A Sermon about Rocks, Stumbling Blocks, and Rejecting Racism

St. Philip Lutheran Church
30 August 2020 + Lectionary 22A
Matthew 16.21-28
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching



You’ve heard it said: “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.”

It’s the rallying cry of thrift store connoisseurs and garage sale aficionados. I’ve been to enough of them myself to know.

If that’s true, then the opposite must also be true: One person’s treasure is another person’s trash. I’ve sorted through enough boxes of my childhood “artwork” among the “keepsakes” in my mom’s attic to know.

One person’s treasure is another person’s trash. Or to put it in the language of our gospel text today: One person’s rock is another person’s stumbling block.

In other words, what one person holds dear might be the very same thing that another person finds to get in the way.

Just last week, only a few verses before today’s story, Peter is named as the rock for his bold confession of faith. Blessed he’s called. And now, he’s called out by Jesus as a stumbling block for trying to rebuke Jesus. So which is it?

Let’s take a step back and look at this from Peter’s perspective. By this point, the disciples have been together with Jesus for some time. They’ve traveled together, witnessed healings and miracles, heard sermons and teachings and debates with religious authorities. They’ve encountered people of all kinds – from the temple court to the very margins of society.

For a group of people that don’t have much of a place in the outside world, they seem to click together as Jesus’s disciples. A group of misfits and nobodies by the world’s standards have a sense of belonging with each other.

This community – this island of misfit disciples – has been through a lot together. And then Jesus makes this startling announcement – a foreshadowing of his own suffering…and death. And Peter, understandably, is quick to rush to Jesus’s defense: “This must never happen to you!” “It can’t. I won’t let it.”

Peter knows that this relationship he has with Jesus is so precious and so dear that he’ll do everything he can to keep it that way. For once, he’s found a sense of belonging and community. He’s not about to let that slip away without a fight.

For Peter, Jesus was his rock – the relationship he clung to. And now Jesus is about to take it all away…or so he thinks. So Peter reacts and blurts out the first thing he can think of – an emotional, heat-of-the-moment response. And Jesus’s reply – is it a little harsh? Maybe.

Jesus calls Peter a stumbling block – something that gets in the way, a tripping hazard, an impediment to something else.

One person’s rock is another person’s stumbling block.

Stumbling blocks get in the way and cause us to trip – maybe even cause injury. Intentionally or not, I think the church has been guilty of setting up its own stumbling blocks – when the long-held beliefs or customs of the “in” crowd are the very same things that cause others on the outside to trip or not feel fully welcomed and included.

These stumbling blocks get in the way of others’ experience of the fullness of who God is or their experience of the abundant life that God promises. Maybe it’s exclusively masculine language for God – even though the ruach or spirit of God in the Old Testament is, in fact, a feminine noun. Or maybe it’s our depictions of a white Jesus – as though he were from Minneapolis and not the Middle East.

When those stumbling blocks are removed, our understanding of who God is and how God longs to be in relationship with us only expands and becomes richer and more life-giving.

So what if Jesus’s response to Peter is not so much a rebuke but actually an invitation? What if Jesus is inviting Peter to upend the stumbling block and to imagine an even wider and more meaningful community that the one he has already been a part of?

Jesus is challenging Peter to move beyond his comfort zone and inviting him to follow the path of being a disciple that leads to even deeper and wider community.

It’s a path that leads to the cross. And the cross shows us where God is. The cross shows us a God who is present in the midst of suffering, whose love extends to those on the very margins of society.

The cross stands in the midst of Kenosha – amid protestors denouncing racism and crying out for justice. The cross stands wherever people are hurting and unable to breathe under the weight of systems that devalue their very lives and existence. The cross stands in places choked by death as a witness to the God who is with us. The cross is God’s pronouncement that the lives of our siblings of color matter.

The path of being the kind of disciple Jesus calls us to be – the path toward the cross and solidarity with those who are hurting – is not an easy path. It calls us out of our comfort zones. It might mean giving up the rocks and treasures we hold dear.

But it also means gaining so much more: A world where life, not death, gets the final word. A world where all people might experience the kind of radical belonging and community God yearns for us to experience. A world that overturns every last stumbling block to make way for God’s extravagant love and justice to fill every last corner.


Photo by AP Photo/Morry Gash

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