My third sermon, titled Get Lost was delivered yesterday morn. The message is based on Mark 8:31-38, one of the times Jesus tells off Peter. Watch, listen, or read, pick your poison. Enjoy!
I’ve never really liked Peter. I’m talking about the Peter we find in the Good Book, one of the twelve disciples. For one thing, Peter is known for having a temper. In the garden of Gethsemane, right before Jesus is arrested, Peter cuts off the right ear of someone. Just up and cuts it off. Peter is also known for denying he knows Jesus. Not once. Not twice. *Three* times, all because he was afraid.
Then we have today’s reading from Mark 8. Jesus tells the disciples that he’ll be killed, and rise three days later. After hearing this Peter grabs Jesus in protest. Maybe Peter is in shock, not wanting to let go. Or perhaps he doesn’t exactly understand. When Jesus says he would rise three days later, what could that possibly mean? We know the story about what happens three days later, the story that culminates Easter Sunday. Peter didn’t.
Or maybe Peter doesn’t hear that last part about Jesus rising three days later. Imagine your best friend tells you of their impending death. You may not hear much of what they have to say after that either. You’d probably grab the friend and hold them close to you as well.
Then, right after Peter grabs Jesus in protest, a surprising thing happens. Jesus confronts Peter about all this grabbing, saying, Get lost! The central character in our faith tradition, tells one of his disciples, in no uncertain terms, get lost! I don’t know about you, but the thought of Jesus looking me in the eye and plainly saying get lost is terrifying. It’s like my personal brokenness was too deep, too dark, too much for Jesus deal with.
But, wait a second, maybe there’s more to the story. When Jesus confronts Peter he exclaims “Peter, get out of my way!” Jesus then says, still speaking to Peter, “Satan, get lost!” Ahh, that changes things. Jesus isn’t telling Peter to get lost, whew! He is looking at the brokenness, the darkness within Peter and telling *that* to get lost. In Lutheran terms, we understand our human condition as being both saint and sinner. We are both, at all times. Jesus here asks the darkness in Peter to step aside so he can speak with Peter the Saint.
And what does Jesus say to Saint Peter? Before we get to that, it may be helpful to step back a little earlier in the story. Right before revealing that he must be killed Jesus asks the disciples, “who do you say that I am?” Here Peter does something I really do like. It is Peter who responds, “you are the Christ, the Messiah!” Jesus reminds Peter of this, saying “anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.”
Jesus then tells Peter something that is really hard to embrace in our culture. He says self-sacrifice is the way to find your true self. Put a little differently we could say this: To find the real you, lose the current you.
One person that knew how to get lost in self-sacrifice was a woman named Agnes. Born in Albania in 1910, Agnes lost her father at the young age of eight. Fascinated by missionary stories, by 12 she became convinced she should commit to religious life. At age 18 she joined the Sisters of Loreto as a missionary, leaving behind friends and family, getting lost in a journey thousands of miles from home.
After spending a year to learn English, Agnes moved to India. While there she taught English to schoolchildren for eighteen years. Agnes then had what she describes as a call within a call. For this next call she received basic medical training and started tending to the needs of the destitute and starving. In her personal diary she wrote that “Our Lord wants me to be free, covered with the poverty of the cross.”
In the coming years Agnes received permission from the Vatican to start a new congregation in India. The mission of the congregation was to help people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society.” The congregation began small, in 1950 it had one location with 13 members. By the time she died in 1997 the organization had grown to more than 4,000 sisters. The sisters run orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centers worldwide. These centers care for refugees, the blind, disabled, alcoholics, the poor and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine.
The life of Agnes was defined by self-sacrifice. She knew that to find the real you, she’d have to get lost. And get lost she did, moving thousands of miles from home, taking an oath of poverty and building an organization that helps millions upon millions of the poorest of the poor. You may recognize Agnes by another name. To many she is known simply as Mother Theresa.
Admittedly, not everyone can be Mother Theresa. If I told my wife about plans to drop everything and move to India, well, that conversation probably wouldn’t turn out too well. She’d probably tell *me* to get lost, and not in a good way.
Even though we can’t all be Mother Theresa there are plenty of ways we can practice the self-sacrifice Jesus models as a way to find ourselves by getting lost.
At St. Michael you can get lost by volunteering at the Palanca Food Kitchen feeding the homeless. Or you can help make PB&J sandwiches for local school kids that don’t always have a meal to eat. Or you can donate school supplies for kids both locally and in Haiti.
Author Barbara Brown Taylor finds that getting lost can happen anywhere, in all kinds of ways. You can get lost on your way home. You can get lost looking for love. You can get lost between jobs. You can get lost looking for God. Taylor is refreshingly honest about when she has been lost: “I have set out to be married and ended up divorced” she says. “I have set out to be healthy and ended up sick. I have set out to live in New England and ended up in Georgia. While none of these displacements was pleasant at first, I would not give a single one of them back. I have found things while I was lost that I might never have discovered if I had stayed on the path. I have decided to stop fighting the prospect of getting lost and engage it as a spiritual practice instead.”
Getting lost as a spiritual practice. Maybe that is what Jesus tries to encourage in Peter when he tells Peter’s darkness to get lost. Peter tries to protect his friend Jesus from harm, a very human, very noble thing to do, but Jesus has something else in mind. A new spiritual practice that Peter didn’t quite understand at the time.
Despite Peter’s flaws God had big plans for him. Jesus thought so much of Peter that he calls him the Rock, proclaiming “upon this rock I will build my church.” And build Peter does; founding churches in Rome and Antioch while serving as the first Pope.
Ironically, this same apostle who tried to shelter Jesus from the ultimate self-sacrifice met a similar fate. Peter too preached the Word and died a martyr. While Peter didn’t understand this new spiritual practice in today’s reading, he lived out getting lost until the end.
And maybe that’s the value of Peter, a reason to think well of him. That despite his flaws, doubts and darkness he was used mightily by God. What I don’t like in Peter is exactly what I don’t like in myself; the flaws, the doubts, the darkness. Despite all this, God can use me, can use you, can use all of us when we lose ourselves in Christ.