Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mark.8.27-36; The Confession of St. Peter; Epiphany 2; January 18, 2009

And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? (Mark 8:28-36, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus says those very important words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I know how we most often think about what Jesus means here. We think he’s talking in general the bad stuff that happens in our lives, on a regular basis. Like when a friend is troubled by a part of their life they can’t seem to resolve we try to give them comfort by saying, “Well, we all have our crosses to bear.” Or we say it to try to be of help a Christian who is suffering from a long term illness. Well, Jesus isn’t talking about the regular every day troubles that we go through here. He’s not even talking about the things that happen to us because we’ve screwed up and have to suffer the consequences. The cross he’s talking about here it the cross of being a theologian. Now I know you don’t usually think of yourselves theologians, but you are, in fact everybody is a theologian. All a theologian is, is a person who talks (Logos) or thinks about who god (Theos) is or isn’t, or what he is like. It’s like the psalm says:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, ESV)

Everyone is a theologian, and Jesus is here saying that there are two kinds of theologians in the world, those who carry a cross and those who don’t. Our name sake, Martin Luther made a fine point on this. He says people are either Theologians of the Cross (good theologians) or Theologians of Glory (bad theologians). And as it turns out this difference helps us to understand very well the difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world. And it also helps us to focus on what is really important in our lives. And it all comes very clear in this text.

Peter begins by making the wonderful confession of faith. “You are the Christ.” Jesus asks about what people are saying about him. The disciples have a list. All of them are very complementary of Jesus, placing him in a very high category. If Jesus had been a sinful man like you and me he would have gotten swelled up with pride, to be considered on par with the prophets that were mentioned. But of course Jesus doesn’t sin. In fact, we see him doing something that sounds very strange. He says, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” We might wonder why he doesn’t want the word spread, but we don’t get to think about it very long. Right away he gathers his disciples together and begins to tell them about nothing less than the cross. Do you see it there?

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31, ESV)

And now Peter who made the great and true confession of Jesus shows his true colors. He shows he doesn’t really understand what Jesus is all about. He shows he doesn’t know what it means to be a Theologian of the Cross. He rebukes Jesus. Now that’s a word we don’t use too much anymore. But to rebuke means to put in place. Think of it in terms of the way you and I think. Someone says something that we don’t agree with and we use our tongue to take them down a peg. Put them in their place. That’s what Peter is thinking he’s doing. “Jesus you don’t know what you are talking about!” This is you and me. Peter is doing only what people do naturally. He’s being a theologian without a cross. After all that’s what he doesn’t like about what Jesus is saying. (Mark makes sure we know it’s not just a misunderstanding about what Jesus said. He adds that important detail, And he said this plainly”). Peter is perfectly happy with Jesus being “the Christ” unless it means Jesus’ suffering and death. “Not on my watch!” He says.

It’s hard to blame him either. Things were just starting to look up. Lot’s of people were gathering around the numbers looked good. He was pretty well set as the top of the twelve. Jesus new kingdom was going to have Peter as a pretty important person in it. People were going to be looking up to him. That’s exactly what a Theologian of Glory is. It’s not God’s glory that’s in focus. It’s self glory. That is how you and I think, too. We put ourselves at the center of our god-thinking, our theology. We think we can figure out stuff about God by how our life is going. If stuff is going good, if we have all the money we need and even extra for stuff we don’t need, we think that God is blessing us because he’s happy with the way we are behaving. What we are doing is bringing God down to our level. We think he works the way everything else in life works. You know; the American work ethic. If you work hard you’ll have nice things. The football hero gets the prom queen. The good student gets good grades, goes to a good school, and gets a good job (that’s no where near Creston), a beautiful wife, a SUV, 2.5 kids and a weekend house by the lake and one to live in every other day. All this, we think, shows God smiling down on us. Or maybe this is a little closer to home. If the church is working the way we want it to work, if there’s no conflict, if the budget is balanced, if there’s a bunch of new members looking to come in, if everyone feels good about what’s going on here, then God is blessing our congregation.

