Several years ago, the editor in chief of Christianity Today recounted several conversations that he had had with pastors in his denomination. The pastors told him that when they preached from the Sermon on the Mount – you know, things like “Blessed are the meek,” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” or especially, “Turn the other cheek.” When they preached from the Sermon on the Mount, people would come up to them afterwards and say, “Where did you get those liberal talking points?” But when the pastors would say, “I was literally just quoting the words of Jesus,” the people would not say, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize that.” Instead, they would say something to the effect of, “Okay, but that won’t work anymore. That’s weak.”1

This is essentially what Peter did with Jesus in today’s Gospel. Peter, and most other people of his time hated the Roman oppressors in their land, and they were expecting a messiah that would come in with a mighty fist and power unseen before, and wipe out the enemies of Israel.

But then Jesus starts talking about how the Son of Man must suffer and die for the sake of all humanity, and Peter begins to rebuke him, essentially saying, “That’s not going to work, Jesus. That’s weak.”

And we see how well that worked out for Peter.

“Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Get behind me Satan! When we hear that we may immediately think that what Jesus is saying is, “Get outta here!” “Scram!” or “Buzz off!” But that’s not what Jesus is saying to Peter at all. He is reminding Peter to align himself in the proper order, to literally get behind Jesus. You see, Peter had an agenda, and he wanted to make sure that Jesus did what Peter wanted. In other words, he wanted Jesus to stand behind him, to follow him, and not the other way around. 

Last week we heard about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. And in Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus is tempted by the devil, he says, “Away with you Satan!” He doesn’t tell the devil to get behind him like he tells Peter, he simply tells Satan to go, to leave him. And Satan leaves him.

There’s an interesting lesson that we can learn from these two interactions between Jesus and Satan, and Jesus and Peter.

When Jesus rebukes Satan and commands him to leave, Satan leaves. He does as Christ says. Christ is superior to Satan and his minions, and they obey him, even though they don’t want to. I won’t unpack that any more, as I imagine you realize the implications of that for your own life.

Secondly, when Jesus rebukes Peter, he is making us aware that we can do the work of evil in this world, simply by trying to push through our own agendas. That is, we know what God’s agenda is for humanity, and when we impose our own wills over and against the will of God, we can be seen as acting for – or at the very least – allowing evil to manifest in the world.

If we look in the Book of Common Prayer, in the Catechism, we are told that “the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” And, that the Church pursues its mission as it “promotes justice, peace, and love.” And finally, that the ministers of the church, which include everyone, not just those curious ordained folk, but everyone, is to “carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.”

Reconciliation. That is a word we often hear only in Lent, when we are reminded that the Episcopal Church does in fact have the Rite of Reconciliation, which most people know of as Confession.

This work of reconciliation is what happens when Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Get behind me Satan!” He convicts Peter of Peter’s wrong motivations, but then offers him the reconciling gesture that Peter might subordinate himself to Christ, and get behind him, or follow him. Or, to put it more bluntly: You have made an error Peter, but you are still my disciple. Get behind me, and follow me, and follow my teachings.

Reconciliation, however, encompasses more than just a personal forgiveness of sins and a reconciliation of ourselves to God. The work of Reconciliation that the church is called to, and we ourselves are called to, is to reconcile not just the world to God, but to reconcile ourselves to each other; to promote peace; to promote love; and to promote justice.

When we fail to do those things, when we allow our own agendas to take over our thoughts, our minds, and our actions; when we allow our own agendas to supersede the work of Christ in this world; when we allow our own agendas to creep up and push out the reconciling work of the Church; when our own agenda causes us apathy and indifference to war, to bigotry and to injustice simply because it doesn’t affect us personally – that is when we find ourselves allowing the work of evil in this world. Or worse, by simply aligning ourselves with those who promote war, bigotry and injustice, even if we don’t say or do anything ourselves, we may find ourselves actively working for those terrible evils in this world. And then, we might just hear Jesus saying the same words to us as he did to Peter: “Get behind me Satan!”

