Sermon for the 13th Sunday after the feast of Pentecost - Matthew 16:21-28
Jesus is Jesus. That is who he is, and that is who he will be. He has no time for someone to recast him as someone else. He has no time for politicians to use him for their latest campaign. He has no time for his disciples to get in the way of his work as preacher, as crucified Savior, as Son of God made flesh for you. He has no time for all the hemming and hawing over what just might be the right interpretation. He lays it out their for us here and now – You say ‘I am the Christ, the Son of the Living God?’ Well let me tell you about me. Let me tell you what that means. What it looks like. What sort of impact I will have on you. On your heart. On your soul. On your sin. I am the Christ, but not the kind of Christ you think you need, or the kind you want. No matter. Jesus is Jesus for you, and that is all he can do or be. for you.
So much is out there in life to compete with Jesus. I’m not talking just about our attention spans either. Not talking about where we put our focus. I’m talking about where we think redemption comes from. How we think or want our God to work for us. The things we think we need to do for ourselves or that our God won’t do. The burdens we carry around thinking that if we hold them long enough, we’ll be worthy of something. Anything. Things we need to atone for or be punished for, losing Jesus within our own self-importance. Giving us a Christ-less cross.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. A majority of people still believe that somewhere in the Bible it says – God helps those who help themselves. It doesn’t. As though God is waiting for us to show some initiative, when in fact it is the exact opposite. Jesus being absolutely countercultural. Turning against the culture that seeks the go-getter or those who will work their darndest, and living instead against those cultures, helping us when we finally can do nothing, and need a crucified, dead Jesus who is risen and lives forever.
These texts from our lessons this morning seem rather timely. With a hurricane hitting Texas, we have pastors thinking that somehow it is God’s wrath being poured out on sinners in Houston, preaching that from the pulpit. Don’t listen to them. Please.
A college professor called Hurricane Harvey karma for Texas voting Republican saying – Hopefully this (i.e. - the hurricane) will help them realize the GOP doesn’t care about you. As though somehow a political party controls the weather.
Both not wanting a Jesus who dies for enemies, who dies for you, who dies for the person you don’t like so much. We replace this Jesus for a hurricane that devastates whole cities because someone didn’t vote the right way.
With all this that I read and hear in these lessons, seeing myself there, I have come to grips with the fact that I am Peter. Reading of this Christ who actually is a dying Jesus, the Jesus who is confessed as Christ, making his way to Jerusalem and Calvary and I want to do everything I can not to have him on that cross. I turn him into whatever I want him to be as long as it doesn’t involve sin, death, resurrection. Pulling him down from Calvary, expecting him to win in some other way than sacrifice for all those who despise him for it. But he just keeps crawling back up there because that is what this Messiah is supposed to do.
Peter is that shaky rock. Last week we have Peter praised and renamed for confessing that article of faith – do you remember? Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ. The Son of the living God. And now, this Christ makes himself known to the disciples.
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
And Peter? Come on now Jesus. That ain’t you. No going to die. You are going to reign. We are going to put on our black hoods and masks, or pick up our flags and tiki torches, and enter Jerusalem and beat out all the Roman Nazis or Pharisaical commies there and you are going to take your place as the Messiah. No dying Jesus. No cross. You say you will rise again, but I’m no dumby. Dead men don’t come back to life, Jesus. You are the Christ, but not that kind of Christ. I don’t want a dying Christ. A Christ that loses. We’re supposed to be winners. Our side is supposed to win. Punch ‘em in the face, Jesus. Let’s go.
But what do we hear – Get thee behind me, Satan.
If we get the cross wrong, we get Jesus wrong. If we get Jesus wrong, we get the Gospel wrong. If we get the Gospel wrong, all hope is gone. We lose our redemption, our resurrection, the victory over our own sinfulness and decaying bodies.
But that is so easy to do, because I always think more of myself than I ought. I look at the world and I think, at least I’m not him or her. I look at my own virtue and think I take precedence over others because of how charitable I am. What party I affiliate to. That whole, “deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me” becomes a litmus test. Looking around and judging one another on how nice we think we are. How tolerant we are. How much we supposedly love others. How big of a cross we carry. Making the way we deny ourselves the cross and not the cross itself. Losing the Jesus of Calvary, making my own morality as what it is Peter does here, barring the way of redemption with my own foolishness.
Christ isn’t speaking to your neighbor here. This isn’t one of those “I sure wish so-and-so were here to hear this” type of a sermon. He is speaking to you. He is speaking to me. Telling us of this work of grace in his Gospel. This work of grace in his cross. The good news of death and resurrection. The good news of a dying Jesus who wins by losing. Who goes to the cross for the sake of you. Who comes to you and paints the picture of what the gospel life looks like by telling you to cling to the cross. Cling to it.
We can wake up every morning and say – Ok God, I am going to do better today. Then you get cutoff in traffic, stub your toe, burn your breakfast, are late for work, hear bad news from the doctor, and God-knows what else. So we go to bed, wake up, and say – OK God, I am going to do better today. Today I’ll win and it starts all over again. Then Christ comes to you, reminds you of your baptism. Reminds you that you have died and been raised. You were drowned, brought to your execution, and now you live in Christ. Needing that dying Jesus everyday because only his hands are strong enough to pick up that cross for you. To put your ego to death. To take all your sin and bury it in the grave and raise you from the dead.
It is in Christ that the cross-carrying happens. If we seek a Christ-less cross, it makes the cross too easy to carry. No dead Jesus upon whom all our sins and death hung. A dead Jesus whose body has been broken and blood shed for your forgiveness. When the time comes to pick up our own cross, we need our Jesus there. Our Jesus bearing all the weight of that tree that we might lean on him and his benefits, not on us or the works of our neighbors. Just a dead Jesus, who leaves behind an empty tomb for you. Who bears the cross for you. Who puts you to death that you might live. Thanks be to God. Amen