Posts Tagged ‘theology of the cross’

It Breaks Your Heart 7-31-14

This sermon is based on Matthew 16:21-28. Peter, who has just made the great confession of Jesus’ true identity now rebukes Jesus for revealing his ultimate destiny. Jesus in turn rebukes Peter with the famous “Get behind me Satan” phrase. In the sermon I explore Peter’s motivation and how our limited human understanding often times blinds us from the truth.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/it-breaks-your-heart-7-31-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

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

Think back over your life for a moment…and think about the times when your heart was broken. (pause) Perhaps some of those instances are hard to identify now…with the passage of time, our insights and perspectives broaden…and perhaps we have come to see those old hurts as life lessons and experiences that have helped to shape us into the person that we are today. (pause)

But in the moment…the experience of a broken heart just plain hurts…its as if the world as we know it is crumbling down and we are powerless to do anything about it. (pause). Thinking back, my first instance of a broken heart happened in about 6th or 7th grade. I was sitting in church, of all places…when the current pastor announced that he had taken a different call and that he and his family would be moving…I looked to my right…to my best friend sitting next to me…who happened to be the pastor’s son…and I realized in that instant that he’d be moving too…now I was a pretty soft hearted kid…and when we got home from church a few minutes after that gut wrenching announcement, my dad could tell I was pretty upset…and he just hugged me while I cried it out…because my best friend was leaving…and nothing would ever be the same again. (pause)

Fast forward a few years…and we experience the first time I was heartbroken over a girl. I was a jr in high school…I’d been dating a girl for most of the school year, and most of the way through the summer…and then one evening she dropped a bomb on me. “I think we’d be better friends if we weren’t dating.” (gesture a breaking heart)…this time it was my mom that got the brunt of my emotional upheaval…and nothing would ever be the same again. (pause)

Fast forward a couple more years…and for the first time…it was God who was letting me down…it was God who rocked my world to the core…it was God…that broke my heart. (pause) I had just come off my second summer working at camp. I was heading back to my 2nd and final year of community college…I would be graduating with my associate’s degree the following spring…and at that point I wanted nothing more than to come back for one more summer at camp…this time as a counselor…and then to apply to stay on at camp in a year round ministry position…and who could fault me…this plan seemed perfect…and certainly God would uphold His end of the bargain right? (pause) But God’s reality, was not my reality. I was not invited to come back to camp the following summer due to a poor working relationship with the site director…and as I approached a springtime graduation, I had no idea what I was going to do with myself…with my future…and most shockingly…with my faith…and nothing would ever be the same again. (pause)

Looking back now, those shocking moments don’t seem so bad. Yes my best friend moved…but I’ve made countless other friends in the years since…Yes, my first girlfriend broke up with me…but eventually I met this pretty amazing brunette who became my wife…yes, God shut the door on my plans for doing ministry at 20…because he had prep work to do in my life to get me ready for ministry in my mid-30’s. I can see that now…but in the midst of each moment, I was shocked…I was hurt…and I couldn’t see past the pain caused by my broken expectations.

Our gospel lesson opens in the same sort of situation today. Peter has just made a wondrous confession. If you were here last week, our gospel lesson featured Peter’s testimony that Jesus is the Messiah…the Son of the living God…and now…an instant later…right after Jesus builds Peter up as Spirit inspired and the rock on which he will build his church…Jesus informs the disciples that his mission on earth is going to take him to Jerusalem where he will be tortured…and killed…and Peter…the rock…the stable foundation…FREAKS…OUT…and in the midst of his disbelief…he dares rebuke Jesus…he opens his mouth and tells God himself in human form what he thinks should happen.

Now, often times in scripture, Peter is portrayed as impulsive…quick to speak without thinking…often times the one who babbles on aimlessly because no one knows what to say in a given situation. And at first glance, perhaps that seems to be the case once again…but if we stop and pay attention…maybe we hear the sound of a heart breaking…

Peter has a vision of what the Messiah is going to do…what the role of the Christ will be…and as we heard last week…Peter knows that’s Jesus. But what he doesn’t know is that his expectations of the Messiah were WAY off. Like many of the Jews of that era…Peter expected the Messiah to be a political figure…a great deliverer along the lines of Moses who led the people out of captivity in Egypt back in ancient times. The messiah would free the people of Israel from the control of the Romans and re-establish David’s throne.

But you know what would throw a pretty major damper on this whole idea? If the messiah…died…But that’s exactly what Jesus tells them is going to happen…You Lord are the messiah…the holy one of God…and you will free us from this human captivity…Umm…no..actually I’m gonna be dead pretty soon Peter. (make heart breaking sound)

No wonder Peter goes off on Jesus…his entire existence has just been destroyed..everything he hoped for…everything he has dreamed…everything he has expected for the past three years of following Jesus is crashing down around him…and for Peter…nothing will ever be the same again…

No wonder he rebukes Jesus…no wonder he lashes out. He is the impulsive one after all…he’s the one that speaks up when no one else will…and perhaps in this moment, he’s simply the one who says what all twelve disciples are thinking. You are the messiah…YOU CAN’T DIE? HOW CAN THIS BE? HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO US? (pause)

Has your existence ever been shattered like that? Your expectations or your hopes and dreams…seemingly thrown aside…and it seems, in that moment, that God just doesn’t care…ever been there?

