Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Last Sunday we confronted chaos, bracing our shoulders against the gates of hell, standing, stalwart, as sentries, rock solid, against uncertainty, doubt, confusion, and chaos…amidst the shifting sands blowing around our feet we remain anchored below to the rock of Jesus; to his personhood, to his story, to his life as it continues on in my life and your life. Peter was named the rock, upon which Jesus would build his church. The disciples were given the keys to the kingdom of heaven; empowered to bind the bad and loose the good. Their mandate is our mandate.
This week Jesus calls Peter Satan. Talk about whiplash. Here is how it plays out: Jesus begins telling his disciples about how he will be murdered in Jerusalem. They are incredulous. Peter says, “No, that must not happen.” To which Jesus responds… “Get behind me Satan… you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”
So, here is my interpretation on this… Satan in Bible parlance is the Tempter. We are introduced to him in this role in the book of Job. The Tempter is the one that calls us to choose our own preference over God’s preference for us.
The simple truth is most temptation we encounter comes from people closest to us; people we trust. It does not come from a shadowy figure sitting behind us on an airplane whispering between the seats… “Don’t go to Jerusalem.” No; it is someone who loves us and is concerned with our well-being…they are the ones that tempt us off God’s plan for our life, toward what they believe is best for us; and usually what they suggest sounds pretty good. Make no mistake about it, Jesus would have preferred not to die on a cross. That is why Peter’s invitation was so tempting.
But what allows Jesus to reject Peter’s words is his clarity around God’s plan for his life. Where does this clarity come from? His capacity to set his mind on divine things. And because Jesus can do this, so can we; because God created us with this capacity.
In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us the training manual for setting our mind on divine things. So, pull out your pencils, and get ready to learn the techniques for a godly mind. It is a four-step process that goes like this:
Death, Stuff, Action, Trust. Now the rest of the sermon is about getting our head around Death, Stuff, Action, and Trust as a series of steps to train our mind to focus on divine things; because when we do, we have clarity about God’s call upon our life; and this clarity allows us to bind the bad and loose the good.
So, here is what we are going to do:
1) Come to terms with death;
2) Come to terms with our stuff;
3) Own our actions;
4) and trust that this is God’s world and God is capable and God is in charge.
We’ll start with death. Jesus says to the disciples if you want to be able to focus on the divine, the first thing you need to do is take up your cross. What he means is that we need to come to terms with our own death, or at least come to terms with that which may be the instrument of our death. To not fear it. For Jesus the instrument of his death was the cross, and while he fully understood it, and what it did to a person, he did not fear it. He did not let the reality of the pain and suffering get in the way of his mission. He did not let the idea of this instrument of death muffle God’s call upon his life.
You and I, in truth, don’t know what the instrument of our death will be–and these days of late have illuminated many paths to death; brought them front and center, up close and personal, crystal clear in their reality…Kenosha, Hurricane Laura, Beirut. But for the purpose of this exercise, of setting our mind on divine things, let’s together imagine COVID-19 to be the instrument of our death.
What if we were to come to terms with this disease and indeed hold the pandemic gently and gracefully, not fearing it, but saying: you will not distract me? What if we were to say, “COVID you cannot muffle God’s calling upon my life”? How might that change how we live and how we think?
Now, don’t mishear me. That doesn’t mean we are to toss off precautions and throw a party. Remember, the precautions we take, the masks and social distancing and washing hands is not for us, particularly, but for our neighbor. And so, we can be fearless in the face of COVID-19 and still be very strict and disciplined about how we manage our actions as a way of caring for others.
And so, coming to terms with COVID as the instrument of our death may be the first step toward setting our mind on divine things. It may take some time, but eventually we can admonish our fear of death, look at it fully, meditate upon it, and hold it gently. COVID is an opportunity to practice. This is step one: coming to terms with death.
Step two is around stuff and coming to terms with all the stuff in our life. What is stuff? It is that which exceeds that which we need to live and move and have our being in the world. So, we need a shelter, and we need clothes, and we need food, and the resource of money to sustain these things. Any excess in these categories then becomes stuff, and stuff can be a distraction. Stuff can become the thing we spend all of our time thinking about and working for.
We can find that our jobs are only being done to sustain our stuff. We can even find that we are throwing our stuff forward onto future generations smothering our children and grandchildren because of our inability to manage our stuff right now. We can find our stuff cluttering into our mind, and our prayers, and our relationships with others, and more importantly, our relationship with God.
To set our minds on the divine we need to be liberated from our stuff. Jesus says it this way: “For what will it profit you to gain the whole world, but forfeit your life” (Matt 16:26)? Life cannot be found in stuff, it can only be snuffed out by stuff. So, clear it out. Give it away. The burden of our stuff may become a blessing to someone else. Coming to terms with our stuff is step two in training our minds on divine things.
We have eschewed death, we have been liberated from stuff, now we ask: What are we doing?
Which brings me to the third step in training our mind on divine things: action. Jesus puts it this way: “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done” (Matt 16:27). That is rather clear. What we do matters.
And so, I wonder, what are you going to do right now given all of the craziness in the world? How are you acting in response to this changed and charged and uncertain time? Have you hunkered down and horded? Have you reached out to your neighbor? Have you wandered the streets without a mask? Have you served the less fortunate? Have you ranted and raged? Have you prayed and given thanks to God?
Make an assessment of your actions and do so within the scope of your capacity. That is to say, when we meet Jesus face to face he will not hold us accountable for that which we have no skill, power, or control. If you can’t walk, he will not have expected you to march; but he may ask you if you prayed. If you are not wealthy, he will not ask you why you have not been generous with the wealth God gave you, but he may ask you if you fasted. If you are a healer, heal; if you are a teacher, teach; if you are computer technician, fix someone’s computer; if you are a Christian, practice your Christianity.
Our actions will be measured within the parameters of what God has endowed us with and where we are in the cycle of our life. Parents, care for your children; Grandparents pray for your children and grandchildren; neighbors serve your neighbors.
Jesus has empowered you to use your gifts to set your mind on divine things, so you can bind the bad and loose the good. He will only ask you to be accountable for the things he gave you power over. And so, we have death, we have stuff, and we have action.
Finally, there is trust. The question is: “Do you trust God?” Do you understand that this is God’s world? Jesus says it this way: “Truly I say to you, there are some standing here that will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matt 16:28). In other words, for those with their mind on divine things, they will see Jesus in the world, right here, right now; they will be Jesus in the world, right here right now. That is our destiny.
God has put us here to be a people focused on divine things, not afraid of death, yet gentle and concerned with others health; not encumbered by stuff, and yet thoughtful, just and generous with the stuff we have; accountable for our actions, knowing our gifts and choosing to employ them with great industry. And finally, to do this because we are God’s agents, able and sturdy and true.
We trust God, and we believe God has a plan, and we own that we are agents of implementation, and that happens only when we set our minds on divine things. That is what we must do.
Epiphany is the touch point, the practice venue. You are the support group for one another’s divine minds. It is with spiritual friends that we are lifted to our higher, better, most authentic self. And the world needs the church to be the place that supports you because the world of human affairs needs you to be people with minds set on divine things. That is the only way this world is going to be set right; for us, you and me, to be out there, fearless of death, free from stuff, activating our powers, and trusting God.
You are needed right now, to bind the bad and loose the good, so set your mind on divine things.