Thursday, September 7, 2017

Glory in the Cross. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 13, Proper 17A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich, on Sunday, September 3, 2017.

    Last week was a mountain top experience.  Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus blessed Peter for this confession and promised the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against His Church.  With Peter’s great confession and Jesus’ victorious promise, it was now time to bask in least until Jesus brought the mood down talking about suffering and being killed.  This sounds nothing like glory, but Jesus’ cross is His glory. 
    From the time of Peter’s confession, Jesus began to explain what it meant that He was the Christ.  Being the Christ means Jesus was the promised Savior, it means He had to go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, it means Jesus had to be killed, it means He had to die on the cross….But it also means He’d rise on the third day.  Peter didn’t hear this last part though.  He heard Jesus talking about suffering and being killed and he couldn’t get past that. 
    For Peter, being the Christ, the Son of the living God, meant Jesus would be strong.  It meant He’d be worshiped and adored, that nothing bad would ever happen to Him, that He’d never suffer and most certainly He’d never be killed.  Peter was so certain of this he pulled Jesus aside and began to rebuke the Lord: “Far be it from you, Lord!  This shall never happen to you” (Matt 16:22).  Peter didn’t want a Jesus on the cross.  Peter wanted a glorious and strong Jesus, and so do we. 
    If we were really honest with ourselves and could choose, we’d want to get rid of Christ on the cross because that Jesus is weak.  The Jesus beaten and bloodied, with nails hammered in His hands and feet, with thorns piercing His brow, this Jesus is humiliating.  The Jesus we want is strong and battle victorious, flexing His muscles. We want the Jesus arrayed in splendor and glory; the Jesus that overcomes suffering, not the suffering Jesus.   We want this Christ because that’s what we want for ourselves.
We want to be strong and powerful.  We want Jesus to give us glory, give us success, wealth, health, and happiness.  We want to overcome suffering, never to suffer again: never to suffer illness, debt, and relationship strife; never to suffer sadness, the feeling of loss, or anxiety.  For us, suffering is bad, it’s painful and humiliating.  It’s degrading.  In fact, we believe suffering is so bad that we’d rather die than suffer.
    The desire for an earthly strong, powerful, glorious Jesus; the idea that suffering is bad; this is called a theology of glory, and it’s satanic because it leads us away from Christ, away from the salvation He won for us through His suffering on the cross.  When Peter rebuked Jesus, Christ said: 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” (Matt 16:23).  Peter was trying to prevent Jesus from going to the cross, the very reason why Jesus became incarnate.  Satan tried the very same thing in the desert as He tempted Christ to turn from God’s will. 
Satan used the things of man, a theology of glory in his temptations.  He tempted Jesus to turn rocks into bread to end His hunger suffering.  Satan tempted Jesus to jump from the temple to test God’s promised care.  Satan even tempted Jesus with earthly glory and power if He’d only bow down to Satan.  But Jesus resisted these temptations.  He endured them and stayed faithful to God’s will, because He was the Christ...and it was necessary for Him to suffer these things.
    It was necessary for Jesus to suffer, because in His suffering He was fulfilling God’s plan of salvation for you.  This is called the theology of the cross.  Christ came to suffer and die so that you would live.  This is what Jesus was trying to explain to the disciples.  He had to suffer at the hands of His enemies.  He had to be betrayed, beaten, mocked, and nailed to the cross.  Jesus had to be killed so that you could live. 
     In God’s righteousness, He couldn’t let your sin go unpunished.  The wages of sin is death, everlasting death in the fires of hell.  That’s what your sin earns you.  That’s what you deserve.  But God the Father in His infinite grace and mercy keeps you from this death.  Instead, He sent His Son to suffer and die in your place.  Christ gave up His life for you.  His suffering and death fulfilled God’s plan of salvation.  This is Jesus’ glory.  Honor and praise are due to Him because He died on the cross to save you.  Christ’s sacrificial death paid for your sins, and His resurrection three days later won for you everlasting life, an everlasting life basking in Christ’s glory.  This glory will be full revealed on the Last Day when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead.  But until then, until our Lord calls us home, we have crosses to bear.  We still endure suffering. 
     A theology of glory says we shouldn’t suffer, but the theology of the cross says we’ve been saved through Christ’s suffering, and He said all who follow Him will endure suffering as well.  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24).
Our lives are filled with suffering.  We suffer from illness and disease.  We suffer when sin enters our relationships and drives a wedge between husband and wife, parent and child, between close friends.  We suffer at the hands of the weather, suffering the people of Houston and the Gulf Coast know all too well. Our lives are filled with suffering, with crosses that we have to bear.  And we faithfully take up these crosses and follow our Lord, because in the midst of suffering, Christ’s glory is shown. 
We don’t go out looking for crosses to bear.  Suffering will come to us.  But we endure all of this with faith, with the certainty of Jesus’ cross and resurrection.  We look to the cross of Christ, where our Savior suffered so that we’d be forgiven.  We look to Jesus, who rose from the dead, defeating our death.  This is Jesus’ glory and we rejoice in it.  We’re patient and remain constant in prayer during tribulation and suffering because we know we share in Christ’s glory.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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