idleness is destructive stuff

Matthew 20:1-16

This is supposed to be the convert text. This one doesn’t get it. When I was new, I’ve never found anyone upset I was here. That came later, once they got to know me. I’ve never had anyone complain that I did a funeral for someone who God brought back in at the 11th hour. I have had a few upset about the funerals we just couldn’t do here though, even though it was for someone who never once set foot in the door. We pretty much want everyone to show up. Better late than never.

Really, it was probably only a shock that people all got paid the same the first time. The problem ever since, in my experience, is people trying to game the system. Before the reformation, the Roman Catholic church taught that baptism forgave only past sins, not future ones. So nobles wouldn’t get baptized as infants. They paid priests to follow them with a bottle of water anytime they thought they might die. Why not get more sins in while you can, I guess? We still play Jesus musical chairs. How long can you stay away from God’s gifts and God’s house before you really need them?

Some of us came at different times, but all of us are here working. The real problem is you don’t know what to say to others to make them actually show up. There’s lots of excuses, some better than others. But really, we don’t make excuses about the stuff we actually think we need. It’s a really good chance to get up on a high horse and complain about people not here to defend themselves, but only the worst kind of sermons try to convict people not here to be upset about them. They’re always tempting for lazy preachers because if I only preach about sinners that aren’t you, I can’t get yelled at because none of you get offended. But the thing is, nobody who needs help gets it either.

And really, they’re sort of right. The parable calls attention to it. The forgiveness of sins is so powerful, so free, that the ones who show up at the last minute get the same resurrection you do. Should they stay away? No, but it turns into more of a discussion of the probability of dying before the average life expectancy, which even in a pandemic isn’t actually a discussion that yields a lot of positive responses. Also, randomly asking your family “What if you die tonight?” doesn’t strengthen the relationship so much as seem somewhat threatening after a while.

2020 changed my perspective on the parable a little. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways, so I’d have done a lot differently this year, but maybe He gave us a gift. I’m not sure this is about the hour the workers come in. The Lord actually tells us that doesn’t matter, even though we want to make it so important. If nothing else, this year reminded us just how terrible idleness is. What seems to frustrate the master isn’t that some come later than others. He’s fine with that. It’s that they stand around idle in the marketplace. Idleness isn’t laziness. Idleness isn’t doing nothing. Idleness is doing everything but not accomplishing anything. Your car idles. It’s on. It’s running. It’s even working. It’s just not going anywhere. It’s wasting gas. Idleness is use without benefit. Idleness is that feeling of being stuck. It’s acacia. The sin of sloth. Sloth isn’t too much Netflix. It’s running your motor and not getting anywhere for so long that helplessness and despair start to set it. Idleness is going about your whole life and not finding the peace you’re looking for no matter how hard you try until you’re tried out. It’s not being able to find the divine. It’s being able to find where you fit. It’s not feeling like you’re moving anywhere despite trying your best to make it through this mess the same as everyone else. But rather than talking about that feeling, which everyone has but nobody knows what to do with, we resort to guilt, which can at past be used to leverage. You really should go to church more. Even if I can’t quite tell you why.

Really, I wonder if the reason we heap guilt is that we can’t help but see it as a system too. This is what you do to get to heaven. Go to church. Maybe it’s slanted system. One hour’s the same as the whole day. Still, this is what you do to get paid. But if it’s just a system, even an unfair one, there’s nothing really unique in it. Life is unfair. There is no perfect system. There’s always a way to game it. There’s always people who are going to try. This is a religion of law without gospel, but worse. You Showed up in beginning of the day, worked the whole time, but the people who did next to nothing got the same. So why bother?

You can say it’s for society. There is work to be done here. But this thing has to be more than civic pride. That only goes so far. I know people that care about their country and neighbors and still won’t go near this place. You know more.

You can say it’s about morality. Be honest. Work hard. Do something religiousy once in a while. In short, be a good person, go to nondescript good place after you die. But again the folks who snuck in at the 11th hour still gets paid in spite of doing none of that. Why try harder than you have to? And really, how’s that different than any other religion? If you just want a once a week pep talk about being a good person, you could go anywhere.

There’s so much time and effort to game the system. There’s so much effort going into how to recruit to the system. The whole point is there is no system, just a God who wants to see everyone cared for no matter what. There’s a God who sees how destructive idleness is for your soul. Jesus says the first shall be last and the last first. If this is a system, it’s a dumb one. If you want Christianity to be about what you earn, it’s never going to make sense. Because that’s not what it is. God already paid it. He just wants to see you cared for.

