Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sermon -- Festival of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29, 2014)

MARK 8:27-35

In the name + of Jesus.

     “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)  Jesus asked this of his apostles.  Peter, as he was accustomed to do, spoke up first and spoke for them all: “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29)  And he was right.  St. Matthew recorded words of praise from Jesus: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)  Peter did not invent any belief about Jesus.  God revealed who Jesus was, and Peter simply confessed what God had made known to the apostles.
     St. Paul took quite a different road to this confession.  Paul was convinced that Jesus was a name that should be suppressed and stomped out.  He oversaw the organized persecution against all who bore the name of Jesus.  That does not mean Paul was a godless man.  Far from it!  Paul had years of extensive training in the schools of the rabbis and theologians.  Paul knew his Old Testament better than most.  Paul knew the Lord—or so he thought.  On his way to Damascus to round up more Christians, the Lord Jesus appeared to Paul.  Falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  And he said, “Who are you Lord”? (Acts 9:4-5)  Though Paul knew it was the Lord who was appearing to him, he did not know the Lord.  Paul was rocked to his core when he heard the reply from heaven: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:5)  While it is quite possibly the most unusual conversion in the history of the world, it was a true conversion.  The staunch enemy and persecutor of Jesus was changed.  No longer did Paul want to snuff out the name of Jesus.  Now he would confess it and preach it.
     You might marvel at the conversion of St. Paul.  You might wish you could hear Jesus’ commendation of Peter, “Blessed are you!”  But your own conversion was no less miraculous.  The Lord has rescued you from your sinful condition.  No longer are you dead in sin and at home in your sins.  Sin no longer has its claim on you.  You have been branded with a new name.  Now, you bear the name of Jesus.  And if you are marked with the name of Jesus, that means you have received all his benefits.  You have been washed in the blood of Jesus which has cleansed you of every spot of guilt before God.  You have had your name written in the Book of Life.  Jesus has conquered death and the grave.  He has opened heaven and ascended there.  Since you are marked with Jesus’ name, his things are your things.  You, too, are victors over death and the grave.  You, too, will receive the resurrection to eternal life.  Sin, death, the grave, and the devil have no claims on you.  Jesus has marked you.  And therefore, you are saved.
     Peter confessed, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29)  St. Paul later wrote, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)  These apostles rejoiced in this good news, just as you do.  But these apostles also learned that bearing the name of Christ means bearing a cross.  That was certainly true for Jesus, who is the Christ.  Immediately after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus explained what it means that he is the Christ.  He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And he said this plainly. (Mark 8:31-32)  Jesus is the Christ.  That meant a cross.  It meant that Jesus would willingly suffer and die to win your forgiveness and that he would rise from the grave to guarantee your everlasting salvation.  Being the Christ means he comes to save you.
     But then Jesus went on to let you know that he who bears Christ’s name shall also bear a cross.  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) 
     St. Peter and St. Paul both learned that they would bear a cross for bearing the name of Christ.  Both had to learn it the hard way.  Peter had tried to save his life in the courtyard of the Sanhedrin.  When asked if he was one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter denied it.  He renounced the name of Christ, hoping to save himself by doing so.  But doing so put Peter outside of the grace of God, outside of the refuge in death, and outside of the hope of eternal life.  Peter, of course, repented of his denials.  Later, after years of preaching that Jesus is our only hope, Peter was led away to his execution.  Tradition says that Peter was led to a cross where he would be crucified for the name of Jesus.  This time, Peter did not renounce the name of Jesus.  He died for it.  When Peter was brought to his cross, he refused to die in the same manner of his Lord.  The Roman executors obliged.  Peter was crucified upside down.  He who bore the name of Christ not only bore a cross, he even died on one.
     St. Paul also learned that bearing the name of Christ means bearing a cross.  Paul was often beaten, imprisoned, rejected, and chased out of town.  It was not for conning people or embezzling money.  It was for preaching and confessing Christ crucified.  After years of preaching and traveling, St. Paul was arrested and sentenced to death for his preaching.  If he had renounced the name of Jesus, he could have walked free.  He could have saved his life.  But in doing so, he would also have lost out on forgiveness, peace, and the resurrection to everlasting life.  The same Paul who at one point had been eager to kill those who bore the name of Christ was now ready to die for that name.  Tradition says that he lost his life by being beheaded.  God’s promises say that he lost nothing, but will rise from his grave to life everlasting.
     But Jesus’ words are not just for his apostles.  St. Mark records: And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)  It is not a select few who are asked to bear a cross.  It is everyone who bears the name of Christ who will bear a cross.  That doesn’t mean you will be martyred like Peter and Paul were.  But it does mean that you put your sins to death by daily contrition and repentance.  Bearing the name of Christ results in a new life in which you are set apart from a world that is still dead in sin and at home with their sins.  And if you are set apart from the world, it will be evident in your words and lives.  That will mean enduring the mockery of friends who think you are silly for taking Jesus seriously.  It means, in spite of mockery, that you will continue in your confession and come to church to hear your Lord’s word, to partake in his feast, and to receive blessing in his name.  It means that you will pray for those who ridicule you and have mercy on those who sin against you.  Bearing the name of Christ means that you will be Christ-like in all of your dealings with people—knowing that some will love you for it, and others will hate you for it.
     He who bears Christ’s name bears a cross.  It is nothing that your sinful flesh wants a part of.  The cross is for putting things to death, and your sinful flesh does not want to die.  Your sinful flesh does not want to give up anything.  But whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake and for the gospel’s sake does not lose anything of value.  Instead, you are marked with the name of Jesus.  God knows that you are his.  Jesus confesses about you: “Blessed are you; for you are mine.  I have redeemed you.  I have borne your sins and paid for them.  I have covered you in my righteousness; you are blameless.  I have delivered you from every evil so that you can live and die without fear.”
     Though you will bear a cross for the sake of Jesus, you also bear his name.  He is not ashamed to be called your Savior, and you will never be put to shame if you are his.  You may be mocked.  You may be rejected.  But you will never be put to shame.  You bear the name of Jesus, and that is the name that saves you.

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