Monday, January 20, 2014

You are the Christ. . .

Sermon preached for the Confession of St. Peter for the Circuit Pastors.

    Who is Jesus.  That is the question.  You are the Christ.  That is the answer.  We in the Church spend far too much time and money and energy on things that either avoid or ignore or detract from both this essential question and this essential answer.  St. Paul put it this way.  I am determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  Would that we as the Church today could be so confident!
    You are the rock, said Jesus.  The other day the whole interstate out here was backed up for miles when a rock the size of a VW fell off the cliff of stone onto
I-24.  Stones do not cause traffic pile ups; only rocks.  Stones can chip your paint and ding your car but they don't stop anyone.  Only the big rocks bring the mighty semi and the speeding commuter to a halt.
    If we are not making headway in the world, could it be that we are stones instead of the mighty rocks we need to be.  Stones irritate.  Rocks stop people in their tracks.  The Church has become content to throw stones.  We irritate people.  We complain about their morality.  We complain about their values.  We complain about their lifestyles.  We complain about their lack of concern for the things that matter.  But the world goes speeding by undaunted by our whining voices.
    Peter got it right.  He did not always get it right but today we recall the words of conviction that were from the Holy Spirit and not simply his own best guess.  You are the Christ, said Peter.  You are rock, said Jesus.  I confess to you that I am more often than not scared to death to be that bold.  I worry what people will think of me.  I worry that people will reject me.  I worry that people will not like me.  I find it hard to say it so bluntly, so clearly, and so confidently.  Maybe you do, too.
    The Lord does not ask us to be nor does He need apologists.  He does not need translators to water down His Word.  He does not need us to explain away His miracles, His works, or His Word.  He does not need spiritual gurus to help folks get in touch with their inner self or find the path to material success.  He needs people of conviction, guided by the Holy Spirit to faith, who will simply speak His Word to the world.  He needs people to provide the right answer to the question of questions.  You are the Christ.
    Traditionally the observance of the Confession of St. Peter (technically on Saturday) ushers in the week of Christian unity.  But what kind of unity? Sadly, it is often the weak unity of the lowest common denominator.  So we speak of Jesus the influential religious figure, the moral authority of Jesus, the skilled teacher of Jesus, or Jesus the gentle and compassionate lover of souls.  But God did not send Jesus nor did Jesus consent to incarnation to be recognized for His moral authority or teaching skill or even His compassion.  Jesus has come to be the Christ.  Period.      This is what makes Christianity objectionable and this is what makes it powerful.  The blunt and powerful truth about which we cannot compromise.  This is the point of non-negotiation.  People like moral authority figures – they may not follow them but they admire them.  People like compassionate figures.  We all want folks to be nice to us so we like leaders who invite us to be kind and compassionate.  But what stops the world in its tracks is that Jesus is the Christ, the rock of stumbling for those who refuse to repent and the cornerstone of new and redeemed life for those who confess their sin and rejoice in His mercy.
    Christ does not end suffering; He redeems it.  And those for whom He suffered take up their crosses and follow Him, losing their lives for His sake and for the sake of the Gospel in order to keep them for eternity.  I suspect that one of the reasons why we prefer and empty cross is that we do not be reminded of suffering.  To be the Christ means to suffer and to belong to Christ means to participate in His suffering.  There is no other way.
    Pebbles make terrible building materials but the structures of stone live on through generation after generation.  Much of what the Church does is like those stones – looks good for a moment but can't hold up anything.  We have been sent with both a question and its answer.  Who is Jesus?  Jesus is the Christ.  Either this is the strong foundation for our individual lives as the baptized children of God and the life of the whole Church, or else we are building on sand and shifting stones.  Some say the Church has to reinvent herself to be relevant.  The surest way to irrelevance is to reinvent yourself.  To be relevant we must be faithful to Christ.
    When we are faithful, God will make us fruitful – bearing not the momentary fruit of the day but the everlasting fruit that earns eternal reward in heaven.  The call today is to be like Peter.  You are the Christ.  The saints who have gone before us took up this Gospel and many sacrificed their very lives to bequeath to the next generation this eternal truth.  We can do no less for this time and for the future generations still to come.
    Dying for this Gospel gives us the strength to live it faithfully.  What does it profit us if we gain everything and lose our souls?  No, dear friends in Christ, we cannot afford to follow a world afraid to believe anything and willing to sacrifice everything for a moment of pleasure.  If we are to be useful to Christ and if we are to obtain what we hope for, we need to be rocks.  Who we are and what we proclaim can be nothing less than Jesus the Christ crucified for you... for me.  When we take up this cause, we will not have to worry about relevance or success.  For where Christ is proclaimed, God is at work, and He will bring to pass what He wills.  If we have been ineffective, could it be that we were content to toss a few stones on the broad path to destruction when what we have been called to do and to be is the Rock of confession – You are the Christ...  Amen.

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