September 3, 2017 Sermon
Exodus 3:1-15/ Matthew 16:21-28
What It Means to be Called
Have you heard of a televangelist called Joel Osteen? He has a mega church in Houston, Texas that can seat 16,000 people. This past week, he was brutally criticized by the internet. A close friend of mine posted an article about him; it says that he refused to open up his church for the flood survivors. What surprised me was that I wasn’t surprised at all. I found myself leaving a comment dripping of sarcasm; “I’m so shocked I could faint.” I’m not sure how familiar you are with megachurches, but there are a lot of them in Korea too. They tend to lure people to join their churches by preaching the prosperity gospel. Prosperity gospel teaches that if you are faithful to the church, God will bless you with material blessings. Brilliant, isn’t it? I mean, who wouldn’t want to join a church that says, God will make you rich? This is how Korean Christianity prospered, and how it will decline, according to some experts.
I’ve always wondered where on earth the prosperity “gospel” comes from, because no text in the gospel I’ve ever studied teaches anything of the sort. Hearing about megachurch pastors refusing to help those in need or becoming wealthy makes me wonder what it means to be a Christ-ian (People who belong to Christ); to be a follower of Jesus.
Today’s gospel text is an example that the teachings of Jesus had nothing to do with material blessing. Remember from last Sunday that Peter made a great confession about Jesus’ identity and received great blessings? By the way, even that blessing didn’t contain anything about him materially prospering. Anyway, that Peter gets called Satan in today’s story. Let’s find out how that happens.
Although the disciples had grasped the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, they still didn’t get exactly what it meant. They were still thinking of a messiah that will politically liberate their people from Rome. That is why when Jesus claimed that he should suffer, die, and resurrect, Peter responded with such violent denial. This is when Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan.” When you hear Jesus say this, it might be quite shocking; but be assured that he didn’t say it as an indignant insult. He mentions Peter being a stumbling block. Remember Jesus in the desert facing temptation for worldly possessions and power? He beat it. Now he’s being tempted again to escape for which he was called, and this time, the temptation came in the form of his beloved Peter. He calls Peter Satan, but don’t read too much into it; the word Satan literally means “adversary”. By calling Peter Satan, Jesus is commanding Satan to go away, and teaching Peter to get behind him and become his follower again; because followers are behind their teachers, “following” them.
The next part is a quintessential gospel lesson; what the gospel of Jesus is about. Jesus mentions three things that his followers should do; deny themselves, take up their crosses, and then follow him. When you hear the command to deny yourself, what do you imagine? I immediately think of abstaining from things like food, TV, computer games, or other things for which I have weakness. But when Jesus says, “deny yourself”, it means much more than that; it means in every moment of life, we say no to self and yes to God. We dethrone ourselves and enthrone God. We are no longer the dominant principle of life because God is. To deny ourselves means, we make God the decision-maker in our lives. We no longer do what we want, but listen to and do what God wants. How do we know what God wants? We learn it from the gospel teachings.
Second, we must take up our crosses. When the early Christians heard this, it sounded dead serious because they were literally risking their lives to be Christians. Although we don’t have to risk our lives to be Christians, there are still small and big things that we need to sacrifice to live a faithful life true to the gospel. Because we believe that we should help those in need, we sacrifice some of our material possessions, time, and energy to do so. Because we believe that we should take good care of God’s wonderfully made world, we might go through the inconvenience of reducing disposable plastic products, spending more money or time to get sustainable products. Because Jesus taught that we can’t serve two masters, God and money, we might give up opportunities to become rich, and use our money responsibly.
Then third, we follow Jesus. The only way to follow Jesus is to make God our principle of life and accept the sacrifices and inconvenience that come with being a follower of Jesus. The way of the gospel seems foolish to those who belong to the world; because why wouldn’t we pursue wealth, power, and more convenience in life? But we do it because we follow Jesus who taught us not to. Following Jesus means following his teachings and the examples he showed us with his life. “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” What the world considers a good living might be achieving outward success such as having enough money, good career or gaining power; but according to Jesus and the principle of God’s kingdom, good living means living a life doing what is right for all. The kingdom of God has a reversed value from this world. We keep learning about this; “First will be last and last will be first” or “Whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom of God like little children will not enter it.” Following the gospel teachings means, we do not follow the secular value of selfishly pursuing wealth and power.
We read the story of Moses being called. Until this point, Moses might have wondered, “What is the point of my life?” He almost got killed as an infant, was raised as a prince, then had to flee because he killed an Egyptian for abusing a fellow Hebrew. He fled to the wilderness, settled in the land of Midian, took a wife, and lived as a shepherd. He turned from condemned baby to prince of Egypt to shepherd in the wilderness. His life might not had made sense to him. Then God called him and revealed God’s plan for him. He was called into a life of hardships; because the grand mission of rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt is not exactly a cakewalk. He was called into a life of following God’s guidance and not by his own will and plans. This is what it means to be called.
As people called into God’s community, the kingdom of God, let us remember what it means and what it entails to say yes to that call. Following Jesus is not for the fainthearted. First, we need to understand the gospel messages and have the courage to accept the life as disciples, knowing that this life is full of temptations and obstacles, knowing that we are not doing it for any tangible reward such as wealth or power, but for the exact opposite. We are working towards an egalitarian community where nobody is marginalized and oppressed. Let us take this opportunity to renew our commitment to God’s kingdom, knowing that it is a life of sacrifices, as well as the joy of loving and being loved.
Rev. Sunny Kim