Because the question isn’t when you showed up. It’s when the Son was crucified for you. For those who worked the whole day and for those who brought staggering in at the last minute, the answer is the same. It is finished. There is mercy for you here. That’s always what this place has been. The place Jesus is given to sinners. You don’t come here to do good works, you come here to receive your pay for His. For Christ’s work, life, and death, you are given forgiveness, life, and salvation.

They’re not just words. They devour idleness. They root you, not where you keep trying and things feel the same, and more frustrating each day, but in Him who has already conquered not just your problems in this life, but also your death. What if you die tonight is an irrelevant question for Christians, but so too is, do I matter? You are worth enough that God would die for you. You are worth so much that God would not simply see you as the product of what you can do, but as a gift to gather to His side. You are not stuck. You’re tied to life. Your life isn’t the sum of the progress you feel you make, the problems you solve, or the feeling of accomplishment. Your life is the sum of the price given for you. You all got bought with the same price. The blood and death of Jesus. You are so priceless to God He’d rather die than lose you. He sets this place up as the one building in the world we would not be judged by what we do, but simply gathered in to receive. This place is where you show up to receive. You could probably skip a paycheck, but why would you want to? The works already been done by Him who died and rose for you.

Instead of talking about church as if there’s a positive reason for going, we only talk about it as if there’s negative reasons for not. Isaiah tells us. There’s actually places you can’t find God. Seek the LORD where He may be found. That doesn’t mean He’s not everywhere, but there’s places it’s just not possible to find him. Sooner or later that feeling of getting stuck, of idleness sets in and works to destroy. God sets this place up so you can actually know He’s here for you. In His sacraments. In His word. He is found, not hiding. He promised to be here, so we actually know even when we have trouble feeling right. He’s here because He promised to be. He’s

giving, not demanding. He is hope, not another thing to do in a life already too busy but not near productive enough. Return to the Lord here, that He would have compassion on you. That He would pardon and comfort. That He would nurture and save.

idleness is destructive stuff

5 sermons in 1 is a fivefer

Matthew 18:1-20

Jesus preaches 5 sermons in 20 verses. His are shorter than mine, but you only have to listen to one from me. That you’re doing math in your head to see whether that’s a good deal already shows why He preaches these 5. The church is full of sinners. Each sermon is about that.

It’s an idea we’re ok with in concept, but when God packs a bunch of sinners into a box and calls it a church, our favorite thing to do is act surprised about finding out there’s actual sin in here. Not generic I-a-poor-miserable-sinners, but the kind that commit specific sins that hurt and anger in specific ways.

To be fair, a box full of sinners ends up being a poor representation of the Lord who loved the us enough to bear the cross for us. I get why so many people’s biggest problem with Christianity is other Christians. It’s easy to love the concept of a perfect Jesus. His fan club can be harder to deal with. We shouldn’t have petty grudges that boil down to ego. Or false teachers. We shouldn’t have anyone who falls away or disputes to resolve. Sin breaks stuff. Our Lord calls us to flee from it. War against it. If you’ve been a part of the visible church on earth for long, you see why. That stuff hurts. It’s not ok. It destroys souls. I understand why so many people want to try and find God without His bride, the church. It’s easier for me to talk about my “personal relationship with Jesus” because that doesn’t have to include you. It’s hard to look at the box of sinners, say this is holy Christian church, and feel good about being tied to each other in the midst of all that’s wrong.

That’s why when most people picture the ideal congregation, they picture one that doesn’t actually need Jesus. Most people want a church will praise His name and hold him on the fringe of what goes on, but not one that finds mercy in Him. Never one that puts the forgiveness of actual sins that cause actual pain at the center of her identity. It’s possibly the greatest insult we can hurl at each other while still clinging to the high road. We leave for each other a Jesus who can only be an example, but never a savior.

When we assume that Christ is a mere example for the church to follow, understand it for what it is. It’s protecting Jesus from the very people He’s trying to save. It’s holding Him at arms length from the people He draws near to help because they happen to have hurt you or someone you care about. We don’t want His reputation sullied by the people we don’t like because it’s easier to love the concept of a perfect Jesus than it is to love His fan club, but that leaves no room to talk about how He bore their sins upon the tree while He was mocked for them. It’s the thing each of Jesus’ sermons are about. Over and over, we look at Christians as the measurement of Christianity instead of Christ. It puts ourselves at the center of the church, not Jesus. It makes it our church, not His.

