Monday, August 29, 2011

Jesus: The Biggest Loser

 11th Sunday after Pentecost – August 28th, 2011
Matthew 16:21-28
Grace Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ + Amen.

No one likes losing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a job, a ballgame, a barroom brawl or even Human Foosball. The runner up doesn’t pat himself on the back: “job well done!” He may be a good sport in front of the camera, smile and congratulate the victor, but inside he hates losing and secretly hungers for victory. You see, we follow the Ricky Bobby playbook: if you’re not first, you’re last. Those are the ways of man.
            But not the ways of God. When it comes to fighting, with and for His people, God is the biggest, and the happiest, loser. For when God loses, we win; and when we win, God wins. He who is first for our sakes, became last – Jesus was made man.

            Jesus turns the world upside down. No cross, no glory. No death, no resurrection. Good Friday must come before Easter. And if you try to save your life on your own terms you’ll lose it forever. If you lose your life for Jesus’ sake you’ll find it. That’s the paradox of the Gospel. The cross is Christ’s glory and yours. Losing is living. Dying is life. No wonder Jesus’ words are so shocking.
            Last week Peter got it right: “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.” Up until now, everything had been easy. Schooling the Pharisees. Miracles. Healing. Kicking demon butt, walking on water and stilling storms. Who wouldn’t follow Jesus? The crowds flocked to him. And so would we.
            We love this kind of stuff. Power, prestige, ecstasy and crowds. That’s the kind of stuff that draws a crowd on Sunday – power and majesty and glory. That’s the stuff of religion.  It’s attractive, seductive – like a drug - we always want more until it kills us. No suffering, sin or death – not a cross in sight. No pain, only pleasure. No losing your life to save it. That kind of talk will only get you killed. That’s for losers.

            This week Peter gets it all wrong. Suffering and dying didn’t fit into his plans for Jesus. “Far be it from you Lord, this will surely not be you.” “Jesus, reasonable, respectable Messiah’s don’t go off to die. That’s no way to boost membership or pack the hillsides. You won’t be very successful or famous with all this killing and suffering language. No one likes a loser, Jesus.”
            And isn’t that the way of sinful man? We always think we know best what God should do and how He should do it. But honestly, Peter’s way is easy. Pretty up the confession with a precious moments Jesus: group hugs and everyone gets along. Lighten up the liturgy with feel-good music and culturally sensitive language. You know, something more popular or palatable and pretty. Proclaim a bloodless Christianity, a Christ without suffering, a cross without a crucifixion – or better yet, no cross at all. Power, riches and your best life now all you need is more faith or a better attitude.
            This is the broad and easy way: Easy to preach. Easy to tell your neighbors. And even easier to live. But this is no Gospel. There is no life there. That’s the way of destruction, Satan’s deceptive brand of “good news,” where everything which appeared to be good is a trap and a lie, like Edmund and the White Witch’s Turkish delight.

            So, Jesus says the only thing you can say to the devil. He rebukes him: “Get behind me, Satan.”  That was the problem. Peter’s words were Satan’s words. The devil tried this trick before in the wilderness. “Turn stones into bread, jump off the temple. No one will ever know, Jesus. Power and prestige, majesty and glory – you can have it all. Just avoid the cross; give in; bow down and worship me.”
            Subversion. Lies. Temptation. Satan doesn’t want Jesus anywhere near the cross.  Because as soon as Jesus utters the words: “It is finished.” So is Satan’s kingdom. Jesus’ death is death’s undoing. The Law is silenced. Sin is atoned for. Hell is vanquished. The devil is conquered. Satan’s tricks didn’t work in the wilderness and it didn’t work here either.
            Despite himself Peter’s best laid plans failed. Jesus had a better plan in mind: the cross. For himself and his disciples and you.

             “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 will find it.”
            Life would’ve been much easier if Jesus was talking about a figurative cross and not the real thing. Wouldn’t that be convenient? Monday through Saturday we could carry on with our lives and come Sunday morning set aside an hour or so of spiritual self-denial and then we’re off again to our regular lives.
            Thankfully Jesus didn’t bear a figurative cross but a real one because you don’t have figurative sins but real ones. And thank God we – like Peter – don’t get our way. What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his body and soul? What can a man give in return? Nothing. That’s exactly the way God would have it. You give him nothing. You give Him your sin, your death, your condemnation and he gives you His righteousness, His life, His salvation.

That’s what this is all about. “Jesus began to show his disciples that it is necessary for him to suffer many things, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priest and the scribes, and to be killed and on the third day raised from the dead.” So in a way, you can understand why Peter tried to get in Jesus’ way. No one wants to see the one you love suffer. But that’s precisely why it was necessary for Jesus to go to Jerusalem. To suffer and die for you, the ones he loves. You do not suffer alone. You don’t bear the cross alone. Even Jesus needed Simon of Cyrene. In the cross of Christ, you are never alone.

            Here, O Sinner, is your life. God would have it no other way. It is necessary. That is love. The kind of love that will not leave Jeremiah abandoned in despair; that will not leave the children of Israel enslaved in Egypt; that will not leave sons of Adam and daughters of Eve unclothed, unforgiven and outside of Paradise. His love knows no other way than rescue. Christ will not put himself first, but you. He lives for you the same way He dies for you: perfectly, lovingly, mercifully.  Nothing but the cross will do for Jesus, or for you.
            And to do this He must lose. He must suffer many things and suffer them all for you. Bring on the sweat like blood, the sting of vinegar on parched lips. Bring on the hands that bind, hands that slap, hands that nail, hands that bury. Bring on the lies of the priest, the mocking crowds, the silence of heaven. When God loses you win. For the joy set before him he endures it all for you. Let him be rejected, for in his rejection is your acceptance before the Father. Let Him pour out His blood in anguish so you can drink it here in joyful pardon and peace. Let him be killed, for his death is your life. Let him be buried for in that tomb death’s grip on you is broken. Let him lose his life so that you are found in Him. That’s the power of Jesus’ love. Losing to win. Dying to live. Suffering for your glory. That’s Jesus way of things in your Baptism, in Absolution in the Supper and in your daily life.

            Jesus redefines our life with his own cross. Jesus makes his cruciform love the very pattern of our lives.
            "Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow me." Sounds like marching orders, doesn't it? Stuff to do to be saved. Or is it? What sort of things to do are we talking about? Deny yourself - become nothing. Take up your cross - drop dead. That's what crosses do, they kill. Follow me. Where? Where Jesus leads - through death and resurrection to eternal life. It's not about your self-improvement, your self-help or even yourself at all, this is no rehab for sinners. It's about dying and rising.
            That’s your life before God. That’s your life before the neighbor. Christians are professional losers. Daily. It’s rarely glorifying, hardly prestigious – we’re not even guaranteed success – at least the way the world counts it. Jesus works under the cross. His church is no different. Our whole life –meetings, work in the community, Bible studies, congregational life together – it all works the same way: the cross. Cruciform mercy, love, prayer, study, cruciform lives.           
            You see, you don’t suffer, bear a cross and then earn your disciple merit badge. It’s the other way around. You suffer, you bear the cross, you serve the neighbor because you are a Baptized child of God, a disciple. Christian love loses itself in the neighbor. That’s living. Losing your life one day at a time as you raise children, care for the elderly, feed the hungry, serve your church and live in the vocations God has called you. For the cross you bear is not your own it is Jesus’. And he bore it for you.

It’s good to be a loser after all. In Christ, losing is winning. Dying is living and Jesus Crucified is our greatest glory.

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

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