Text: Luke 22:24-34
There is a whole series of hashtags for failure; there’s #fail #funnyfails … there’s #epicfail if it’s especially stupendous. And then there is #failarmy which gives some idea of just how much failure is out there. You can even watch other people’s epic failures online. Well if I was going to put a modern header on today’s scripture it might be something like…
Before I get to today’s text, let me point out what came right before it. It was the Last Supper. It was that last special and holy meal with Jesus where he re-interpreted the Passover meal and spoke of a new covenant in his blood for the forgiveness of sin. It’s almost like the disciples wanted to test that out. Right after that holy moment… really before they were even getting up from the table, a fight broke out.
That’s right… a fight among the twelve disciples! And lest we judge them two harshly, say Amen toward your computer monitor or phone if you’ve ever been part of a fight on the way to or coming back from church. Right? It’s Sunday morning and we are going to worship the Lord and we just let it all fly coming or going. It’s human nature, so don’t judge the young fellas too harshly.
What were they fighting about? Essentially it was about who was the best. Sounds a little like that old sibling fight, “Mom likes me the best?” “Dad, am I your favorite?” The disciples were arguing about who was the greatest… the best disciple.
And Jesus responded… the greatest is not the oldest, not the one at the honored head of the table, not the so-called “Benefactor” who seeks status from their works. It’s the one who serves – the one who loves. And it’s not in Luke where we are reading, but if you piece together the timeline of that last night before Crucifixion, you will see that the next thing Jesus did was pick up the towel and basin and wash his disciples’ feet. And then he went on to die for them as explained in the bread and cup of the Last Supper.
If I were going to pick one more hashtag for this passage it would be #hardtimeshardtimes. That was the name of a blues song I shared with you last December. And it’s what the disciples were about to face. Jesus didn’t really stop to scold them about their fighting; he knew hard times were coming for them all.
So he reassures them: they have stood by him and will indeed have a place of honor. That doesn’t make them great or the best, but it is part of following him and serving as he has served.
But he warns them – Peter, in particular – that Satan will “sift you like wheat.” Something hard is coming that will turn life upside down and completely undo him. And he goes on to tell Peter that he WILL fail him before morning arrives.
But listen to this… listen to this: Jesus tells him that he has prayed for him, that his faith would not fail. (Wait, didn’t it?) And then Jesus goes on to say, “When once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Did you catch all that? Jesus prayed that Peter would not fail then said that it would… and there would be a way back from that, not just for forgiveness, but for good purpose – to strengthen the others.
Of course you know that old saying: “when life gives you lemons… make lemonade.”
Jesus told Peter that he would be sifted like wheat… hard times, testing times, unraveling times, failing times would come. But then Jesus described a way back from that to something healing, helpful, nurturing, and nourishing to others.
I want to suggest, if it’s not to cutesy, that Jesus said when life sifts you like wheat, that God can make bread from it… something good, something nourishing and nurturing, something that will bless others.
Friends, our time is coming; surely right now is one of our times of sifting. It’s almost comical to look back at our arguments before a pandemic and stay-at-home orders. We Christians and Americans sometimes fight about the silliest things in the big scheme of things. But when we all start getting sifted like wheat, it changes your perspective. Sometimes it even threatens to undo you.
If you’ve despaired or worried or come unmoored… peace, be still. If you’ve hoarded or judged or become selfish or cursed at God; peace, be still. Jesus prays for you that your faith will not fail. His actual prayer is there in John 17! And though we may and will fail, he will not fail us. Come again to the Good Shepherd. Come again to the eternal Father. Come because He welcomes you and invites you to take part in strengthening the others.
That’s our dual role as the church. We welcome people back who have failed and fallen short of God’s intent, as we ourselves have and will again. And having returned, we strengthen others. We love and serve as Jesus taught and lived out. We love God and our neighbors.
How can we strengthen each other and our neighbors?
- Keep calling and checking in. Ask how things are going. Is there anything they need? Anything they worry about? Are there ways you can pray and encourage and help.
- Do the praying and encouraging and helping: pray AND act. Prayer is not passive; it moves us and leads us to action.
- Try to see what God is doing and where God is moving… and join in! Do people need Good News? Are people you know asking spiritual questions (even if it’s why is this happening)? Are there tangible physical or material needs you can help meet for someone who is really in need?
- Keep returning to the well of living water. Keep worshiping; keep studying the Word; keep praying. Keep refreshing and renewing your own spirit so you can bless others.
As you see Good News stories or you see God moving, would you share that with me? I’d love to include such stories in our service each week. One example from this past week came from the elementary school. The school community took a collection to pack bags of extra un-perishable foods for some of the families in need. They partnered with Good Shepherd to be a distribution site for that one-time act of strengthening others. And like the loaves and fishes, there was food left over. So we in turn blessed and strengthened some others we knew of in our community.
Where have you seen God at work? What Good News do you have? Feel free to share in the comments now if something already comes to mind, or shoot me a message for me to share next week.
Satan may get to sift us like wheat sometimes, but Jesus is the Bread of Life! Amen.