by The Rev. Dr. Teresa Danieley
Romans 12: 9-21
Matthew 16: 21-28
Labor in the Pulpits 2023
September 3, 2023
Poor Peter must have had whiplash. In the portion of the conversation from Matthew we
heard last week, Jesus blessed him and called him Peter, the Rock of the Church, and
Jesus said that he would give Peter the keys to heaven. In the portion of the
conversation we heard this week, Jesus called him Satan and a stumbling block.
Now, Jesus knew and we know that Simon Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ prediction of his
own execution was a spontaneous & visceral response. AND it is true that Peter’s
response did pose a stumbling block to Jesus because it was a response focused on
human things rather than divine things. No matter what we proclaim in our Creeds or
sing in our hymns, most human beings reject talking about and thinking about death as
much as possible. To Peter, it probably seemed like Jesus could just avoid death
altogether for decades if he would just behave in a way that did not displease the
Roman Empire and the Religious Establishment. Wasn’t that the oh so scandalous
temptation in that book and film, The Last Temptation of Christ, too? The temptation for
Jesus to grow old and die a natural death.
According to Theologian Richard Ward,
[Peter’s] first act as leader-in-waiting for the Jesus movement is to say “no” to
Jesus. Saying “no” to the way of Jesus will become a habit for the Church. Too
often when Jesus says “Cross!” the church votes “Crown!” In the background of
this scene is the time Jesus spent in the wilderness when he said, “No” to
[Satan’s] temptation to imperial power.
Because the Church says no to Jesus’ way far too often, we need, like the
disciples, to be reminded of the differences. Cross-bearing is for “losers” in
societies like ours. The “winners” are those who know how to master the game of
life and have the goods to prove it . . . Winners might explain that the cross
represents something that Jesus did for them. The text explains that
cross-bearing is what disciples are called to do in Jesus’ name.
Now, of course, we, like Peter, are caught in a web of systemic economic, racial and
social injustice. There are constraints on our decision making. And yet, like Peter, we
still have choices to make within those constraints about how we spend our time and
our money during our lives on this earth. Are we going to say yes or no to Jesus? Are
we – as individuals, as Christian communities – going to choose the Crown – the Way of
Empire or the Cross – the Way of Jesus?
For most Americans, the Way of Jesus will not mean dying for our beliefs. To quote
Ward again, “ For most of us, cross-bearing means serving others with compassion. All
cross bearers are God’s allies; they often set aside their own agendas for personal
advancement in favor of meeting human need.” END QUOTE Being a cross bearer can
mean spending our time and money serving people suffering from homelessness,
hunger or addiction. It can also mean working for policies to alleviate homelessness,
hunger and addiction altogether.
This is the kind of work I am privileged to do every day in my Ministry at Missouri Jobs
with Justice. Advocating for policies that help to alleviate the causes of human suffering,
even as we must address human suffering as it happens. Right now, Missouri Jobs with
Justice and other grassroots organizations are gathering 200,000 signatures statewide
in order to put a ballot initiative on the November 2024 ballot that would Raise the
Minimum Wage to $15 per hour by 2026 and be adjusted for the cost of living index
after 2026, which would help wages keep pace with the rising costs of housing,
groceries and other essential needs. Even a few dollars per hour can mean the
difference for someone between needing to have one job or two, between being able to
have stable housing or not. Anyone who has ever worked in a feeding ministry has seen
This same ballot initiative would allow workers to earn paid sick time off at the rate of 1
hour for every 30 hours worked. Right now, over 200,000 Missouri workers lack access
to a single minute of paid time off. Workers are forced to decide between losing a day’s
pay, going to work sick or sending their children to school sick because they don’t get
paid sick days. Many heavy laborers have told us that earned sick leave would help
prevent opioid addiction because, with the ability to take time off, people will be less
likely to rely on strong pain medicine to go back to work so quickly. I hope, after the
service, you will talk with me more about this initiative and sign the ballot initiative
petition. Because advocacy, like service, is part of our cross-bearing work as Christians.
As defined in the Outline of the Faith, the Mission of the Church is to restore all people
to unity with God and each other in Christ. The Church pursues its mission as it prays
and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace and love. The Church
carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members. (BCP 1979, 855)
Promoting justice is integral to our Baptismal Covenant and our Outline of the Faith and,
therefore, to our lives as cross-bearers, as followers of the Way of Jesus.
We are called to confront and dismantle systemic oppression such as racism, sexism,
homophobia, transphobia, healthcare inequity, homelessness, food insecurity and other
injustices as a fulfillment of our faith in Jesus Christ, not in spite of our faith.
When we as Episcopalians, rooted in prayer and worship, participate in actions and
advocacy to create a more just and peaceful world, we are, with God’s help, working to
restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
And now, I will close with a prayer adapted from our reading from Romans:
Gracious God, when our instinct is to say no, help us to say yes. Yes to genuine love.
Yes to hating what is evil. Yes to holding fast to what is good. Yes to loving one another
with mutual affection. Yes to outdoing one another in showing honor. Yes to being
ardent in spirit and serving the Lord.
May we, with Your help, contribute to the needs of the saints and extend hospitality to
strangers. May we bless those who persecute us. May we rejoice with those who rejoice
and weep with those who weep. May we live in harmony with one another and live
peaceably with all. May we never be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
May we say Yes to the Cross and No to the Crown. All this we pray in the name of the
One who showed us the Way, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Teresa Mithen Danieley is Champions Organizer for Missouri Jobs with
Justice, Missioner for Public Advocacy for the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri and Priest
Associate at St. Mark’s, St. Louis.