The Good News is that it never just ends there. Just like Peter did, we too can get behind Jesus. We can accept the offer of reconciliation from Christ, and align ourselves with God’s mission in this world, and follow the teachings of Christ even when we find them more difficult than doing our own thing. 

And that is when things will really get exciting.

We know from our reading of Scripture that Peter did a few more things that were rather impulsive, and contrary to Jesus’ work – things like cutting off a man’s ear, or denying that he even knew Jesus – but in the end, Peter was known as one of the leaders of the Church. 

This was what Jesus was talking about after having corrected Peter. He tells all his disciples that if they want to be his disciples, they must take up their crosses and follow Him. We must deny ourselves, and lose our lives. Not literally, mind you. Specifically, we must lose those things that work against God’s mission in this world; a mission that we are all called to; a mission of striving for peace, of striving for justice, of sharing God’s love, so that together we continue Christ’s work of reconciling the world to God.

Our agendas need to be placed on the cross and sacrificed for the greater good of God’s redeeming work in this world. When we lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel, that is when we find it, Jesus says. What will it profit us if we follow our own agendas and “gain the whole world,” as he says; that is, what good is it if we are powerful enough to run the world, but forfeit our lives by thinking of the things of man, rather than the things of heaven?

One of the best known saints in our canon was a wealthy young playboy who stood to inherit his father’s immense wealth. He spent his youth living an irresponsible life, caring only for his own desires. At the time, joining the military was considered “glamorous,” and so he joined up. But after spending a year as a prisoner of war, he had a profound change of heart, a conversion. He renounced his former life of extravagance after seeing how the poor in his city lived, and then dedicated his life to helping the sick, the homeless, and to rebuilding churches in and around his hometown.

Here was a young man who had, by all accounts, all the trappings of this world, from riches, power, prestige, and the freedom to search for pleasure and meaning by whatever means he fancied. But instead of continuing to live for himself, he surrendered everything, took a vow of poverty, and dedicated himself to the work of God. 

Some might say he lost his life for the sake of the Gospel. He willingly surrendered his position of power and wealth for poverty and weakness.

Some of you may have already realized that I am talking about St. Francis of Assisi. And you may know that through his work he founded a religious order that has changed the world with its focus on serving the poor and the marginalized.

Imagine if he had never surrendered those things to God, and instead had sought to preserve his lifestyle at all costs? He would have remained just a blip in the history of Assisi, another playboy going about the business of pursuing his own pleasure, constantly trying to find out who he was meant to be, but never finding out God’s true purpose for his life.

For St. Francis, Jesus telling him to “Get behind me” meant that he had to give up his wealth and power. But for each of us, the idea of “Get behind me” means something entirely different, and it is something that only we can know for ourselves. It does not have to mean giving up wealth, or prestige, as it did for Francis. It can mean something entirely different to you than it did to Francis, or your neighbor in the pew next to you.But I can tell you, that when we hand over those things that we still want to control for ourselves, when we hand over the reins to God and make God’s agenda our own agenda, that is when we begin to flourish and thrive, when we begin to grow into the joy of God’s ultimate plan for our lives. We may not become saints like Peter and Francis, but we will be living in joy and purpose when God says, “Get behind me,” and we say, “Sure thing, Lord.”

  1. The New Republic, August 10, 2023
[This sermon was delivered at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ on February 25, 2024.]

About Michael

Mike was called to be the Vicar of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ, and started this call on February 1, 2024. Before taking a call as clergy, Mike worked in IT for almost 25 years, variously working as a back- and front-end web developer, database developer and manager, and as a business analyst. If he's not engaged in the work of the church, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride, or training for an upcoming BikeMS ride. Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts in Classical History from Seattle Pacific University, and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He attended Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022, and graduated in May of 2023. Mike was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona on January 20th, 2024, and will be ordained to the priesthood on July 27, 2024.

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