February 25, 2025 Sermon

The Rev. Joseph Farnes

All Saints, Boise

Lent 2B (or not 2B)

February 25, 2024

  I want to know what Peter said to Jesus in that side conversation. Peter takes Jesus aside and starts to rebuke him. Peter. Rebukes. Jesus.

            We can intuit a little bit of the conversation based on what Jesus said before and after it. Before the rebuke, Jesus has said that he will be rejected, killed, and resurrected. After the rebuke, Jesus says that those who want to be his followers better be ready to pick up their own crosses and follow him.

            Jesus talks about his own suffering, and he talks about his disciples having their own struggle, too. I imagine that Peter must have said something that sounded a bit like “Jesus, how can you say that? It’s demoralizing! Your job as the Messiah is to beat Rome, be victorious! Stop being so defeatist and depressing! Be strong, win the battle, take your rightful place on an earthly throne!”

            Peter, like a lot of us, want to be winners. We don’t like the thought of losing. We want to be successful. And if we can’t be the winner, we at least can be on the winning side, the best side. By proximity we’ll be winners!

            It’s a very powerful feeling, you know. We want to belong, we want to be winners. Belonging and winning light up our brains. It’s a rush. Human beings are social creatures. Our brains are wired for socializing. We learn from others. We want to be belong to a group. Our brains are wired to win; we want to feel strong, capable, competent, the best. Some of us remember when we were kids and were very, very sore losers. Losing made us mad. Some of us learned to accept losing as part of life, but our brains still light up when we win.

            Peter really, really wants to belong to the winning side, and Jesus is putting a real damper on that. Being faithful to the Gospel means sometimes being rejected. Being faithful to the Gospel sometimes means not winning; it means losing. Peter doesn’t want that. Peter wants to win. Peter wants to be on the winning team.

            Jesus is not going to put up with that. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

            I’m not blaming Peter for it. I think it’s a mistake to blame and shame Peter for the stupid stuff he says sometimes. He’s honestly a stand-in for most of us. His humanness is part of our story.

            Jesus is calling us to a greater humanness, though. He calls us to be ready to ask hard questions and to make hard decisions. He’s calling us to faith.

            Not “faith” as in “a list of ideas about God.” That’s the worst way we use the word “faith”, as if our religion really just boiled down to correct ideas about God. I mean something more. Faith as in trust, a wholehearted trust. A trust that is willing to lose because it trusts ultimately in God. Faith that trusts that each of us belongs to God, that even if the whole world rejected you, a trust that God embraces you. Faith that trusts that there is more to life than a fear of death. A faith that is worth living for.

            That’s the faith that Paul is commending to us. So often in the past, and so often even today, the idea is that Paul is just saying if we have the right faith in God, then all is well, that we’ll get what we want. We see that in prosperity “gospel” preachers who say that if you just have faith then poof, God will give money. We see that in some evangelical circles who say that if you just have faith then poof, God will forgive everything you ever do and so you can do whatever you want. We see that in Christian nationalist preachers and politicians who say that if you just have their kind of faith, then poof, God will put them in charge of the United States and make it their kind of Christian nation.

            That’s not faith. That’s “I say one thing but really want another.” Do we have faith, or do we want God to give us money? Do we have faith, or do we want to do whatever we want? Do we have faith, or do we want power? Do we have faith, or is it money, or freedom, or power that we really, really trust deep down?

            What is faith? Faith is that wholehearted, mostlyhearted, sometimes even fainthearted trust that God is love, God is life, and God sees us and cares for us completely, perfectly, and eternally. Faith says “No matter what happens, I trust in God.”

            That trust, that faith moves mountains and changes hearts. That faith gives courage and life to Sarah and Abraham, to Paul, to countless disciples throughout the ages. Trust in God has helped people in crisis, people in addiction, people in oppressive circumstances. Trust in God has converted cold hearts into tender ones, trust in God has changed hateful hearts into warm ones, trust in God has encouraged fearful hearts into bold ones.

Even Peter learns what faith is. Eventually, Peter understands what faith is, and tradition tells us that Peter took up his cross and followed Christ literally. Tradition says that Peter was crucified upside down. Peter may not have been on the winning side, but he found his faith. He trusted in God with his life, with his death, with the meaning of his whole life. May we, too, find such faithful trust in God, now and forever. Amen.