Failure before Restoration (Mirror, Mirror #9) Notes
Failure before Restoration (Mirror, Mirror #9)
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • June 28, 2015 • Rev. Donnell Wyche, Executive Pastor
For the past eight weeks, we have been hanging out with Simon, who later becomes Peter, as our guide as he reveals to us what it means to trust ourselves with and to God. Simon Peter has a lot to teach us about the art of being yourself.
While reading the news last week, an article caught my attention, it was about a high school student who concocted an elaborate story about getting into two of the most exclusive universities in the country. The story was so well done, so over the top, it instantly became an international news piece. The student at the center of the hoax told an elaborate tale that involved receiving personal phone calls from titans of business, each jockeying for the student to attend their alma mater. Once the story reached it’s height, the two universities had offered five-figure scholarships, were so committed to this student that they had reached a compromise, the student would be able to dual enroll and spend two years at each school and receive degrees from both. Understandably, folks started to call “shenanigans.”
There’s little wonder why this student told this elaborate story. In a culture obsessed with celebrity, you can’t just be successful, you have to be the most successful, the most sought after, one-in-a-kind. You know what’s often missing in our celebrity obsessed culture, the place and role of failure. This student was competing with classmates who had aced their advanced placement exams and one classmate who had been admitted to all eight Ivies.
How do you compete with that? You tell a better story. This student isn’t alone in this pursuit to tell a better story, have you every found yourself fudging something (a deadline, a follow-up, a task)? Have you ever embellished an achievement in order to make yourself look better? How about a lie or a lie of omission to excuse your behavior, a failure to complete a task, or as an excuse for your less than stellar work? Exaggerated your job title or responsibilities? Took credit for a shared accomplishment or a lucky win?
The story we observe in scripture as we continue our journey with Simon Peter is one that is mixed with ups and downs. Last week, we listened in on the exchange between Peter and Jesus as Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” In response, Peter reveals the messianic secret, he tells Jesus exact who he is.
When Peter reveals that Jesus was the messiah, he was using coded language. When Peter said it, he did not mean to say, you are the one will die on a cross for my sins. It was invoking a shorthand, revealing a hope and an expectation for God to act in a very specific way. Two hundred years before Jesus stepped into the vocation of a Messiah, a bold leader called Judas Maccabaeus defined what a messiah was in Israel. Judas Maccabaeus entered Jerusalem with palm branches waving, he cleaned the Temple of God, and with a successful military campaign, he overthrew the pagan occupiers.
For a hundred years, he established peace. To every Jew under occupation this was the clear sign that their God had acted on their behalf. Hanukah, the festival of light, tells and celebrates this decisive act of God in their midst. Then Rome imposing a new occupation came and changed everything. So, the vocation of a messiah had already been cast for Jesus. Peter had expectations that Jesus would enter the city as a humble king, cleanse the Temple of God, and throw off the pagan overseers.
As this passage continues, the Gospel writer, Matthew, doesn’t give us insight to the timeline, so it appears as if, what follows, happened immediately after the previous discourse.
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21)
Right after Peter confesses that Jesus is the long hoped for Messiah, Jesus, having come to realize that his vocation included the cross, reveals what he now knows with his disciples. It’s like he pulls them close and whispers, “Guys! I figured out how my story ends. As I continue to reveal the Good and Beautiful God, declare his mercy, grace, and forgiveness over people. Those in power and authority aren’t going to like it, they won’t like it so much that they will try to have me killed. And you know what? I won’t resist them.”
Remember the vocation of the messiah has already been set and Peter has an expectation that given his revelation of Jesus’s true identity, the Messiah, Jesus is now going to do what every messiah has since Judas Maccabaeus – gather an army and get about the business of throwing out the occupiers.
But Jesus is changing the role and expectations of a messiah in Israel, and here comes failure. Earlier in this story, we find Peter having solved the messianic secret, becomes frustrated that Jesus is sharing all this nonsense about his death! The messiah is meant to be victorious over his enemies because he is God’s servant. Why would God let his messiah be defeated? This makes no sense! Peter’s thinking is simple and easy to enter into. We think the same thing. How on earth is God going to use our failure to redeem us?
