Sunday, August 31, 2014

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Matthew 16:22
Theme: Not My Messiah

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Life is as precarious as it is precious. The devil knows this. He is not an idiot. His arguments always have some appeal. He understands sinful human nature very, very well. His lies are woven with half-truths. He targets our vulnerabilities. He plays on our fears. His goal is always to get us to question the promises of God. He knows how precious the things of the world are to us and so he uses that as his angle to discount the blessings of Christ’s kingdom.

Today Satan targets the church’s leadership. Peter struggled to deal with the fact that his own salvation meant that Jesus would have to die. That’s not the type of Messiah he envisioned. It was not a light-hearted exchange of words when Peter rebuked Jesus and then Christ turned to him and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”1 What exactly did Peter have in mind? Only he and Jesus know for sure. But it certainly wasn’t God’s plan. Peter was vehemently opposed to the idea of Jesus’ death. It didn’t fit His understanding of how his Master should constitute a kingdom. Peter was struggling to give up a worldly way of thinking.

We’re not so different from Peter. We have our own ideas about the Messiah. We too like to have God on our terms. Our natural frame of reference is hopelessly self-focused. We often make contingency plans that show we don’t fully trust in God’s promises. Like the young man who went to the jeweler to have a ring engraved. He told the jeweler he wanted the words, “William, to his dearest Susan” engraved on the inside of the ring. The jeweler asked if Susan was his sister. “No; she is my fiancĂ©e.” Well, if I were you he said, I wouldn’t use those words because if Susan changes her mind you can’t use this ring again. “What would you suggest,” the man asked. The jeweler said, “I would suggest ‘William, to his first and only love,’ you see with that you can use the ring a half a dozen times.”

As sinners we will always be prone to making contingency plans without God’s advice. For this we are called to repentance. Today Jesus reduces the matter to the essential question: Do we believe life with God is better than life of our own making? Does God value your life? The question is not, “Does God value life?”, but, “Do your believe God values your life?” We find the answer not by searching our hearts but by looking to His promises. You are His baptized child. The Scripture says, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”2 That is the beginning and end of the matter. Jesus places a valuation on you in His own death.

There is no way to have Christ, or God, or heaven, or salvation on our own terms. Did you rob Satan of His power? Did you close the jaws of hell? Did you put demons and darkness to flight? Did you suffer the punishment for the sins of the human race? Are you able to stare down death? Can you name the terms of Satan’s surrender? Of entry into heaven? Can you name the terms for appeasing God’s wrath? The only terms that matter are a cross and resurrection. In these events our lives are given infinite value.

A Christian must become lost in the way of self and found in the grace of Christ. The two modes of existence are mutually exclusive and so that’s exactly where the struggle lies; where the rubber meets the road. The proof of faith is the struggle against sin; the struggle of obedience. When the struggle ceases either faith has been lost or immortality has been realized. That is, either the Holy Spirit has been driven away by persistent denial of the need for repentance, or our journey in this body and life has ended.

The baptismal life is a life of cross-bearing. It is a life that suffers with those who suffer but rejoices with those who rejoice. Believers are knit together as one communion of faith and as such all participate in the common blessings of God in Christ. “We who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”3 There is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”4 The fruits of faith follow accordingly. The apostle says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”5

Dear friends, it’s not the mission of the church to go out into the world with religious options for consideration. It’s not our aim to just provide food for thought while people form their own opinions. Least of all is it helpful to go out with a message marked by uncertainty, confusion, and apathy. The world may be full of people who know very little about Christian truth, but they are very discerning and perceptive about whether that truth is proclaimed and lived with integrity, clarity, and conviction. It’s easy to spot people who don’t really believe what they are saying. It’s easy to identify those who are just trying to sell you something.

Today the proclamation of Christianity is often marked by confusion and contradiction. Think of the mixed messages that are given. Does the church believe God created the universe or did biological organisms evolve under their own power? Does the church teach the Bible’s doctrine of sin and all its consequences or is that all a matter of human opinion? Is a conviction about Satan and hell lacking? Does the church teach the sanctity of marriage warning against the dangers of all types of sexual immorality including homosexuality? Does the church believe in the sanctity of life, supporting the safety of the unborn and the dignity of the elderly? Is Christ seen as the sole and sufficient means of salvation or is our contribution required? Does the church stand on the authority of the Scriptures or human consensus? These are serious questions and challenges.

But a great opportunity lies before us. We can’t control the half-truths that other people promote but we can be faithful. The gospel doesn’t need to be dressed up to make it more appealing. The gospel has the power of transformation. The Holy Spirit provides a timeless message, rich and relevant and presented in various ways throughout the breadth and depth of Scripture. Today Jesus asks, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”6 The answer is not a mystery.

Life is precarious. But that doesn’t mean that for the believer everything hangs in the balance. The work of Christ has been weighed on the scales of divine measurement and has not been found wanting. The inestimable value of His life-given in sacrifice- is the sufficient ransom price for the accumulated sins of humanity. It was the payment for your sins and mine. The Scripture says, “You were redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ.”7 Life is precious and God will never allow the repentant believer to come to eternal ruin. Satan has his “little day” and so does our earthly journey, but Christ owns eternity. He is our Messiah. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Matthew 16:23 2 Romans 6:3 3 1 Corinthians 10:17
4 Ephesians 4:5 5 Romans 12:12-13 6 Matthew 16:26
7 1 Peter 1:18-19

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
31 August 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt