Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pentecost 12 Sermon: "The Way of the Cross is the Way of Life"

+ Pentecost 12 – August 31st, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A, Proper 17: Jeremiah 15:15-21; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

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

What does the Christian life look like? If you had to draw a picture of your life in Christ in order to describe it to a friend or someone who couldn’t read, what would you draw?

Some might draw a ladder. The Christian life is a climb, a hike, rung after rung; onward and upward. Or better yet, for all the rock n’ roll fans out there, maybe the Christian life is like a stairway to heaven and once you’ve lived the right way, said the right things, and done right by others, well, you too could be knockin’ on heaven’s door. But then again, how would you ever really know if you had climbed the ladder high enough or marched up the stairs to the right floor?

Get behind me, Satan…For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

Maybe instead you could draw a scale, like in the pictures of lady justice: you put your good works on one side and your sins on the other and cross your fingers and hope the scales tip in your favor. But think about that for a moment. Do you really want your sin and good works measured to see which one wins out?

Get behind me, Satan…For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

Ok, fine, away with the ladders and scales. Time to get serious and bring out the exercise equipment. Maybe the Christian life is like a gym or a set of weights. Bulk up your prayers, do some spiritual weight lifting, and get ready to plant a round-house kick in Satan’s face. Don’t want any flabby, weak Christians here. But really, whose strength in the Christian life matters most, yours or Jesus’?

Get behind me, Satan…For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

As we heard last week, Jesus isn’t your BFF, your Bestie, or your Homeboy. He’s not your Sherpa, guiding you up the stairway to heaven. He’s not your cosmic grocery clerk, measuring out what you owe according to what you’ve done. And he’s not your divine personal trainer, coaching you into a perfect spiritual specimen.

Jesus is your Savior. He suffers for you. Bleeds for you. Jesus climbs up the ladder of the cross for you. Jesus tips the scales in your favor by pouring out his holy, precious blood for you. His death outweighs all your sin. Jesus carries the weight of your guilt, sin, and death until it crushes him, all for you.

This is what Christ’s life looked like:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

That’s the shape of Jesus’ life for you. The way of the cross is the way of life for you.

But Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.

Peter and the disciples seem to have every expectation of what the Messiah should do except the right one. “Are you out of your mind, Jesus? Suffer, die, rise. Are you kidding? That’s the last thing in the world that the Messiah should do. You need to start flexing your divine muscle. You’re the Christ, the Son of the living God. Messiah’s don’t suffer; they end suffering. No one’s going to buy that. We’ve left everything to follow you. Everything! The family business, our homes, our friends. People are going to think we’re crazy. So no more talk like that, Jesus! Not another word about suffering, dying, and rising.”

Peter had one thing right. It would be easier if Jesus avoided the cross. It would’ve been easier to skip the betrayal and escape from the soldiers as they marched into Gethsemane. It would’ve been easier to wash his hands of everything as Pilate had done and get down off his cross and walk away. But Jesus loves you too much to take the easy way out. He loves you enough to stay on the cross.

But we think a lot like Peter. Lord, give us the easy way out too. It would be easier to preach a Christianity without Christ. It’s easy to tell your neighbor. Easy to live as a disciple without the whole: “deny yourself; take up your cross and follow me” bit.

We avoid Jesus’ cross because we avoid sin. We’re all in denial like Peter. We deny our sin. “I could be worse,” we tell ourselves. We deny that our sin has consequences – for ourselves and others. “It’s not that bad” we say. But it is. There’s no victimless sin. There’s no small sin. We’re deniers. We deny Jesus with our heartless words to others. We deny him when we fail to point others to the cross. We deny him in thought, word, and deed. There’s no easy way out of guilt, sin, and death. The only way out is Jesus’ way: the cross. Death and resurrection. There is no life apart from the cross.

The Way of the Cross is the Way of Life.

Jesus wasn’t just talking about himself in this little exchange. He’s talking about you too.

“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.

What does your life in Christ look like? Jesus’ cross. The shape of your life in Christ is the cross. This is what it means to be a disciple.

A disciple is a follower. One who follows another. Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t so much about attending Jesus school. It’s about suffering, dying and rising. It’s about denying one’s self and confessing Christ. It’s about losing in order to win, dying in order to live. It’s about holding everything in this life with the open, dead hand of faith, to be dead to Sin but alive to God in Christ.

This is what happens to each of us in Baptism. In Holy Baptism you were given the cross, upon your forehead, over your heart. Jesus’ death and resurrection was poured over your head. You were washed in his redemption. You are marked by his cross – and that’s a good thing.

To follow Jesus is to be baptized into His death and life, to be joined to Him by Baptism in His suffering, death and resurrection. Your suffering and death can’t save you. They are the just wages of Sin. They are what Sin pays out in you. There’s no life there. But Jesus’ suffering and death give you resurrection and life.

The Way of the cross is the way of life…for you.

In Baptism you were joined to Jesus’ suffering. His wounds are now your wounds for your healing. In Baptism you were joined to Jesus’ death. His death atones for your sins. Jesus was denied by the Father for all our denials of him. Jesus took up your cross so that you could follow him through death into life. In Baptism you were given a new mind, the mind of Christ, set on the things of God not on the things of man. In Baptism you are made a disciple, a follower of Jesus.

This is what your life in Christ look like as one who is baptized and crucified with Christ. It looks like the cross.

Jesus cross upon you in Baptism. Jesus’ cross coming to you in words of forgiveness. Jesus’ cross coming to you with his flesh and blood to sustain your flesh and blood. Jesus’ cross upon your lips as you confess Christ to your neighbor. Jesus’ cross as you daily deny yourself and follow where Jesus leads, to the friend next door you invite to church and bible class; to the co-worker grieving the death of a loved one who needs the word of comfort you received this Sunday; to the family member, friend, or fellow Christian who is aching for reconciliation; to those in need of food or clothing; to single man or woman, to the widow or widower you invite over for dinner; to whomever our Lord places in your life.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

This is how we love our neighbor for this is how God in Christ loves us.

We follow where Jesus leads us: to the cross and to new life in his resurrection.

For the Way of the Cross is the Way of Life.

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


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