So our Lord preaches to the sinners in a box. His church. His bride. The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is not the one who can do the most. It’s the one who needs the most and receives it. Christians are not measured by what they do for Jesus, but by what Jesus does for them. The little child is not more innocent. He is born in the same sin you are. He is not more trusting, it’s why babies cry when I hold them because I’m funny looking, even if I’m also trustworthy. Little children are, more than anything else, helpless. If you want to do this based on what you can build, your box full of sinners will be nothing more than whitewashed tombs. To receive the kingdom of heaven as a child is to bring nothing to the table but still receive everything from the Jesus gives it all.

Whoever causes one of these little ones to sin should be drowned like the mob got involved. Because Jesus does not only love the helpless sinners in a box, He wants them kept from harm. Even the ones that have hurt you.  He especially doesn’t want them taught that Christianity is measured in themselves. More souls have been lost to despair over trying to be good enough, failing, and giving up than false teachers have been disappeared, mafia style. What if you put your animosity toward your neighbor where it really belongs? Not on them for being a sinner, but on the false teachers who would see them called “a bad Christian” before they could ever be called “a forgiven one”? What if you held as much animosity in your heart for the ones who would leave Jesus only as an example for your enemies as you did for those enemies who Jesus redeemed from their sins?

And before you get all choppity-chop for Jesus and gouge your eye out or add to the sacred scriptures, “If your smartphone causes you to sin, throw it away,” remember that this box full of sinners is called the body of Christ. If you really believe nobody ever gossiped before Facebook, coveted before Instagram, or lusted before websites dedicated to the same, ask yourself why Jesus needs to teach this to people who lived and died before any of it? Here’s the thing though, you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. Not all of you can be the eye, and right now I call dibs on being the mouth, but each part is held in honor because we are the ones made holy in Him who is the head, Jesus Christ. He is your worth. He is your honor. He is what ties us together. But sometimes a part of the body goes so evil and rotten it starts to spread to the rest of the body because sin never stays in the neat little boxes we wish it did. Sometimes, as sad as it is, a part of the body must be removed from the church before their evil spreads to the rest and drags everyone into hell. It’s called excommunication. It’s not as complex as it sounds. There’s a difference between sin and unbelief. Sin is easy to forgive. In the stead and by the command of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins. They’re gone. No more sins. Jesus died for you. Your sins are forgiven. He equips His church to handle sin just fine. His cross was plenty. His word is enough. Sin isn’t ok, but Jesus makes forgiveness free. Unbelief doesn’t want forgiveness. That’s why it’s so dangerous. It wants war. It wants self-justification. It wants to blame others. It just never wants mercy. Unbelief says “I don’t care what the Lord says, this is not a sin” or “here’s why that doesn’t apply”, not “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.” This cannot be. The church taught not to need forgiveness is the church taught to race to hell, because even if you cut out your eye and cut off your hands, you’re still a stumpy sinner that needs Jesus.

But even if a part of the body should be taken off, don’t rejoice. Pray that the Shepherd will not leave the lost gone astray, but seek him out to call him back to forgiveness. It’s too easy to find someone fleeing from God and assume God wouldn’t want them either. Yours is the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost, even if they got lost on purpose. Jesus saves sinners. Pray He never stops.

That way when you deal with your brother who sins against you, saying “Matthew 18” can mean more than a checklist to follow in order to get rid of someone and not feel bad. It isn’t a checklist. It isn’t about how to lose your brother. It’s about how to gain them. It’s a desperate attempt to let mercy win them back. The point of this chapter is reconciliation and forgiveness, not loss. This is about helping your neighbor caught in sin, not winning. This is not about being right, but sinners made righteous in Christ. Sometimes someone would rather be right than righteous. Sometimes someone would rather win than be helped. Lord have mercy on that person. If it ends before the whole church with a brother still lost, it’s not because everyone jumped through the right hoops. It’s because mercy was rejected over and over and over again in favor of self justification which can’t save. But when Jesus calls this person to be treated as a tax collector and gentile, remember it’s tax collectors and sinners who He ate with and preached to, so they would once again hear mercy.

Sometimes sin hurts so bad that things can never go back to the way they were before. Call it what it is. Terrible. But don’t think the Lord pulls back His hand from the sinner or the sinned against. Each of these five sermons is about how messy things look when the gospel is given to sinners. Five sermons dare you to let the gospel define the church, not the law. Call the sin what it is. Deadly and wrong. Call the church exactly what it is. A box full of sinners. Just don’t you dare assume it can’t be Christian because we actually know some of the reasons the people here need Jesus. Rejoice that our Lord puts Himself on that altar for sinners, for you, so that the sinners who have hurt you would receive what they need: forgiveness. You can watch them be forgiven so you don’t have to go by your broken heart to measure them. Then receive the same and be forgiven too.

