Sermon from Rev. Zickler for August 27, 2017

20170827 Sermon Proper 16
August 27, 2017
Matthew 16: 13-20

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson.

As we are approaching the end of August today, October will soon be here and we will be celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. In light of that it’s relevant to mention that this passage is one that brought some contention to the conversations between the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics at that time, and still does. You see, in this passage Jesus says those words, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And as Jesus said that, the Roman Church said that this meant that Jesus was making Peter the first Pope. Simon was called Peter, the name meaning rock, and on that rock the Church was built. But the Lutherans said, “not so fast.” Luther himself even wrote in one of his works called the Smalcald Articles—a sort of last will and testament of Luther, which is included in our Lutheran Confessions—that even in the writings of many of the early Church Fathers, they didn’t see it as such. They didn’t see Jesus making Peter foundation of the Church, instead it was his confession of faith. It was that confession Peter made when Jesus asked the disciples who people said the Son of Man was.

Of course as we look at the Reformation and as we look at the time of Jesus—and even as we look at our own day today, we see this really hasn’t changed, has it? It’s still really about that question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” As I say that, on the one hand we might hear some of the responses given by the disciples and be confused. Why would they think He’s John the Baptist? Why would they think He’s Elijah? Why would they think He’s one of the prophets? And to answer that a bit, we have to think about their context. First of all, Elijah, or the prophets—the Old Testament speaks about prophets coming before the end to bring in the Messianic Kingdom, so that could be easy to see. But John the Baptist? Well you have to remember they didn’t have cameras and the paparazzi who would dig up more dirt on any public figure than you would want to know. So it would be easy to confuse Jesus and John. But that’s the point is that it’s easy to get Jesus wrong, isn’t it?

That’s really what the Reformation was about too, wasn’t it? Who was Jesus? A stern lawful judge who looked at you in the end and judged your works so that you have to hope that the Church had given you enough to make those works satisfying, or was He a gracious Savior sent to forgive our sins?

And even today this is a relevant question, isn’t it? After all, if you were to go out on the street and ask one hundred people who Jesus is, you would likely get at least fifty different responses, if not a hundred, wouldn’t you?

Who is Jesus? Well, He’s a great man, right? He’s great teacher, a great moral philosopher, maybe even a prophet. He’s a life coach, an example of someone who accepted all. He’s the exemplary democrat and republican. He’s the great destroyer of hierarchical oppression. He’s a great man who probably existed, but certainly whose legend grew after his death to include such divine activities as performing miracles, shining like the sun in the transfiguration and rising from the dead.

And as we hear all of those what do we hear? At worst we hear the underlying assumption that the Christian Church is a sham founded upon the tales of a man who maybe existed or maybe he didn’t. At the best of these we hear things that sound like great respect: moral philosopher, prophet, teacher, but still someone who came to bring commands and tell us what to do. So how do we respond to this?

Well on a rational level, there are arguments we can make. We can make the point that the historical support for the existence of Jesus is greater than many other people in history, that the resurrection has more valid historical support than many other events in history, that the New Testament is the far and away the most historically well-documented text from the ancient world. And these are all important and worth knowing. Likewise, once we establish the historical support for the existence of Jesus as well as the likelihood that we have his words, we can also make the point that when confronted with these words we have to assume that He was either lying – something people don’t usually die for, that He was crazy – something not likely when considering the propriety of His reactions to people and circumstances, or that He was who He said He was. And this is important too.

But when it comes down to it, how do we respond? First of all, hear again those words of Paul, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As we hear those words, we hear that we are to heed what our Lord’s Word says, what the Gospel tells us. We are to hear the Scriptures and trust them when it comes to our Lord. In other words, look at these words that Peter speaks, the confession he makes, that rock that is the foundation of the Church: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Who is Jesus? He is the Christ. He is the anointed of God, the God who came to be with us in human flesh—Immanuel, God with us.

And why did He come? Did He come just to give us good teaching? Did He come just to tell us how to live? Well, looking at His words, there certainly is a lot about that, isn’t there? That’s the thing with all of these understandings about Jesus that we have: for almost all of them, there’s some truth to them. Did Jesus teach a radical love? Yes. He told everyone to Love God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves. That’s radical, isn’t it? But of course, both of those statements came right out of the Old Testament, so it’s not like Jesus is original in those ideas. Furthermore, what does it mean to love our neighbor? It means that we love them according to God’s commands. We honor those in authority. We don’t murder, but help in physical need. We don’t commit adultery, in fact respecting our neighbor’s body by not even lusting. We don’t steal, but help improve possessions and income. We don’t lie about people, but speak well of them. And we don’t covet—which as I say this, just to put the bug in your ear again, if you don’t have the commandments memorized as a Christian memorize them. This is how Jesus tells us how to love radically. But even as I say this, did Jesus just come to teach us and show us how to love? How to accept?

No, in fact, as we’ve created this sort of image of Jesus as someone who would never judge anyone, and would let anyone justify any sin under the sun, we look at some of His words and actions and miss something huge about Him, something He even says. Think about what it means the Jesus is the Christ. What does that mean? Why did He come?

What does He say? The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for the many. That’s who the Christ is. He is the Suffering Servant who came for your sin. He is the God who died on the cross because you should die in your offenses against Him! He served you by sacrificing Himself for you, rising again that you would not die, but live. He serves you today by baptizing you into that death and resurrection. He serves you today by giving you His very body and blood. He serves you in His Church to whom He has given that authority: “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This is what the Christ does. He dies that people would live.

And so this is what the Church confesses. We confess with Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Of course that isn’t always easy. Especially in our day. Sometimes this means that we have to give the complete picture of Jesus. We have to give the picture of Jesus that is clear that not only does He love everyone, but there’s even more to it than that. He also loves us so much that He doesn’t just want us to revel in the sin that He hasn’t created. No He wants us to be freed from that.

We might not like it, because we might like our attachments to our greed, our selfishness, our anger with those who have offended us. We might like to continue receiving the endorphin rushes that come from lust, or the passions that we have in attractions to the things of this world. In fact, as unpopular as this is in our day we might have to stand up against relationships to the same sex, or the understandings that the sex of our body is contrary to our identity. But as we hear of all of these things, we are called to die to all of them. And this is utterly inclusive. This isn’t something that “those people” are called to. It’s something we all are called to. As Luther says in His words about what Baptism signifies, “The Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die, so that a new man may daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and blessedness forever.” This is all inclusive. Every single one of us is infected by sin and we all need this Savior to relieve us of that guilt and to cleanse us by the shedding of His blood. Every single one of us.

This is what the Church is called to confess. And it’s not easy. It’s hard. It’s always hard. But we have a promise in this. The Church is built on the Rock of this Confession. The Church is built on Jesus Himself, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. The word there for prevail literally speaks of being strong against, of overcoming by power. As we make this confession, we know that even death, hell, and the devil can’t overcome Jesus. He’s already defeated them all in the cross. And He did it for us. Why did He do it? Because that’s who He is. And who is He? He the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Amen.