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  • Writer's pictureThe Rev. Beth Knowlton

Stumbling Blocks Along the Way

“But Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’” - From Matthew 16:21-28

It probably won’t come as a surprise to those who know me that I was somewhat of a competitive student during my school years. I did not graduate summa cum laude from high school, which at the time I experienced as a huge embarrassment. The fact that my boyfriend and my best friend were the valedictorian and salutatorian respectively probably didn’t help. I could give a long and convincing explanation of why that happened, but it honestly isn’t important. Suffice it to say, I didn’t like the feeling. And so, I did everything within my human powers to make sure college had a different outcome. I have the picture to prove that I graduated with highest honors, though now I wonder why that seemed so very important. I’m quite certain no one else cared as much as I did. Nor has that honor had any major life-changing impact.

I suspect Peter might have been grade conscious in his high school. Just a few verses ahead of this passage he received an A+ as he successfully identified Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus even gave him some real encouragement: Peter gets to be the rock upon which the whole church is built! So, how shocking it must have been for Peter that Jesus called him Satan and a stumbling block in that same conversation.

We have some real sympathy for Peter’s position. Why on earth would he want to hear that his hero will undergo suffering and death? And surely his image of the Messiah would not include a shameful death on the cross. If you imagine inviting people to join you following Jesus, you’d not likely begin by explaining the suffering and death part, right? I wonder if Peter’s real stumbling block isn’t the desire to avoid suffering, but rather the assumption that he has the right answer. He knows Jesus is the Messiah, and by labeling him as such, has he cut off his own curiosity?

I suspect one of our main stumbling blocks is what I once called in a sermon, “Destinationitis.” It’s not a real word, but you probably know what I mean. It is particularly dangerous in spiritual life. The minute we think we’ve arrived; we’ve cut ourselves off from growth.

You’ll soon receive mail inviting your participation in an important spiritual inventory later in September. Your collective participation will give us a snapshot of where we are as a congregation, but it’s also an important spiritual practice for us as individuals. It is an opportunity to ask yourself some important questions about your own spiritual life. I invite you to use your inventory response as a part of your devotional time. Where are you on your journey? Do you need more tools to avoid some pitfalls on the road? How can St. Mark’s support your longing for active and growing faith?

Even while he gets ahead of himself, Peter’s enthusiasm is a good example; we must constantly center ourselves on divine things in the midst of our real humanity. And having companions on the way always helps!

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