A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on July 10, 2011.

Matthew 16:21-26

Communion Sunday

One of the most memorable experiences Jesus had with his disciples occurred at Caesarea Philippi, a resort area where cool breezes blew in off the sea and down the mountains. Caesarea Philippi is twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee, in all likelihood the northern most point Jesus traveled.

It was a fertile area, not only for agriculture, but also religion. Caesarea Philippi was home to fourteen temples, including the prominent Greek god, Pan and the emperor, Caesar. This busy place was always crowded with worshipers, offering sacrifices to their deities.

It was amid these lavish temples that Peter made his bold confession of faith to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” Matthew 16:16. In response, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, which means “rock,” indicating his confidence in him.

Immediately after this exchange, Jesus informed his disciples he was headed to Jerusalem where he would be rejected by many religious leaders, as other messengers of God had been, resulting in his crucifixion. Upon hearing this, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him. How ironic; the “Rock” quickly became a “stone of stumbling,” as Jesus pointed out to him. Immediately, he looked at Peter and the other disciples and said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for me will find it” Matthew 16:24-25.

What is the message for us this morning as we gather around this sacred table? I think it has to do with self-denial and self-discipline. Saying no to some things and yes to others is a part of what it means to be a disciple. Figuring out what they are and doing it gets dicey, though. The world has one view of what we should let go of and what we should pursue; our faith has another.

As a follower of Christ, what do you need to say no to at this time in your life? Is it an addiction, a negative attitude, a critical spirit, an uncontrollable temper or the need to control? Is it feelings of jealousy, superiority or bitterness, a desire to seek revenge against someone who has hurt you, a fear which is controlling you or selfishness and greed?

As a rule of thumb, I counsel people to say no to anything that is harmful, undermines their commitments and promises, keeps them from achieving their potential or following where Jesus leads.

What are those things for you today? What is bringing the worst out in you rather than the best? Are you willing to identify and deal with it?

On the other hand, what do you need to say yes to at this time in your life? What do you need to embrace which would help you to be more Christ-like, make you a better family member or neighbor and enable you to achieve your potential?

Do you need to be more tolerant, encouraging, patient, grateful, unselfish and forgiving? Do you need to build bridges of understanding and good will as opposed to walls of suspicion and hate? Do you need to be a better listener and walk in other’s shoes instead of judging them or deciding their fate? Do you need to find your prophetic voice?  Do you need to be a faithful steward? Do you need to roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty helping those around you who are struggling?

Whose help do you need to begin this process, for we all know this is not easy? Self-denial is not a part of our culture’s image of a good life and self-discipline requires a lot of hard work. Like Jesus, are you willing to ask for God’s help as well as others around you? If he needed an active prayer life and a traveling support group, how much more do we?

Likewise, who needs your help to be a faithful disciple? Who needs you to be a part of their support group, encouraging them along their journey of self-discovery and self-discipline?

I don’t believe Jesus would have issued this intimidating challenge had he not believed in the disciples or been willing to help them. Who needs you to believe in them, as well as your support?

I have a friend whose father played basketball years ago. While he loved the sport, he was not a star on the team or even a starter. One night during an extremely close and competitive game, the coach called to the end of the bench for my friend’s father. Thinking he was going into the game, this eager player ran to the coach on the sidelines.

“Do you want me to go in, coach?” he asked with great anticipation. “No, but I’ll tell you what I do want. I want you to go over there and get that megaphone and then head to the middle of our fans and start cheering. We are going to need the vocal support of our fans to win this game. They are not doing their part tonight, so go get them on their feet and into the game!”

Without batting an eye or showing a hint of disappointment, my friend’s father did what the coach asked him to do and his teammates won the game. In all likelihood, they would not have done so without him.

Who needs you to be their biggest cheerleader this week? Pick up a megaphone and start cheering.

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