Wednesday, June 30, 2010
No Looking Back...
Do you ever watch the TV shows where people shop for a new home? It is amazing how people will go into a home and make their decision over whether or not they like the paint colors on the walls or the arrangement of the furniture. When you make a house your home, you personalize it. You take the bare rooms and make them look like you. By the way, when they try to sell a house, the realtors say to remove the stuff that looks like you so that the people looking at your house can imagine themselves in it.
We are tempted to do this with the faith as well – to see it as a bare wall to be decorated or a canvas to be painted. But does God desire us to personalize the Christian faith to make it our own? Is God looking for our input or simply to add the "Amen" of our faith to what He has done? Do we change Jesus to fit us or do we simply apply what Jesus has done to us through the Spirit's working faith in us to trust what He has done... in essence to lead us to see and say, "He did it for me?"
We live in such an age of personalization that it is hard to resist the temptation to personalize the Christian faith. But as soon as we tinker with the faith to make it look more like me, we also begin to empty it of its power to forgive, to save, and to bless us. Think about what we heard in the Gospel lesson for today. People liked Jesus. They wanted to follow Him –but on their terms. The Gospel lesson tells us that Jesus face was set for Jerusalem – that means the cross. As soon as the people saw the cross was the center of Jesus' mission and message, they dropped Him like a hot potato. They wanted Jesus but the Jesus they wanted was a Jesus whom they defined–not the Christ of the cross.
Jesus made it easy for them by being very blunt. Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has only the cross. We did not hear much from that guy again. Jesus was neither the Savior he wanted nor the Savior he thought he needed. He wanted an adjustable Savior and a flexible Lord, somebody who would fit him, where he was at.
Jesus expected to be taken on His terms. The folks around Him had their hearts and minds on today with all its things, all its needs to be attended to, and all its affairs to be handled. Yes, Jesus, but first... was their answer to His call. Sort of like children when parents ask them to do something – “Sure, but first...” Those whom Jesus called wanted to follow Jesus but first.... Let me take care of my family first or let me say good bye first or whatever. Jesus in not insensitive but knew their hearts. No one can follow Him with regrets and no one can follow Him while distracted by all the things of this world and life.
Jesus is not a flexible Savior. You receive Him on His terms, not on yours. "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God." You know what happens when you head forward while looking backwards. No, to follow Jesus, no regrets, no distractions, no competition. Jesus only.
Jesus had the cross before Him. The cross was not for Him but for us. He had come to give us salvation and that salvation could only come through the path that led to the cross. It sort of reminds you of John's Gospel. He came to His own and His own knew Him not but to as many as received Him and believed on His name He gave the power to become the sons of God... He is surely not the Savior we want – we would prefer one who minimized our sins – they are not so bad – but what we need is a Savior strong enough to confront them and to deal with them. Your sins are great but my grace is greater still.
Jesus is a cross-eyed Savior. He is a Savior with the cross before and the cross behind. For the whole of His life on earth, the cross was His destiny and He did not run from that destiny even though He knew what it would cost Him. And after the cross was born for us, He set apart a people who would proclaim that cross and the salvation it won to all the ends of the earth.
Would that we were like Him – people with the cross behind and the cross before us. What He has done is our glory and what we trust in and what He has done is the goal and future ahead of us. We are to be a cross eyed people who see everything through the lens of Golgotha and the empty tomb.
We do not shape Jesus to fit us, Jesus shapes us for the cross and for all that cross has accomplished for us. We do not have a personalized faith but a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Anything else is really no faith at all.
Few of you are old enough to remember when a horse would be hitched up to single bottom plow and a farmer hold on to the reigns to turn over a furrow in the earth. But the same thing happens when you drive a tractor and have a huge piece of farm equipment behind you. Well let me help you with that image. Who of us can steer forward while looking backward? We will be all over the road. We need to be looking where we are headed in order for us to stay the path. It does us no good to follow Jesus if our hearts are filled with regrets or distractions or the desire to change Him so He fits us and our needs better. If there are other things first in our hearts, they will keep us from Jesus, maybe not now but eventually.
Now I am speaking to you as people of faith. The Lord has already called you to faith, made you His own in baptism, clothed you with His righteousness, forgiven you of your sins, and turned you around so that you might walk the path of the Kingdom. I am not speaking to those who are outside the pale of His mercy but to Christian people.... Christian people tempted by the world to put other things first, tempted by our hearts to remake Jesus in our own image, and tempted by our desires to make Jesus wait until other we have the time or intention to focus on Him. Don't let it happen.
The Gospel is not given to us to personalize but to believe. Jesus is not raw material to shape to fit us but the mighty Lord of life and death who alone can offer us what we need most of all. The Christian faith is not a bare home to be decorated by our own desires but a mansion of many rooms where Jesus has prepared a place for you and me. Today we come to meet Jesus here on His terms, in the places where He has attached His promise... in the water of baptism, in the voice of the absolution, in the Word of Scripture, and in the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. If we meet Him on His terms, where He has promised, He will be there... with mercy bigger than all our sins, grace bigger than all our troubles, life bigger than death... In Jesus' name. Amen!