Monday, March 5, 2012

Lent 2 Sermon: "What's Your Name?"

+ Lent 2 – March 4th, 2012 +
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

             Before Father Abraham had many sons…he had one. They called him Ishmael. Power, riches and strength would all be his. But there was one problem; Ishmael was not the son promised by God to Abraham and Sarah even though they tried to matters into their own hands. Ishmael was not the child through whom God would fulfill his promise to make Abraham’s descendants rival the stars in number; nor was he the child through whom God would reveal his everlasting covenant. The Lord wasn’t done making good on His promises to Abraham.
            That’s why the Lord renames him: Abram to Abraham. One little Hebrew letter makes all the difference. Abram’s name goes from “marvelous father” to Abraham, “father of a multitude.” This was no mid-life identity crisis or stage-name. God renamed Abraham because of his promise to him. God declares his promise to Abraham again and gives him a new name. That’s how God works: name and promise go together.
            Biblical Names always mean something; they tell us who the person is; what they do. Eve = mother of all living. Ishmael = God hears. Isaac = he laughs. Abraham = father of a multitude. Even, Jesus = the Lord saves.

            Through God’s promise, Abraham lived up to his name, and so did Jesus. Jesus does what his name says. His name is important. That’s why he asks the disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” It’s an important question. How you answer it reveals a lot about who you are and what you believe in.     

            So, what’s the answer? Is Jesus a prophet? Good moral-teaching Jesus, quick with the wit and a wise pithy platitude? You don’t need Jesus for that. You can read Plato or Aristotle or watch Dr. Phil.
            Or you maybe you’re ashamed of Jesus? Embarrassed about his cross like teenagers are with their parents? Don’t want to talk about sin and death and suffering? Jesus does.
           “Who do you say that I am?” The question is just as important today as it was then. For Jesus says,  “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

            Say you’re drowning out in the middle of the ocean…do you need Michael Phelps to come and tell you to swim faster – Stroke! Stroke! Or do you need a big orange rescue helicopter? Rescue of course.
            When it comes to sin and death, heaven and hell, do you need a wise guy, a guru or a coach to tell you how to work your way into heaven?  Or do you need a Savior to pull you out of sin and death by dying in your place? Jesus couldn’t be clearer: you need rescue. And he came to rescue you.

            Whatever you think Christianity is – if it’s not about what Jesus says here; if this Son of Man, His suffering, dying and rising isn’t central - then it’s not Christianity. Sure, people will say they’re “religious” or “spiritual” or whatever. But Christianity is a spirituality of the cross, a religion where righteousness is given to you in the shed blood of Jesus. Christianity is about Christ Crucified for you. Any other Jesus is just a cheap-knock off. Don’t be fooled by labels or fads.
            Jesus didn’t come to earth to give you a manifesto for an earthly utopia; he doesn’t give you an eight-fold path, 5 pillars to follow or a list of rules to get you into heaven. He gives you a new name and a promise – just like Abraham. And he gives you a confession – just like Peter:
            “Who do you say that I am?” You are the Christ. The suffering-dying-and-rising-for-the-sin-of-the-world Christ. He goes to the cross for Abraham, for Peter and for you and for all.
            There were many blessings that God gave to Abraham and through Abraham – and many sons had Father Abraham – but none were as important as the One speaking to us in today’s Gospel. “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.”                  

            Jesus doesn’t do this for his own sake. Jesus is born into Abraham’s family tree in order to graft us into His. Jesus does all of this for you. Jesus doesn’t need rescue. But you do. For you were in need of a name change too; your old name - Son of Adam…rebel, sinner – has to be changed.

            Of course that doesn’t stop you from doing all that you can to cover up your guilt and shame. We may be skilled craftsmen when it comes to covering up our sin in public – even less so with those closest to us – but certainly not our Lord. The fig leaves didn’t work for Adam and Eve. And they won’t work for you either.           
            We’re a lot like Peter’s not-so-better-half: Enough of this depressing, talk…there’s a kingdom to build; no one wants a crucified Messiah, Jesus. Our old sinful flesh is a theologian of glory, power, success…what’s in it for me? We set our eyes on the things of men.
            And we ignore the things of God. Forget the suffering. Forget the cross. Forget others. Mercy to those in need? They’re not paying customers. They don’t dress, act, talk or smell like us.        
            And repentance for sinners? “Well, Pastor, you should hear what that other guy did – at least I’m not as bad off as that other sinner over there.”
            Repent. Look in the mirror. Don’t you see? We’re a lot like Peter: so bold, so sincere, so wrong…we confess our Lord’s name one minute and deny it the next.
Thank God the church is for hypocrites like you and me. Thank God Jesus comes to dwell among sinners. Thank God for Lent – for confession and absolution applied to individual sinners in need. Thank God for Christ Crucified. For while we were still weak – still rebels, still sinners, still hypocrites – at the right time, at the Good Friday time, Christ died for the ungodly. Christ died for you. God shows his love for us in this, that while we were still denying Peters and laughing Abrahams and dead sinners, Christ died for us.
                        Abraham isn’t the only one who gets a new name. That everlasting covenant God made with Abraham in former years has come to fulfillment through Isaac to Abraham’s greatest Son and Abraham’s Lord, Jesus Christ the Crucified.

            What an amazing turn of events. The God, who makes a promise on his own life, lays down his life for you. He withholds nothing from you, not even his Son, his only Son. Jesus loses his life for your sake and in his death you live.
            The God who gave Abraham a new name takes a name for himself: Jesus – Savior – and he lives up to – or rather dies, living up to – his name. His Name is Jesus, for he saves you from your sin. And in Jesus, you get a new name too. For his name and promise always go together.
            Your name tag no longer says, “Hello my name is sinner.” Now you boast in Christ Crucified: “Hello, my name is Baptized. Holy. Saint. God’s own child.” For where Jesus’ name is placed there his promise is for you. And there you confess his name and cross before men.
            Once you’ve got Jesus’ question right – “who do you say that I am?” – there’s still one more question you can answer with the utmost certainty: “Who does Jesus say that I am?”
            You are reconciled to God in Christ Jesus. You are no longer enemies with God. You are baptized. The cross of Jesus is placed over your life. You have a new name with his promise. That’s what it means to be a disciple, a follower, a Christian – you are never without the cross of Jesus. So, confess that saving Name boldly. Boast in Christ Crucified to anyone with ears.
            For in the cross of Jesus, God is never ashamed of you.  You are his children, heirs to an everlasting covenant – the oath he swore to our father Abraham – given to you in the flesh and blood of Jesus. You are Washed in the waters of everlasting covenant. You are Absolved with the words of the everlasting covenant. You are Fed and nourished with the everlasting covenant in Jesus’ blood. You are loved. You are forgiven. You have a new name. The Lord has made good on his promise.

                        In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

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