All of this thinking, this Theology of Glory gets us thinking about faith in the wrong way. We go to church to gain God’s favor. As if sitting our butts in on the pew pad earns us brownie points. If I pray hard enough and have enough faith, God will take away my cancer. Conflict in the church means God isn’t happy with us. If the church isn’t full like it used to be, just isn’t church anymore. Well, none of that stuff has anything to do with the cross that Jesus says we have to bear, if we “would come after him.” It’s thinking like Peter. It’s a Theology of Glory. It’s putting our thinking, our interests, our sinful hopes and dreams, and our sin stained attitudes at the center instead of Jesus and the cross that he bled and died on. The definition of sin is man turning in on himself.

If that strikes a little too close to your heart… so did Jesus words to Peter. “Get behind me Satan!” He said. You are not setting your hearts on the things of God but on the things of man. In Martin Luther’s words, “You are being a Theologian of Glory not at Theologian of the Cross.”

As I said before, all human religion is based on a Theology of Glory. A very basic way to think if that is this: “do good things for your god and he will do good things for you.” It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, or any other religion you can name. They are all the same. It even affects Christian churches and preachers like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren. Only true Christianity is different.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, ESV)

The foolishness of God is the cross of Jesus Christ; the Theology of the Cross. What exactly is that theology, that god-talk, all about? Well, instead of thinking that we can change God’s attitude about us by what we do, we, that is the Theologians of the Cross, see that there’s nothing we can do that changes God’s attitude toward us. Everything we do is polluted by sin. Yes, I did say everything. Remember, “We are by nature sinful and unclean.” Sinful trees produce sinful fruit. It’s our sinful nature that only deserves God’s present and eternal punishment, and nothing else. We can’t work our way into God’s good graces. He doesn’t work that way. And more importantly we can’t tell if God is happy with us by the way things look in our lives. It’s like St. Paul says, God hides himself in weakness and foolishness. One pastor I know says it like this:

God, Who is all-powerful, hides Himself in weakness. God, Who is all wise, hides Himself in foolishness. God, Who is living, hides Himself in death. (Rev. Todd Wilken, the new Issues, Etc. Journal - Vol. 2, No. 1; The Theology of the Cross: Cross-Shaped Theology)

Well, that’s just not the way our nature wants God to be. We’d have had Jesus born in a mansion. We’d have had him march on Hell’s Doors with his multitudes of armies. We’d have had him crush Satan’s head in an obvious, glorious way.

Ah, but we are followers of Christ. We do bear the cross. Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone because they hadn’t seen the cross yet. Peter missed it even when Jesus spoke about it plainly. We Lift High the Cross of Jesus Christ. Our Savior is the one who showed us who God is by His death on the cross. We don’t have to look at how the world is treating us to see what God thinks about us. We haven’t and can’t please God by the things we do, but Jesus did please God once and for all. That’s the foolishness that is so difficult for us to see and understand. That God would send His only Son, in the flesh to suffer and die and rise again, for me… for you. God isn’t pleased with us because of anything we do, but because of what Jesus did. If we want to see God’s favor we look the cross. If you want to know about your relationship to God, you don’t look at your “blessings,” instead you look at God’s promises through the cross of Jesus.

So what does the Theology of the Cross look like in your life? Not like we’d expect. And sometimes not even like we want. Sometimes it looks like suffering. We get sidetracked from our hopes and dreams by some unforeseen problem. We have to depend on other people for help. We have to trust that God knows what He’s doing and put our lives in His hands. God’s Word points out our sin, and we know we can’t change our lives for the better. At the foot of Jesus’ cross we drop the burden of it. Life is hard and we wonder where God is when we need Him. We cling to God’s promises made by an adoption of water on our head and His Name received upon our forehead and upon our heart. We drag our sinful nature to the Lord’s Table and God pours forgiveness into us with Jesus’ body and blood. People want us to tell them about our faith and we don’t talk about our faith, our experiences, or our testimony, instead we tell them about Jesus.

“I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…”

It’s really a matter of getting ourselves out of the picture and putting Christ Crucified at the center. When I came here I had that passage from 1 Corinthians read at my installation. That was no idle threat. This is who we are going to be. Christians who know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. That’s who we are as Theologians of the Cross. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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