The Podcast can be found here.
Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
Athanasius, newly consecrated bishop of
, was determined to visit all the churches in his see, to make certain the orthodox faith was being proclaimed. On his journey he learned of three, old monks who lived alone on an island. Like the devoted bishop he was, Athanasius set sail to the island to shepherd, even if briefly, this small flock. He was greeted with great warmth and reverence by the monks. “Tell me,” Athanasius said to them after awhile, “how it is that you pray.” “Father, we are not learned men,” the monks replied. “We simply lift our hands to God and say, ‘We are three and you are three: Have mercy upon us.’” Alexandria
“Ah, dear Fathers, this will never do,” said Athanasius. “I must teach you to pray as the church prays.” And for the next several days – the monks were slow learners – the new bishop taught the old monks the Lord’s Prayer. Satisfied at last that the monks knew how to pray properly, Athanasius set sail for
. That very night aboard his ship he noticed a glow in the distance, a glow getting brighter and rapidly approaching the ship. He looked and saw the three old monks running toward him on the water. When they reached the ship they simply stood on the water as on dry ground with holy light encompassing them. “Father Athanasius,” they said, “forgive our slowness, but we have forgotten again the words of the prayer you taught us. Please pray with us again.” “No, my fathers,” Athanasius said. “It is you who must pray for me.” Alexandria
Being right all the time and always knowing what is best for others is quite the burden, but it is a burden that I bear with great humility…
I suppose there are times when we all know what is best for others and we don’t mind telling them. In many cases we may be right, but I suspect that there are times when we fall far short of the mark in the “advice” department.
Athanasius believed that since the three monks did not know the Lord’s Prayer that they couldn’t possibly be praying correctly… therefore, he in his great wisdom – and innocence – proceeded to teach them how to pray properly… “Our Father, who art in Heaven…”… as it turns out the three monks were ignorant of the Lord’s Prayer, but they were in no way ignorant of the Lord – so much so that they radiated the glory of God, while walking on the water.
So often, what we want others to do is more directly related to what we want.. instead of being what they need.
Take this for example… I wasn’t really planning on a sermon series during the Season of Lent, but I keep coming back to Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness… and at one of those temptations we read… Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”… Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
That’s a fairly easy one given the two main characters – Jesus and the Devil. The Devil wants Jesus to renounce God’s will and follow his.. he wanted Jesus to do what he – the Devil – wanted him to do.. and not do what God had called him to.
It was the same situation in our Gospel reading today… Jesus teaching his disciples about what was to come… the rejection.. the suffering.. and his eventual death…and Peter couldn’t believe what he was hearing.. it tore through him.. this will not be.. and he rebukes Jesus.. and Jesus turns and rebukes him… "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.".. and once again.. the Devil wants Jesus to renounce God’s will and follow his.. and once again Jesus rebukes him.
There is a right and a wrong.. good and evil.. and believe it or not, we know the difference. After Adam and Eve had eaten of the fruit the Lord said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.”… and as Paul teaches to the Hebrews, we can train ourselves “to distinguish good from evil.”… However, even though we know.. and can distinguish.. unlike Jesus, we are not always certain because of sin, there will always be this gray area, so when it comes to instructing others and even discerning for ourselves.. we must remember that there are two sides that stand in complete contrast of one another… there is what the world wants and what God wants? Darkness and Light?... and in the middle is confusion… the etymology of the word confusion means to pour-together..
Most folks know that if you pour yellow and blue together you get green.. but the confusion that comes from pouring good and evil together is not so simple.. and that is what the Devil is very good at. Blatant evil – darkness – is easy to spot.. but this gray area.. this confusion can be quite murky… Harry Truman said it best, “If you can't convince them, confuse them.”.. and the Devil is a master of this… So how are we to respond? How will we be able to separate the good from evil.. the darkness from light… The ways of God and the ways of Satan?... It is never simple.. but there is a wonderful story in First Kings about Elijah that will help us to begin…
Elijah is being pursued by those who will not tolerate his words.. they seek to kill him, so he flees to the mountains… While there the Lord comes and speaks to him and asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”… Elijah pours out all his problems.. you can hear the confusion.. the anxiety.. the lack of peace in his soul… So the Lord tells him to “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then the Lord asked him the exact same question… “What are you doing here, Elijah?”… and surprisingly, Elijah answers him with the exact same words that he had before.. but this time you can hear the calmness in his voice.. that lack of anxiety… you can hear the peace as he speaks with the Lord … Elijah could understand the words of God while in the whirlwind.. or the earthquake.. or the fire… He couldn’t understand the voice of the Lord while in the chaos … it was only in the peace.. that “gentle whisper” that he heard God… and it was then that God spoke very specific instructions to Elijah on what to do.
How will we be able to separate the good from evil.. the darkness from light… to be able to come out of the confusion and those gray areas? …
This is what the LORD says… from Jeremiah 6… “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”
How will we know we are in God’s will?... The answer lies in the peace. If you think you are walking in the ways of the world and not of God… if your soul is reeling from confusion and chaos.. if there is a lack of peace.. then I would suggest to you that you may not be in God’s will.
Even when we have the very best intentions, such as Athanasius wanting to teach the monks how to pray “properly”.. or when we seek to help others or ourselves in remaining in God’s will.. we must first find that peace from God.. hear that “gentle whisper”.. and then.. be obedient to what is spoken.
Let us pray… Lord, if what we seek be according to our will, then let it come to pass and let success attend the outcome. But if not, our God, let it not come to pass. Do not leave us to our own devices, for you know how unwise we can be. Keep us safe under your protection Lord our God, and in your own gentle way guide us and rule us as you know best. Amen.