Christians are measured by their Christ, not their works. Your sins are forgiven you. Thank God for this box full of sinners. Even when you are painfully reminded that they actually sin. Thank God He would boast to call the church His own. His bride. Because the church is where God puts Himself to forgive you all, to tie you together based on something more than your ability to get along. Here He names you holy, the box of sinners-made-saints. You are the holy Christian Church because Christ is here to make you that way. You can see it in action each time we kneel together to receive this gift. Eat, drink, and know that holiness was never earned by the people on your left, your right, or in between, but holiness was most certainly given.

5 sermons in 1 is a fivefer

Jesus preaches a sermon that never changes

Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus preaches a sermon that leaves Good Friday as predictable as a bad joke at the beginning of a sermon. The Son of Man must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter offers a reasonable alternative. Have you considered not suffering many things and being murdered? Could we maybe try it that way instead? Criticism doesn’t get much sharper. Get behind me, satan.

The Lord isn’t name calling. He hears the enemy whispering the same sermon to Peter that he whispered to Eve. The tell is simple if you know what to listen for. It might be the last thing satan has in common with the Lord after the rebellion. Their sermons don’t change. The devil always preaches life that ends only in death. Christ always preachs death that ends only in life. Since the garden of Eden, when the serpent sneaks in to preach about a piece of fruit, “Eat. You will not surely die. Do this, and you will live like God, knowing good and evil.” He promised life. It ended only in death. So God sought out dying humanity, hiding in the bushes, and promised them death ending only in life. There will be a child, born of a woman, who will crush the head of the serpent, though the serpent will bruise His heel.” The Son of God will be born of Mary to conquer the evil one by His sacrifice. Since then it’s always been the same. The things of man are to try and live only to die. The things of God are the cross then the resurrection, to die only to live. So any Christ but the crucified one is of the devil.

It’s hard enough to deal with a God who suffers many things at the hands of His enemies and then dies. Yours brings you into it too. “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 will find it. Real talk, I didn’t want to preach this at a time in America where Christianity looks at the pandemic and then spends more time explaining what “take up your cross and follow me” doesn’t mean than what it does.

Look at the two sermons that never change. One promises life that ends only in death. One promises death that ends only in life. God never called the church to safety, but to faithfulness. Temporal safety has always been the promise of the evil one. He made it to Eve. He made it to Jesus in the wilderness. He made it to Peter. He makes it to us. How many have avoided the tomb so far?

Just as unprofitable, though, is when we push too far the other way. Peter took to heart what happened today. Later, he’ll swear never forsake the Lord three times before the rooster crows. Even if I must die with you, I’ll not deny you. He’s ready to throw down. Draws his sword on all the soldiers that come to arrest the Lord. Cuts off an ear for the Jesus. But it’s not about that. Jesus stops Peter from losing his life for His sake. It still misses the point. Christianity also isn’t a reckless rush to death to prove to Jesus you trust Him.

The church actually had to preach sermons telling people they didn’t need to die as martyrs to be saved. That’s up there with the warning labels that say ‘do not iron shirt while wearing’. It’s only there because folks thought it was a good idea. We’re clearly bad at time savers. Also, you don’t need to prove anything to Jesus. You don’t need be reckless and stupid in the world you live in, draw a sword on those who’d oppress, or iron a shirt while you wear it to impress God. He already knows who you are just fine. Some of you are the ones too scared to carry your own crosses. Some of you are the ones so eager to bear them you think you can prove something by it. Some of you are the reason so many things have warning labels. God knows us just fine. He knows us so well He realized the only way any of us were ever going to get to the resurrection was if He bore the cross to win it for us.

Don’t knock St. Peter though. He figures it out eventually. The disciple told to take up his cross and follow Jesus was given the chance later on. Peter was also arrested, charged, and condemned to death by crucifixion. He could literally follow Jesus. Instead, he insisted to be hung upside down because no death Peter could die would be equal to the one Jesus died for him. Peter’s sacrifice just left him upside down and dead, but Christ’s sacrifice gave Peter life. Peter insisted that his death not follow his Lord’s in that shape so that nobody would get confused. Peter died on a cross, but not the one Jesus told him to carry.

Take up your cross and follow me. Your cross isn’t your suffering. It’s right there, when God says His cross is for you. It’s your cross now. He gives you His death, that you would have His life. It’s the sermon Christ always preaches. Your cross is the one Jesus carried for you. Take up that one. Trust in His death that you would have life. Never flee from it. Every promise the devil makes about life and safety and power always runs from the cross. Christians find our shelter not in the world, and not in our own sacrifices, but in the once for all sacrifice God made for us.

