Are You Following?

August 30, 2020

Matthew 16:21-28

My first career in management could be very exciting at times as I never knew what I would come into on a daily basis. Was the delivery scattered about on the sales floor? Were there some customer complaints that I had to address? Were there employee concerns that needed to be dealt with properly? Would there be a visit from one of the district or regional managers?

Being a young manager of employees nearly twice my age was difficult at times, especially when it came to discipline or even laying them off, as I unfortunately have had to do.  Being young and not too far removed from a college classroom, I thought I knew everything. Let me tell you, this does not go over well when you present this image in front of one of your bosses, or even one of the presidents of the company. I would be lying to you if I told you I was never rebuked by one, if not a couple of my bosses.

I feel for Peter in this week’s gospel. He was riding on top of the world after his proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah in last week’s lesson. Jesus called him the rock and promised that the church would be built upon that rock. Peter was even promised the keys to the kingdom of heaven. How quickly the mood changes! I cannot imagine what the other disciples had to be thinking during the exchange that happens in today’s gospel lesson. Where Peter was the rock last week, he is not better described as the stumbling block today.

Where does he go wrong? When Jesus speaks of undergoing suffering in Jerusalem, Peter’s understanding of what it meant to be the Messiah was shaken. Nobody said anything about suffering and sacrifice. Jesus was the Messiah, and he had to start making everything alright at this very moment. Wasn’t that what all the healing and preaching was about? I don’t blame Peter. This is the first time that any of them are hearing Jesus’ passion prediction and just like any of the other teachings, it has to take a little while to sink into their understanding. Even up to the point of Jesus’ actual death on the cross.

We too struggle with sacrifice. Yes, we know we must make some sacrifices to make progress in certain areas of our lives. That does not mean that we like it. Some will refuse to make needed sacrifices and will continue to troll along with the status quo. If you are happy, then this is not necessarily a bad thing. Yet, a majority of people will tell you that they wish they could do something else or struggle to reach certain goals.  Sacrifice requires us to step out of our comfort zone. When it comes to race relations, I believe that is where we struggle as a community. To work with and alongside our black and indigenous sisters and brothers means that we have to make sacrifices and have empathy for what they have encountered for the last 400 years. They are no stranger to sacrifice, and yet we have become comfortable and complacent.

When Peter rebukes Jesus, he is instructed that he is setting his sights on human things and not divine things. To be in relationship with everyone is a divine thing and for Jesus to lead the way requires him going to the cross. Jesus tells him, “Get behind me Satan.” This is reminiscent of the time Jesus spent in the desert after his baptism and the devil tempts him and he tells him to “Go away!”

Now, I don’t believe Jesus is calling Peter, himself, Satan but calling his thinking misled. And he does not tell him to go away. He says get behind me. Follow me and you will learn and come to know what I am talking about. You too, will learn how to pick up your cross to follow me and carry out the Good News I share with you today.

In this proclamation, we too hear Jesus’ call to take up our cross and follow him. It is going to require sacrifice and we will, more times than not, feel like we are fighting an uphill battle. In Jesus we not only hear the call to follow him, but a promise that is made to all of humanity. Jesus does not simply tell us to get lost, but to follow him and learn what it means to walk in his footsteps. Learning what it means to follow Jesus and boldly taking up our own cross.  

With the shooting of Jacob Blake earlier this week, we witnessed entire teams willing to bear the cross. The Detroit Lions cancelled practice to address racism. The Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their Wednesday night playoff game in response to the shooting and in turn the NBA cancelled all games. It is movements like this and voices that need to be raised for us to begin to truly witness change and the end of systemic racism. More than anything else, we need to listen to our sisters and brothers.

Like Peter, we are not always going to get it right and will rebuke some of the wrong people. We will become a stumbling block for others, or probably more often for ourselves. Yet, Jesus is there to pick us up, dust the dirt off our knees, and once again invite us to follow him. What are you doing to follow Jesus today?

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.


  1. Thank you, Alex. I keep wondering what would have happened int eh 40’s if people had refused to sacrifice – no nylon stockings, no rubber tires, blackout curtains over ll windows after dark, etc. It took the all to come together to have success. We are too selfish to think about inconveniencing ourselves to help others. How did we go so far astray? I have to remind my self to get back on the path – the one following Jesus.


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