The ways of God are different from the ways of the world.
In the prophet Isaiah we read, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8,9).
The ways of God are different from our ways; Jesus calls us to follow God’s way.
But it isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for Peter. Imagine, the disciples had been following Jesus, listening to his every word. And then…Peter “got it”. This was the Messiah – the one that the people of God had been waiting for – here he was! The Messiah would heal the lame and the blind. Jesus did that. The Messiah would teach with authority. Jesus did that. The Messiah would lead the people. Peter and the rest of the disciples assumed that this was Jesus’ next move – to stage a revolution and become king. They had been taught in their Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures – the Old Testament of our Bible -- said that the Messiah would come and lead them into Glory! They had big hopes for the future. Now was their time!
But they forgot that, “The ways of God are different from the ways of the world.”
So when Jesus talked about suffering, rejection, death – crucifixion even, it was perhaps understandable that the disciples were confused and dismayed. We know the end of the story. With 20/20 hindsight – we can see just how different the way of Jesus is from the expectations of the disciples.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that there is a healing story of a blind person on either side of this scripture. The disciples were blind too. All they could know was what they had been taught from Moses, the scribes and Pharisees and the scriptures. And it all pointed to the Messiah as a kingly leader.
Peter dared to speak out. Maybe he thought he was encouraging Jesus. Maybe he thought that since he had gotten the Messiah question right, Jesus might listen to him and start acting like a Messiah. But Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan!” Those are hard words but Jesus made it abundantly clear – God’s way is not the way of glory and power and might.
Instead of glory, Jesus invites his disciples – and that includes us -- to a life of discipleship: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Although sometimes I hear people wish that they could have seen Jesus face to face, I think we have the distinct advantage of living after the resurrection. With 20/20 hindsight we can hear of Jesus’ suffering and death but with the knowledge that three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. We get to hear the story that God has done a new thing in the resurrection of Jesus.
After the resurrection, two of Jesus’ followers walking to Emmaus were looking back and recounting all that Jesus did. But they were still blind to his presence until Jesus came, explained the scriptures and broke bread with them. Then they were able to see that God’s way is a new way, a way of surprising Grace. It was only after their eyes were opened that they were able to go back to Jerusalem to tell their story. And so it has been throughout history.
Discipleship is about following Jesus. Discipleship is not about glory. It is about service. It is about following Jesus’ two commands: Love God and love your neighbor as Jesus loves you.
So how do we do this? It’s tempting to tell stories of amazing people like Mother Theresa who served lepers in Calcutta or Dr. Martin Luther King who loved God and loved his neighbor so much that he led non-violent marches to shed Christ’s light on the injustice to the African American people. Or of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer who was sent to a prison camp and hanged for his efforts to stop Hitler. These are inspiring people.
But Jesus doesn’t just call the most inspiring of God’s children into discipleship. Jesus is calls ALL of God’s children into discipleship and that includes you and me. But, even with our 20/20 hindsight, moving forward as disciples of Jesus still isn’t easy because God’s way is still not the way of the world – and we live in the world.
In fact, we live in a broken world. The school shooting in Florida on Ash Wednesday in which seventeen high schoolers, teachers, coaches – innocent people all – shot by a kid who was kicked out of school is just the latest example. There’s been at least six others, plus accidental shootings, one or two suicides and the list goes on. And this is just since the beginning of the year. It’s easy to get discouraged about the world we live in. My heart breaks.
How are we, as followers of Jesus, to respond?
The high schoolers are demanding change. Their cry is: Never Again. And who can blame them? They want the deaths of their friends, teachers and coaches to not be just one more statistic in a long line of tragic deaths. But, once again, people are divided in pretty predictable ways.
Of course we can begin with prayer. Pray for those in Parkland Florida, those in Columbine and Sandy Hook and all of the other places who are reliving their horrible story once again. We can pray for our legislators, for those who want to make changes – and that the changes make a difference. We can pray for less violence.
We can listen to those who are hurting. We live in a really small world and it doesn’t take much to make a connection with someone from Parkland, Florida or the surrounding area. And then we can engage locally with our schools and our legislators. For we are called to care for our neighbor.
The gun violence that is killing students is just one area of need, one area in which our broken world needs love and care. There are others –the hungry, the lonely, the immigrant and the disabled…just to name a few.
The list is long and the needs are great. Jesus calls us to follow, to pick up our cross, to serve others, to love God and our neighbor. And… sometimes the needs seem more than a little overwhelming. But… in the midst of it… God is with us. And God calls us to not sit by and watch – but to engage.
For when the way seems tough and we get discouraged, then we are reminded of the words of Isaiah, God says, “.. my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” And God makes a way…where there was no way… and God softens hard hearts and God opens the mouth of youth to speak and God opens possibilities where there were no possibilities… For NOTHING is impossible for God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Mark 8: 31 Then he began to teach them 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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 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." 34 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. 35 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. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 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."