Ten Minute Sermons
2nd Sunday in Lent
In the latter days of the war in Vietnam, a young Lt. Eugene Armstrong was leading a patrol in one of that country's many valleys crowded with jungle. A North Vietnamese Army regiment had been hounding them for days. The patrol was tired, frustrated and eager to return to base safely.
After a brief radio call to his higher command, Lt. Armstrong looked at his troops and said that helicopters were being dispatched to pick them up in one hour about four miles away. To get to the landing zone in time his patrol needed to hoof it down a reasonably straight road cut into the jungle. "We are here, safety is there, let's go".
At which point a reasonably seasoned trooper replied to the young lieutenant in language too rich to describe here that the lieutenant was insane. No right thinking individual would walk, nevertheless run, down a straight road in the middle of a combat zone…especially with a sizable enemy force nearby. Such movement would be noted by the enemy. An ambush would wipe out the patrol. The correct means of escape was to creep and crawl through the jungle…slowly. Stealth was their ally. The seasoned trooper was emphatic that the young lieutenant change their course of action.
Lt. Armstrong glared at the man and replied, "Get your gear and follow me", at which point Armstrong got up and began to jog down the road by himself. One by one the rest of the patrol got up and followed him, including the reluctant veteran.
One hour later they were airlifted from the valley just before a flight of B-52's dropped sufficient ordinance into the valley to kill practically every living thing there. The back of the NVA regiment was broken.
You see, Armstrong knew something that the insubordinate veteran trooper did not. Life was available at the end of the road, but remaining in the valley only guaranteed death.
In today's Gospel, Jesus also has to deal with insubordination.
Jesus outlines to his disciples that his path, his road, (in verse 31) "the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again."
And Peter rebukes him. This is insanity: purposefully going down a road that leads to suffering and death? No. Don't do it! Surely there's a better way.
At which point, Jesus puts Peter in his place. "Get behind me, Satan".
Jesus correctly refers to Peter as Satan: which is Aramaic for adversary…one who voices opposition to another's intentions. Peter is vehement, he opposes Jesus' stated path. And Jesus is just as ardent…Peter is to get behind him and follow…there is no debate…Jesus is leading them up the road to Jerusalem.
And this road is dangerous. Jesus says in verse 34, "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Jesus is leading his entire company on a path that may include suffering and death, because he has knowledge they don't, they can't, possess: that "the Son of Man will rise in three days" guarantees that we too shall rise when God annihilates the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Ah, Psalm 23. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
A shepherd's rod and staff are tools of shepherding: the means by which he leads his flock. The crook on the end of the staff pulls wayward sheep to safety. The rod guides the sheep, keeping them on the path set out by the shepherd.
Remember in Psalm 23. "He leads me beside the still waters. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake."
The path that Jesus has chosen results in peace…still waters. The path that Jesus has chosen results in a transformed being…we shall be righteousness for His name sake. The path that Jesus has chosen guarantees us living in the House of the Lord, forever.
All we need to do is to follow Him: Realizing full well to do so means to take up our own cross.
Being a Christian is not easy. We all know of the violent persecution of the Christian martyrs (both past and present). We also have first hand knowledge of emotional maltreatment by those wishing to squelch the proclamation of the Gospel. Some family, some friends, have shut us out…it is painful…; yet, we still remain open to them.
It's a tough row to hoe. But we have leading us the living Son of God. He has already conquered death. He has already guaranteed that we will escape the Valley of the Shadow of Death: the enemy has already been destroyed. Down the path that Jesus leads us is a cross that shines like a beacon: offering life. We need to take our proper place behind Him…and follow Him up to Jerusalem.
Lead on, O King eternal:
We follow not with fears;
For gladness breaks like morning
Where'er thy face appears.
Thy cross is lifted o'er us;
We journey in its light:
The crown awaits the conquest:
Lead on, O God of might!