Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sermon -- 5th Sunday after Pentecost (June 23, 2013)

LUKE 9:18-24
In the name + of Jesus.

     In the history of the world, no one has had more books written about him than Jesus.  People have always been fascinated by him.  Sometimes that fascination is in trying to discredit or destroy him.  Others misrepresent Jesus and his teachings so that Jesus appears to defend what it is they believe.  Still others rejoice at hearing his word and keeping it.  People either love Jesus or hate him.  There is no in between.  One way or another, people are forced to make a confession about Jesus.
     Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  And they answered, “John the Baptist.  But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” (Luke 9:18-19)  I suppose people would have thought Jesus would be flattered by such comments.  He was not.  Those confessions were wrong.  In fact, as flattering as they sounded, such confessions were unbelief.  To say that Jesus is a nice guy, a great teacher, or a role model does not confess who he is.  Flattery is not faith.  Compliments are not a confession.  Beware!  Many people think that simply because they do not curse Jesus that they should be saved by him.  Confessing Christ demands more than that.
     So Jesus said to his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”  And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)  St. Luke does not record Jesus commending Peter for his confession.  Rather, Jesus immediately told the disciples what it means that he is the Christ.  It does not mean that he is a nice guy, that he is a great teacher, or that he is a role model.  It means the cross.  Sinners are not saved by pithy slogans or inspirational advice.  Sinners are not even saved by strong, moral guidance.  Sinners are saved only by the bloody sacrifice of God’s Son.  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22) 
     Jesus is the Christ of God?  Yes!  And that means the cross.  The Christ had to suffer; for, sins must be paid for.  The Christ had to be rejected by the teachers of the Law; for the kingdom is not earned by obedience.  It comes by grace.  The Christ had to be killed; for he is the Lamb of God, and the blood of the Lamb delivers from death.  These things were not optional.  To save you, they were necessary.  To save you, they were done. 
     Jesus is the Christ, and that means the cross.  At the cross, the righteous anger of God was satisfied.  That anger was poured out in full on Jesus.  He suffered wrath and torment and abandonment and hell.  He suffered for you.  He died in your place.  He rescued you from all of the hell that you had coming.  That is what he came for.  Anything less than the cross means that the Christ has not saved you.  To confess anything less means you have denied him, not matter how kindly you compliment him.  Confessing Christ means a cross.
     But confessing Christ does not mean a cross just for Jesus.  It means a cross for you, too.  Jesus said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)  Confessing Christ means a cross for you, too.  It is not optional.  It is necessary.
     If you cringe at the idea of bearing a cross, that is no surprise.  The cross is for killing, and your sinful nature does not want to die.  Your flesh will always try to avoid the cross.  Your sinful flesh has convinced you that you should not have a cross but glory.  It has you believe that a Christian life is never marked by pain or frustration but by constant happiness.  You want a reward for being a Christian.  You want children who don’t get sick or fail.  You want marriages that have no strife.  You want promotions at work and recognition from peers.  You want lawns without weeds and weekends without rain.  You want to be celebrated.
     But confessing Christ means a cross.  Listen again to Jesus’ words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  Christ calls you to follow him, but he does not promise that you will be praised for it.  In fact, St. Paul warned that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)  That means following Christ will not be easy.  You will be fighting a world that mocks you for believing Jesus and for putting his words into practice.  You will be fighting friends who encourage you to do what is evil. 
     What’s worse is that you are your own worst enemy.  You want to save your life.  You want to be praised by the world, and so you seek the praise of friends, co-workers, and classmates.  You give in to what the world craves because it us much easier to follow along than to stand alone.  It is easier to give in rather than to fight against it.  You want to save your life and your popularity and your reputation.  The world may praise you, but God cannot.  God cannot commend a sin-corrupted heart.  And God surely will not be merciful to anyone who craves sin rather than repents of it.
     Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  Confessing Christ means a cross—daily!  The battle does not end until you are delivered to the Church Triumphant.  But for now, you dwell in the Church Militant.  The battle against the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh goes on. 
     Your cross may be obvious or secret.  It may be a temptation you are prone to or a neighbor who makes life miserable.  Whatever your cross is, your flesh hates it.  Again, your flesh craves glory, praise, and ease.  But your cross is supposed to drive you to your knees.  It shows you that you are weak and helpless.  It leads you to cry out to the Lord for mercy and to rely on Jesus alone.  The cross you bear is not designed for your entertainment, but for your salvation.  Do not despise that which forces you to call upon your Savior.  Though it is a burden, the cross is always for your good.
     Confessing Christ means a cross.  It means serving your Lord faithfully even when it is painful or inconvenient.  It means crucifying your sinful flesh so that it does not control you.  It means that you acknowledge your sins and kill them by daily contrition and repentance.  It means daily fleeing to Jesus for hope and comfort.
     Confessing Christ means a cross.  It means participating in the death of Christ as you receive his body and blood.  It means being bathed in his blood through holy baptism.  It means returning to your baptism in contrition and repentance, in confession and absolution.  It means dying and rising every day.  It means that all things begin and end with Jesus.
     These things are not optional.  They are necessary for salvation.  The cross is how Jesus won your salvation.  The word and sacraments are where he administers his salvation.  Your cross shows you how much you need these.  Flee to Jesus for your salvation.  Cling to him who clung to the cross to redeem you.  You are in Christ.  For now, that means the cross.  But soon, it results in everlasting glory.  For the resurrection and heavenly glory come through the cross. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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