Saving and Losing (Proper 17A – Pentecost 11, 2011)

Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rocklin, California
Proper 17A
Matthew 16:21-28
August 28, 2011

For an audio of this sermon, LS110047a

Title: “Saving and Losing”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our text for this morning is taken from St. Matthew, chapter sixteen. We focus on the words of our Lord, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

What a great text for a first Sunday as a new pastor! Last Sunday we had Peter’s great confession of faith, and we were blessed with not one, but two sermons on it. You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Peter’s great confession was a gift from God, as faith always flows from God.

But it didn’t last, did it? It is literally right after Peter’s great confession that Jesus sets His face toward Jerusalem. We move from who He is, Christ, to what He has come to do. He has come to be betrayed, to suffer, and to die in the hands of sinful men. He began to show them what was what. He began to give them the picture of what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus. It meant betrayal and suffering. It meant loss and yes, it even meant death.

This is the part of the Christian life that is hard for us. It’s easy at big services like last Sunday, with the excitement of new beginnings, to see the joy of the Christian life. Like the disciples at the Transfiguration, we can look up at the vision and say in effect, “Ok, just like that. That’s what I want. That is the Christianity for me. Happiness and glory. All the time.” Click. That’s the picture I want. Right there.

Here at Holy Cross, it is easy to fall into delusions of grandeur. Now that the new pastor is here, we will have 300 people on a Sunday! All of our problems will be solved. Money worries will fade away. There will be no more conflicts, ever. Strong personalities will suddenly be imbued with peace and joy. Everyone will love every hymn, the committees will be full with a waiting list. Even the elevator will pay for itself! Whew! That’s a relief.

What’s more, that is the life we want for ourselves. Nobody wants suffering in their lives. Nobody wants to think about serving our neighbor in mercy, especially if no one is going to give you credit for it. We all want things to be our way. We want there to be money, friends, the perfect house, the well behaved family. Everything in just the right place and at just the right time. That’s the life for me. Click. The perfect image for the victorious life.

So you can picture Peter at this point, can’t you? Jesus began to tell them what was coming, and so Peter begins to rebuke or correct our Lord. Can’t you see it in your mind’s eye? “Uh, Jesus, come over here. You know, you’re God, right? Well, we don’t have to do all of this suffering and dying stuff. That is so Old Testament. So can we just skip to the good parts, please? Thanks very much.”

In Lutheran terms, we would call that a theology of glory. I want the glory and not the cross. I want the empty tomb but not the blood drenched Jesus. We may very well say with Jeremiah, Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail? (Jeremiah 15:18)

What’s more, this theology of glory makes it so that suffering and hardship makes no sense. Think of all of the people suffering under hurricane Irene. Do you think they feel God’s love right now, or are they hurt and confused? Or next weekend will be the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacked on our country. There are ten years of loss and pain. But we could go on and on at this. Our first, natural reaction to suffering of any kind is to either blame God or deny God.

So repent. Repent of believing that anything we say or do or think or feel are going to make everything right with God. Repent of the false belief that you’ve got it all figured out. Repent of the notion that we can grow the church by our own plans or actions. We cannot. We cannot grow the church. We cannot make things right. Not in our own lives, not in our nation, and not here at Holy Cross.

Our Lord’s response to Peter is rather startling, though, isn’t it? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23). The suffering and the death of our Lord on the cross is not an option. It isn’t one path among many. It is the only way. This is why St. Paul would write, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). This is what it means to be a Christian, just as the only God there is is the one who gave Himself on the cross for you.

The things of God, dear baptized, are the things which God uses to bring about your salvation and mine. When we suffer and hurt, when we are in need and face trials we do not understand, it is precisely at those moments when the things of God become clear. Holy Baptism and His Supper. Preaching and the Word. Absolution, that is, the forgiveness of sins. When there is nothing else, when you are stripped bare of every pretext or false belief that you can do it alone without the cross, then these gifts, the things of God, become the very lifeblood coursing through your veins as a Christian.

A new pastor means a time of new beginnings for any congregation. That enthusiasm we all very is wonderful and very real. But what makes us tick as the people of God, what shapes us as His people, well, that never changes. It is Christ and Him crucified for your sins and mine.

So come. Come, you who are weary and heavy laden, for Christ will give you rest. Come, for your death and suffering are not the end of the story. Your story is Christ’s story. He gives Himself for you and for your sins in His very Body and Blood this day. Come, and be refreshed. Come, and live in Him. Come, for all things are now ready for you. In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.

And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.

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