Sermon: Sunday September 2, 2017

Get Behind Me, Satan

The Rev. Lisa Smith Fry

It has been said that we develop a persona that we show the world throughout our lives. It’s the carefully cultivated façade we wish the world to see. It often involves words like “successful” – whatever we think that means, and “nice”—whatever THAT means.

But there’s another part of ourselves, one we usually keep private. This is the part that isn’t readily apparent. This is the part that has made mistakes, is fearful of odd things, and doesn’t quite live up to our own hype.  It’s the part that loves most deeply, believe 10 impossible things a day and rushes to rescue people from burning buildings without a thought for ourselves. It’s the part we secretly hope the world never sees, and secretly wishes everyone knew. It is perhaps the most important part of us. Let’s call it our soul.

When people think of a soul, they often think of something that is inside them somewhere, hidden from view. Carl Jung- noted psychologist—came up with a different perspective: God-Self-SoulAccording to Jung our soul appears to be non-judgmental, it loves us unconditionally.  It is the basis of our wildest dreams—both awake and asleep– and is the part of us that interacts with and is embedded in God.

So: we have a persona we carefully show to the world, which is surrounded by a soul full of wildness and wonder and possibilities that surrounds that, with God surrounding all.

So instead of a carefully cocooned soul enveloped in our body, we have a soul that envelops the body—this soul is not trapped by this frail flesh, but surrounds us– touching us, and also touching God.

In the Gospel today, Peter and Christ are having a conversation. Jesus is discussing with his friends what will probably happen when they enter Jerusalem.  He’s probably NOT talking about this because he is somehow able to see his entire future—he’s talking about it because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a preacher who urges people to push past governmental and religiously established boundaries—interacting with love and respect for all kinds of outsiders, outcasts and foreigners, does not make the people in power very comfortable. In fact— it makes them really anxious and angry. As the disciples approach Jerusalem, Jesus – even without clairvoyance—can predict that there is a good chance he will be taken by the authorities, and perhaps even killed as a dissident.

This was not how a Messiah, a hero, was supposed to talk. The Messiah—to the Jews—was supposed to be a great hero, who would overthrow the government, and restore the people of Israel to power. At the very least—this Messiah would lead his people out of bondage. A Messiah wasn’t weak, would not be captured. And he certainly would not be killed.

So Peter and Jesus have a conversation—we are not privy to what is said—but we can guess by Jesus’ response: get behind me, Satan. He calls his best friend Satan. Now Satan was–to the Jews, to Jesus– the entity that tempting us to play it safe. So Satan—the temptation in Peter’s words—was asking Jesus to concentrate more on the things he was doing that no one really minded—the healing, the miracles—and pull back on the things that were causing such foment: blurring boundaries by hanging out with sinners and non-jews, seeing all people as worthwhile, saying the Kingdom is being built right in front of everyone.

That’s probably what Peter urged. “Don’t go to Jerusalem,” he probably said. “We can do so much good if we just stay within our own communities, follow the Pharisaic rules, not push the boundaries so much. Peter was urging Jesus to play it safe– to become his “persona”—the healer and miracle worker the world saw– not follow the wildness, the wonder of his soul—that part of himself that was in touch with God..

We will always be tempted to do that. But we are so much more than the persona we show to the world. Think of the parts of ourselves that we try and tamp down–think of the possibilities that occur to us from within— voices from our souls.

The soul that is wrapped around our body, and also in touch with God – whispers to us that God is leading us on a path of self-discovery—and our lives are the spiritual classroom.

I know that in my life no matter how much I shore up my persona, and try not to veer off the straight path I suspect is more my invention that reality—the more God pushes me off the path and into the woods. I do love the woods—but the woods are also full of unforeseen dangers and the way isn’t always clear. And there are TICKS! Metaphorically, you understand.

But that’s the thing about God’s paths—they can lead us into unpredictable places, force us to encounter wild beasts— in the form of actual outside dangers, as well as those parts of ourselves we can’t quite tame. But it is always an adventure, this spiritual classroom. God seems to delight in taking us where we could not—and would not—go on our own.

But maybe that’s the point.

“Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus says. “I will not play it safe. I will continue to let love lead me on this path God has put me on—even though I don’t always see clearly where it might lead me. While you see this persona of healer and teacher—and you’re right, my soul sees deeper, and is in touch with God. I must follow where it leads. Even though I see the danger.”

It is easier to fit in to the world than to lead it.

The persona, surrounded by the soul, surrounded by God will take you on a wild ride.  Feel the places where your soul is touching God. And follow where it leads. Amen.