divine purpose. So when Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan” he was teaching Peter and the other disciples (and us) this important lesson:

‘You can’t be my follower if you are in front of me telling me how it ought to go. Get behind me and follow me. I am God whose glory it is always to have mercy. I will lead. Remember, you can only see from an earthly perspective. I see with divine sight. Trust me. Get behind me, and follow me.”

As we journey deeper into Lent, deeper into that wilderness where the wild beasts of temptation lead us to dare to tell God how to proceed according to our plan, Jesus reminds us to follow him. Sometimes the lesson stings at first, but the mercy of God is in it – guaranteed.


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