I know some of you have…and I suspect that at one time or another…all of you have been there…because we live in a flawed reality…a reality that has been twisted and warped by the powers of sin and death…We live in a reality where people hurt, children die, marriages end, and people fail…and in those instances, I think we all experience heart break…and we wonder where is God in those moments. (pause)

I was thinking about all this through the week…and it occurred to me that as a community we’ve experienced quite a bit of death lately. 2 in the past few weeks with another one likely any day now…and 2 more shocking deaths out of nowhere a few months back…and as I thought about all that…all those families and friends experiencing broken hearts at the death of a loved one…that it all started right after Epiphany last January…right after the day when the church celebrates the Christ being revealed to the world…people start dying…and that seems like a pretty cruel twist of fate…and perhaps we ask the question…where are you on that one God?

Because in these instances…these moments when our world crumbles and our heart is breaking…we, like Peter…miss the most important words uttered by Jesus in this passage. I will go to Jerusalem where I will undergo suffering…and be killed…and on the third day I WILL BE RAISED!

Peter missed it…he missed the good part…the hopeful part…that we have a God who is willing…and able…to enter into all this pain and hurt and disease and death…and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT…We have a God who can and DOES create new life out of death.

Make no mistake…death is a very real presence within our human existence…just as sickness and pain and suffering and anguish are all very real…and while in the midst of this pain we may cry out to God to stop it, or prevent it, or go back and erase it…that’s not what God does…instead, we have a God who mourns this reality right along with us…and though we may not understand why because of our own limited existence…God stands along side us in this pain…but He also creates new life out of it.

That is why Jesus took the cross…openly…willingly…to embrace the reality of death so that God could do something about it…something far beyond our reckoning…that’s why Jesus made no secret of his final destination…of his true mission on earth…and that is why we as believers find joy in the cross…

That is why we look with hope upon an image that was intended to strike fear in others…fear of its shame…and fear of the brutality of the death that came with it…we look on the cross with hope because as believers in Christ…we acknowledge something for what it is. The cross is a brutal place of death…the death of one who took our sin upon himself…and likewise we acknowledge our own sinful reality…a reality in which the wages for our sin is death…but we cling to the hope that through Christ’s death on that brutal cross we are no longer subject to it…we call this the theology of the cross…where we call it what it is…a horrible death that God used to create new life.

And so perhaps today you find yourself in the midst of a situation where your heart is breaking…and perhaps you want to strike out at someone, even God, because it seems like all those hopes and expectations for life have been destroyed by your present circumstances…and if that is your reality today, take courage in the fact that you are not alone…and that you have a God who has experience every aspect of this life…including the heartbreak of being utterly separated from his Father…and take hope in the fact that through that very separation, God has ensured that you will never be separated from him again. Amen.

Paul’s Talking Trash

Once again, I must apologize for my lack of recent posts. After doing this little project for a few weeks now, I’m finding myself enjoying the practice of the reflections greatly, but admittedly, sometimes other distractions get in the way and I don’t get to it. That’s been the case over the course of the past week or so…busy times which has equaled no postings.

Today’s lectionary reading comes from Philippians 3:7-11. These particular verses follow a sort of resume written by Paul. In verses 4-6, he lists the various attributes that he has going for him in terms of Jewish zeal. While I obviously wasn’t alive at this time to know for sure, something tells me that this practice was likely common through pious Jews.

Here’s what I like about verses 7-11, and particularly 8. Paul regards all these attributes…or plusses or bonuses or whatever you want to call them…as loss in the face of knowing Christ and being assured of salvation through Christ. How amazing is that? Yesterday I had a conversation with a couple of parishioners regarding the materialistic attitude that is so prevalent in the United States today. Truly we are a privileged people that put a lot of stock in ourselves. Call it entitlement or justification or whatever you want to call it, but our society certainly places a lot of stock in these type of qualities.

But now here’s the part that really makes me smile. Paul goes on to say that not only does he count them as loss…he call them rubbish.  At least that’s what the NRSV says…”rubbish.” The original language…not quite so polite. If we take a look at the Greek, we see the work “skubalon.” Now I often say that if you want to read an English translation that is as close to Greek as possible, read the King James…I just took a look at the NKJ and see that Paul calls it “dung.”  We’re getting closer to reality here…just in a polite matter.

Perhaps you’re picking up what I’m putting down here.  (Moment of foul language warning) Paul is calling all these attributes shit…plain and simple. I count them as shit in order to gain Christ.

Good to see that Paul called things like they are right?

In short, I tend to think that Paul is really pushing at the Lutheran notion of grace alone here.  There is NOTHING we can do…nothing within us…that will earn our salvation from our own sinful nature. Regardless of our “religious boy-scout medals” we get nowhere on our own power. It is only through the grace of God in Jesus Christ that we are saved.  Paul really throws this point down in verse 9. “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ.”

Now that being said, Paul makes another interesting point in verse 10 as he talks about knowing Christ and sharing in his sufferings.  This point could certainly point towards Luther’s concept of theology of the cross…that salvation is achieved only through the mockery/suffering that occurred on the cross. It is folly to normal understanding, but it is truth none the less. Paul seeks to join in Christ’s suffering “by becoming like him in his death.” Truly, Paul seeks to follow Jesus through suffering and death, and marks those things as blessings as they connect him to Christ. It is important to note that he’s not saying that his suffering and (eventual) death earn his salvation. Rather, he is saying that they are signs of the salvation that Christ has already achieved for him.

This is a good reminder as we face our own sufferings in this world. Rest assured, suffering is a reality. We all suffer trials of some kind. But keep in mind that Christ has shared those sufferings. I recently taught my junior high confirmation students about the importance of Christ experiencing every aspect of life from birth through death. He experienced it so that he might overcome it. Life is sinful, we can’t get past that. But Christ did on our behalf. God has experienced the same sufferings that we do. He has walked that road so that one day, we will walk with him in paradise.

It’s all about Christ, not us. That’s why Paul is so quick to talk trash about himself.