Sharing Christ’s Love Worship Series

“The Rock Becomes a Stumbling Block”

Rev. Emily Wilmesherr

Decatur Presbyerian Church

September 03, 2023


Last week we explored the question Jesus had for his disciples “Who do you say I am?” and this
week we will explore what it means to actually follow Jesus. When Jesus asked his disciples
who they believe him to be, Peter gave the correct answer, “You are the Messiah. The Son of
the Living God.” To which Jesus replied, “God in heaven has revealed this to you. You are Peter
and on this rock, I will build my church.”

Jesus is talking about building the church on the confession that Peter proclaimed not on Peter
himself because we know that Peter doesn’t have a great track record for keeping his promises
or following Jesus 100% all the time. Peter is a human like all the other disciples and like each
of us. Someone who knows Jesus but doesn’t quite understand what it means to follow after
him with his whole life.

Peter knew that a Messiah was coming. He understood that someone was coming to deliver the
Jewish people from the harsh treatment under Roman rule. Peter even knew that Jesus the long
awaited Messiah, coming to bring about a new way of life, but he couldn’t believe that the
Messiah might look and act differently than what he expected. So when Jesus begins to talk
about suffering and death, Peter speaks up with “Absolutely not, Jesus! We will find another

What struck me in this text is that Peter thought he knew exactly what Jesus needed, a way out.
I believe Peter thought he had it all figured out. Peter answered Jesus’ first question correctly
and was praised for it. Now it seemed to Peter that Jesus had lost his way and needed some
help from Peter. We don’t know Peter’s motives but I can’t help but wonder if Peter responded in
this way because he had a desire to be in control or that he might be a little concerned what the
outcome might be for him as a disciple if Jesus was meant to suffer and die. Can anyone
identify with Peter? Wanting to maintain control over a situation and doing all you could to keep
the outcome from being the opposite of what you wanted.

On Kick off Sunday we had a Rise Against Hunger event here at the church. I was excited that
our daughter Evie was going to get to serve alongside her church family and learn about using
what we have to help others. When it came time to gather in the Fellowship Hall, she was
clinging to Mrs. Mc, her choir director and safe person, and begging me to let her go to Mrs.
Mc’s office. I felt like she needed to take this special opportunity to serve and that once she did, she would love it and be transformed. When I told her she had to go help and could spend time
with Mrs. Mc another day, she burst into tears. Rather than cause a big fight scene, I let her go
to Mrs. Mc’s office but was not happy about it and began to orchestrate my profound speech to
my 4 year old on serving Jesus that would happen when we got home. When I went to pick her
up, Mrs. Mc told me that when Evie entered her office, she let out a big sigh. Evie told her that
she loved being back at church, which after 3 months of family leave she thought this moment
would never happen again. She said everyone had been talking to her and she needed a little
break from the big crowd of people. She loved being with all her church family but had reached
a point where she needed to catch her breath. At that moment, I realized that Evie was not
going to be able to serve Jesus if she felt overlooked, ignored, and unloved.

I think we all experience this at one time or another where we strongly believe that we know
what’s best and can prevent anything bad or challenging from happening. Sometimes parents
think they know what hobby or career is best for their children and try to push them in that
direction. Aging parents don’t always respond well when their children tell them to stop driving
or that it’s time to move out of their home. While in conversation with someone who disagrees
with us politically, we may push our own thoughts rather than hear where the other is coming
from. Even if our advice is sound and might be helpful, we get upset when people do not accept
it. We act as if we hold all the right answers and if they would just listen to us. However, we are
the ones who have forgotten to listen.

Jesus’ response to Peter sounds pretty harsh, “Get behind me Satan!” However, I think this was
less of a rebuke of Peter and more to remind Peter of who was doing the leading. Peter was
acting as if Jesus had lost his way rather than believe that Jesus’ life and mission was radically
different from anything anyone had ever seen. I see Jesus reminding Peter of where he stood in
their relationship. If one is going to follow Jesus, we must get behind him and follow. Follow him
in the healings, miracles, and joys as well as the suffering, humiliation, and death of what we
hold most dear. Jesus doesn’t break relationship with Peter just because he doesn’t understand
or slips up, instead he tells him more about what claiming Jesus as Messiah means. He reminds
Peter that while he might have the knowledge of who Jesus is, he has to live out what that
means daily.

In Northern Lithuania there is a site called the Hill of Crosses where more than 100,000
crucifixes and other religious icons cover a hill. The exact origins of the Hill of Crosses remains
a mystery. Some people believe that these crosses began to appear in the mid 1800s and were
left by relatives who were mourning the loss of loved ones who’d died at the hands of the
Russian regime. The Czar forbade any religious expression which prevented proper burials of
those who were killed. This site was destroyed 5 times by the Russians who detested the site,
but under the cover of darkness, local citizens risked their lives to rebuild the site. What began
as a symbol of death turned into daily symbols of hope.

To Peter and the other disciples, the cross seemed to be the end and a terrible one at that. I
think today, we can sometimes view the cross in that way too. But as a resurrected people, we
know that the grave did not hold Jesus, that after three days he rose. Jesus showed us the
depth at which God would go to be close to all of their children, there is no limit. We see that the
cross has to hold both the reminders of the suffering and death as well as the hope and new life.
Verses 24 and 25 say, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take
up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who
lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but
forfeit their life?” When Vernon and I talked about this part of the text this week, we talked about
what it actually means to give up your life. Beyond the material things in our lives, we are giving
up our family and friends, our minds, or mobility and eventually our physical life. As I pondered
this, my heart ached at the thought of letting go of these things and people. Jesus tells us that
yes, these are important and beautiful blessings, but when they become our focus and our goal
in life, we are missing the divine and eternal purpose that we are called to as disciples. No
matter how wonderful these earthly joys might be, they cannot compare to life eternal. Now I do
not believe that this was an invitation to the disciples or us to go in search of crosses to bear.
Rather we are to humbly give of ourselves with the hope that one day God’s love and law will
outshine the ways of this world.

It can be so tempting to accept the temporary pleasures or relief of pain instead of experiencing
the hurt. I think Peter’s response probably felt like a way out for Jesus and his seemingly harsh
response was to protect himself from the temptation of an alternative way. Jesus kept his mission in front of him, he knew what he must do. He knew his path included suffering, pain,
and ultimately death.

We will be tempted to find an alternative way to God’s plan and like Peter, we are going to be
learning and relearning our entire lives what it means to be Jesus’ disciples. We will not always
get it right, but each day that we have breath in our lungs we can continue to refocus and get
behind Jesus and listen more deeply to what Jesus was all about and try to live as his faithful
followers each and every day.

May it be so. Amen.


Rev. Emily Wilmesherr

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur Ga

Sept 3, 2023