So Peter confronts Jesus:
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22)
I love that Peter takes Jesus aside. Peter is treating Jesus like your grabby drunk uncle. It’s like Jesus has lost his mind. “Come on, Jesus,” I hear Peter saying “enough of this, ‘I’m going to die’ nonsense! You are the Messiah, God’s messenger. You are a miracle worker. You can create wealth out thin air. You can speak to storms and they obey you. You speak to dead people, really dead people, and you bring them back to life. Get off of it! We get that you are humble, but this ‘I’m going to die’ nonsense has to stop. Stop it right now!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:23)
I think we skim over this interchange between Jesus and Peter, but it’s vital. First, I infer because Peter took Jesus aside, Jesus is addressing Peter privately. There is care in his response to Peter. Yet, it’s also quite harsh, he calls him Satan. I want to soften the blow for Peter and say, he means you are being influenced by the Satan, but that’s not what the text says. He says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Why? Because this is the same temptation Jesus has already resisted. The shortcut.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
The Satan came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down.”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
The shortcut that the Satan offers Jesus, is the same temptation we all face, the invitation to trust ourselves instead of God. Trust your wealth. Trust your power. Trust your authority. Trust yourself. The Satan sets up this dichotomy (trust yourself or God) by suggesting that you alone know yourself best. You alone know what you are capable of. You know what you can do accomplish, so lean in, the Satan suggests. He continues the temptation by planting seeds of fear, uncertainty, and doubt by suggesting that since you don’t know what God will do, it’s better to trust yourself instead. Especially since, according to the Satan, God will lead you astray. This was the same lie that the Satan told our ancestors in the Garden of Eden. Don’t trust God. Trust yourself.
In spite of his power, authority, ability to create security and wealth, Jesus puts all of that aside and decides to trust God. This is interesting, really interesting!
Jesus is indeed instructing us here. Learn to trust God for everything.
Let’s just admit it together, this is really hard to do. So many things conspire against us including ourselves and the situations in which we find ourselves.
I believe our first step forward is the same that it was for Jesus, learning to rely on God’s word, learning to have confidence in God’s faithfulness, learning to trust ourselves to God’s care and provision.
When we turn back to Peter in this interchange, I have some questions for him.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:22–23)
First, Peter, what did you know about yourself before this interchange? Were you trusting God here or your assumptions about how God would act on your behalf? Why were you so bold in your rebuke of Jesus? Having traveled with Jesus to this point, clearly Peter had his own expectations of what was coming next for Jesus? Peter, were you startled that the path of restoration included the failure of the cross?
Peter was rebuking Jesus because only failed messiahs died on the cross in Rome.
Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you! (Matthew 16:22)
No ambiguity here, Peter is his name sake in this case, he’s a rock. This echoes our cultural obsession with celebrity, we only want the successes, we don’t like failure. It’s the temptation of “the shortcut.” Peter was trying force Jesus to take a different route, but fully trusting God, Jesus resists Peter’s demands.
Brené Brown says that when “failure isn’t an option, neither is innovation.” The cross looked like failure to Peter, so Peter was trying to innovate another solution for Jesus. This is why I have questions for Peter. I want to know who he was trusting in this moment, himself or God?
I want to know whether Peter’s hands were opened or closed? I think we respond like Peter when we continue to reject living in the Kingdom of God under God’s economy. I think Peter’s rebuke of Jesus is important because it is a product of the scarcity culture which is antithetical to the kingdom economy. When we live in a culture of scarcity, then we only have our one shot, if we blow it, that’s it. It’s over. Today I heard an often repeat mantra, opportunity only comes around once. But that’s not true. When there’s too much pressure to get it right, to do it right, we can become paralyzed from acting and trusting a God who has limitless resources. Friends, this is why we so often find our hands closed around what we have, hoping that it will bring us safety and security.
But we have to follow Jesus into the unknown and trust that the God that Jesus completely trusted, and was made secure in his love, and was willing to follow, even though that path led to death on a Roman cross. This God, that he called Father, is always good and beautiful, never cruel, capricious, or selfish.
Practical Tip - Yeah! Anticipating the Consequences
This starts with our willingness to confront our false self, our fears and our failures. We must own our failures and mistakes so that we can learn and grow. It’s what we see in Peter’s unfolding story. Sometimes he gets it right and sometimes he doesn’t. The thing that Peter assures us of is Jesus will never condemn us.
Remember that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.
When we push down hurt or pretend that struggle doesn’t exist, the hurt and struggle own us.
This week’s practical tip is to practice more self-compassion.
Take a moment and write down what you might be fearing, or places where in the past you have failed. Now the key is to evaluate those fears or failures that have prevented you from trusting God or taking a next step in your faith journey. Are you willing to present them to God? Are you willing to trust him with them? As you are sharing your failings with God, imagine a dear old friend who you care about deeply, came and shared those same failings with you, how would you respond to them? Treat yourself in the same way.