If someone were to create an advertisement spoofing today’s gospel lesson, it might go something like this:
Has your faith “get up and go” gotten up and gone?
Then you should try this new supplement, “Gusto for God.”
It’s 100% cross-created and Holy Spirit approved.
Try “Gusto for God” today.
Ok, so now we all know why I didn’t go into advertising. However, advertising is very good at getting messages across to us, and the point I am trying to get across in a light-hearted way, the point being made by our lessons today is that 1. If you are one of those folks blessed with the kind of faith that remains pretty constant and steady throughout life, thanks be to God! Yet if you’re one of the many folks who find their faith life and life journey as a whole is more of a rollercoaster up and down and around and around sort of affair, then do not worry because 2. You are in good company, including the apostle Paul who just last week got it “right” when he proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah and now this week has once again lost his way as he cries, in response to Jesus telling the disciples how he will have to suffer on the cross and die, “God forbid it!” Which leads us to 3. Our faith lives need to be built by and through a power greater than our own ability to be constant. That last one bears repeating:
Our faith lives need to be built by and through a power greater than our own ability to be constant. By the One who does not waver in faithfulness to us and to all of Creation. By the One who did not waver from God’s course to the cross, ensuring our redemption from the rollercoaster ride that is most of our lives.
This is the God who renewed Jeremiah as he sought to bring God’s prophetic message to the world and became dispirited amidst the people of the world who did not seem to care. God reminded Jeremiah to let God turn Jeremiah himself turn back to the Power that does not waver, and by this power and Jeremiah’s turning back action, others would also be turned again towards God.
This is the God who as Jesus come down to earth and resisted the Devil during his forty-day journey in the wilderness. As Professor Audrey West of Moravian Theological Seminary notes, even in translation Jesus’s repudiation of Peter in today’s gospel text echoes Jesus’ repudiation of the Devil during his wilderness journey. Professor West writes that, “Satan dared Jesus to use his authority as the Son of God for his own purposes instead of serving God’s mission in the world. He tempted Jesus to set his mind on human things rather than on the things of God.” (Working Preacher, August 30th, 2020)
And Jesus refused. Just as when, in today’s gospel text, Peter exclaims that Jesus should not have to suffer and die on the cross, Jesus responds by saying “get behind me Satan.” In other words, “no, Peter, do not be tempted by the ways of the world, but set your mind on God and God alone, on God’s purposes.” And Jesus could do repudiating work because Jesus was God. He’s got that kind of power, that kind of refusing to be taken in by the Devil kind of power. Go Jesus.
And what a promise for us. For we, like Jeremiah and the disciples before us have been caught up in the fishing net of God’s saving grace. The advertisement billboard of our lives is not about how great we are or how we’ve gotten it right so follow us and do what we do. Our billboards show forth God, maybe even more so because our weaknesses, like those of Peter, and our moments of doubt, like the prophet Jeremiah, and our struggles, and the turmoil that so obviously seek to consume us that it could only be by a hand greater than ours that we find life, renewed life, life crafted by and for the purposes of God. Our struggles may seem overwhelming sometimes or even all of the time, but at least there’s no doubt about who is doing the real heavy lifting.
We may go up and down and around and around on this rollercoaster of life and faith, but Jesus remains strong in the midst of the storms of temptation, repudiating the Devil and all of his empty promises on our behalf.
The advertisements (ad-ver-tise-ments) of the world – or advertisements (ad-vert-is-ments) as our sisters and brothers across the pond in England would call them; the advertisements of this world would like to convince us of how inadequate and unbeautiful and unworthy we are, and how by buying just the right sofa or hair gel or life success course online we, too, can number among the beautiful, wealthy and wise.
How radically different the words of God to Jeremiah and Jesus ring in the face of these messages: if any of you would save your lives – that is to say if any of you would find true success, true meaning, true beauty – if any of you would save your lives then turn away from all the illusions of the world and look towards God. And as Jesus says, take up your cross, and follow me.
Let us follow where the Great Savior of Light leads: not towards worldly power and ego, but towards humble lives of service, oriented by and for Christ, who himself suffered and died and was then raised – we shouldn’t forget that part – raised from the dead so that we might have new life. We have been and are being raised from the dead to a new life of faith. Not life without doubt. Not life without the rollercoaster. Not life without the temptations of the world and all of its advertisements that promise a magic fix.
We have been and are being raised to new life in Christ and for Christ and service to the world – to have Gusto for God! Anything else is not worthy of God, and may just be more temptations in the wilderness. Amen.