To assist you in this worship, you may wish to light a candle, and gather some symbols that might help you to worship, reflect and pray. A green cloth for the current church season, some crosses or pictures of crosses and a stone may be useful to help you reflect on today’s theme.
(adapted from Spill the Beans Iss.36)
God, you are solid and sure and reliable,
while at the same time being creative, adaptable and free.
We can change too, but not always in a good way.
We catch sight of something new and life-changing
in the teaching of Jesus and we vow to be different,
to follow him for ever.
Then the kaleidoscope turns, and something new emerges:
one that involves cost, and letting go, or giving up things we like.
help us to think things through in a discerning way;
to get our balance and find a way of following
that is sustainable for us and honouring to you.
May we neither shame ourselves by dwelling
on all the mistakes we have made in the past,
nor frighten ourselves by looking too far into the future.
Help us rather to take one day at a time,
to keep going by putting one foot in front of the other,
lifting our eyes now and then and surprising ourselves
to see just how far we have come.
And if the way for a while is easy, let us enjoy it;
and if suffering comes, give us strength to bear it.
And in both remind us that you have been there before,
and have promised to stay with us to the end.
Keep us faithful, keep us hopeful;
above all, O God, keep us going.
In Jesus’ name.
Matthew 16:21-28 (NRSV)
16: 21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
27 “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. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Reflecting on the Word
“Take up your cross” (adapted from Spill the Beans Iss. 36)
This sounds uncharacteristically harsh for Jesus to address one of his closest and most loyal disciples as ‘Satan’. Poor Peter, as he so often did, was putting into words what everyone else was probably thinking, and what may even have been there at the back of Jesus’ mind. Surely there must be an easier way than this to obey God’s will, Peter is asking? How can it possibly help the establishment of the fledgling Kingdom of God for its leader and all his key followers to die before their time? Jesus deep down knew that Peter was appealing to his lesser self, and his words must not be allowed to take root and grow in case he was deflected from his true purpose.
Time and time again Jesus has to remind his followers—and himself—that the values of the Kingdom are paradoxical and counter-intuitive. What we intuitively think of as wealth and success are worthless if the life of the spirit is extinguished in achieving them. If we try to hold on to life, it will slip through our grasp; if we willingly let it go, we will find out what living is really all about.
We are so used to hearing these words that it is easy to miss their power and the seriousness of their implications. The cross is not a religious symbol or an object of devotion for Jesus, but an implement of death by torture. That is what we have to take up if we want to follow him.
And what of the institution of the Church, struggling desperately as it is in most of the developed world to hold on to life at any cost? What does about the well-being of our corporate soul? What does it mean in our situation and our time for the church to “take up its cross and follow”; and to “lose its life” in order to find it? Are we a rock or a stumbling block for those who are yearning for depth and meaning in their lives?
Reflecting on the passage
What can we learn from this story?
Collect some images or actual physical crosses. Look at them and consider their shapes. Jesus asks that we carry our crosses.
• What are the trials you are faced with?
• How has lockdown challenged you?
• What new freedoms are you enjoying, that perhaps, you once took for granted?
Take a stone (representing both Peter as the Rock and Peter as a potential stumbling stone for Jesus) and contemplate it. Think about the following:
Jesus saw in Peter both someone who would be a great rock on which a community could be built, but also someone with the potential to be a stumbling block for Jesus’ ministry.
• Do we recognise in ourselves that we, too, can be both rock and block through the choices we make?
• Are there times we have stood firm as a witness to God, and times when we have failed to do so?
Prayer for ourselves and others
(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.35)
we view you, as Christians,
through the lens of Jesus of Nazareth,
a man who experienced more and achieved more
in his tragically short lifetime than most of us will if we live to be a hundred.
If it is true that you were present in him in a uniquely powerful way;
his thinking completely in tune with yours;
his life imbued with your spirit,
then we can look at him and see you in a new and different way:
not separate from human brokenness and suffering,
but one with us in our loss and grieving,
as well as in our wonderment and joy.
We pray today for any today who are going through
the long, slow journey of loss, and grief, and recovery,
and that means all of us in one way or another.
The announcement of bad news:
“I must go to Jerusalem and suffer… and die…”
We pray for those who have received recently
the kind of news that all of us dread: news of serious illness,
or redundancy, or the loss of a loved one.
Be with them on the road they must travel from here on in.
And for those who have to break bad news to others:
may they receive the care and support that they need.
We pray for those who have been abused and oppressed
with loss on a scale that no-one should have to face,
or whose back has finally broken under one last, tiny straw.
May there be ears to listen, arms to hold, hearts to understand until they are ready
to face their truth and take the first small step forward.
Forgive us if we have lashed out in anger at someone who did nothing to deserve it
because they were voicing our own secret thoughts
or just because they were close by.
Grant us compassion, and broad shoulders,
if someone needs to vent their rage on us.
There is the bargaining, the doing of deals, the desperate searching for hope:
“If you are willing to lose your life, you will find it”.
May we move quickly from false, futile deals
with the universe, to this real, honest deal with you.
Help us to let go of whatever it is we are most fearful
of losing, then no-one can take it from us.
Help us, as quickly as we can, as slowly as we need
to reach acceptance, of a new and different future:
“The Son of Man will come in his glory…and you will see him”.
God, grant hope to all who are in despair,
or someone to hold a candle of hope on their behalf
until its light reaches through to warm and encourage them.
God, who knows from the inside what it is
to be human, with all the joy and sorrow that entails,
bless us and all for whom our prayers are offered.
(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.35)
Continue your walk with Jesus
as you leave this sacred time.
Whatever the burdens are that you carry,
know that Jesus shares your load.
May you be blesse by God’s love,
and the Spirit’s guidance
as you go about your daily living.
Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine
Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018.
Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister.More from Rev Elizabeth Raine