What can you give to save your soul? No scratching for life, no act of sacrifice. You can’t, no matter how careful you are, save your soul. You can’t, no matter how grand your sacrifice is, win it either. Instead, look to Jesus who died for you to win for you eternal life, to save you from death in a way that changes how we see it.

We know that unless Christ returns first, none of us will escape death. We also know we don’t need to. We have been given the path through the grave and back out again. Jesus gives us His cross to us to carry so that we would not be afraid of death anymore. This is not a race away from the tomb, but also not a race into one. It’s shelter in the cross that saves. Your cross, where Your Jesus died for you, is your safety. Here, even death can’t harm you. Christ has destroyed it and He is risen. Every one of the devil’s sermons that promise life only promise you a place you shouldn’t look to that cross for salvation. Every temptation to find a way around this ends only in death. Every temptation to carry a different cross seeks to replace His. Instead, Jesus just calls us back to the only one that helps until the day He returns in glory to resurrect those who have fallen asleep, that we would follow Him, not just into the grave, but back out too. Christ is risen. You will rise. This death ends only in life.

He promises we’ll taste death while we wait. Eat and drink His body and blood. Be not afraid of the evil one. Need not his false promises of life that can’t save. Instead, take shelter in the Lord and His gifts. Take and eat death, the body of Christ, for you. Take and drink the blood of Christ, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Even as we receive this gift out of death the Son of Man brings His kingdom of life to us that we would live.

Jesus preaches a sermon that never changes

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God

Matthew 16:13-20

Who do you say that the Son of Man is? We’re still asking the same question. We’re past the days where people haven’t heard the name Jesus. Even today, He still gets a lot of press. The thing is, when you listen, we all seem to be talking about someone different. Most of them aren’t real.

Who do people say that the son of man is? Some go for the high road and say he is just the example. He’s the guy you follow when you feel bad about being bad, and he helps you be better until you don’t wanna be so bad anymore. But most of the time he just ends up being the guy used to bash you over the head when you don’t do what someone else wants you to.

It’s it least simpler when we use Example-Jesus as a weapon against our own children. Hey kids, Jesus wouldn’t do drugs. He always does his homework, cleans his room, and listens to his parents too. Be like Jesus. He’s a shining example of what you could be, but aren’t. A chance to feel ashamed every time you’re around a pastor who just might maybe know the truth or a parent who might have another lecture to turn you into the kid they wished you were. Then we complain about why there aren’t kids in church.

Example-Jesus really shines, though, when the grownups turn him against each other. It’s amazing how he’s used by both sides of every issue. The 10 commandments are important to tell you why you’re wrong, but can never be used to make me reflect on my own positions. I know he said render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s, but I’m still pretty sure he agrees with me on every issue of politics and wants you to vote the way I vote. I’ve got some out of context bible verses to prove it, and you should just ignore everyone who disagrees with me but also quotes bible verses with no context to prove their point. Also, if you really were a Christian you’d care about the social issues I care about more than you, because Christians are supposed to be loving. You know, just like me. The guy who hates everyone on the other side of every issue I’m passionate about but veils it behind self-righteousness and passive-aggressive behavior. Then we complain about a world that doesn’t respect the separation between church and state.

Who do people say the Son of Man is? Some go for the low road and say he is a bigot, no better than the monsters and murderers with guns and bombs of today. That he calls people sinners in a hate filled book that does nothing but setup the scene for hate crimes in the name of a higher power. No matter what you call it, he’s the same as the very worst of the rest. There’s no room for nuance, and even less room for mercy. Not just without, but within. Bigot-Jesus picks the sinners that sin differently than I do and says there’s no forgiveness for them until they change, never mind that we’ve been here confessing the same sins week after week for years. Then we complain about how our culture doesn’t see the point of organized religion.

Who do people say the Son of Man is? Some just say he’s a myth, because how could a loving God let the world look like this? If I were God I’d do things different, and even though I need help using the dishwasher sometimes, I’m still pretty sure I’m smarter than any deity that created the heavens and the earth and kept it all in motion for all of time until this moment. And if you go by how most people talk about him, I’m apparently more loving than him too, even though my first act as the one in charge would be to make everyone who’s done wrong suffer, rather than suffer for them myself in order to save them then send people out just to speak that forgiveness to them. Then we complain about the idea of faith itself, that we should trust in something we can’t see or control, all the while claiming to be people that live by it.

Have you noticed a common theme yet? Grab hold of a select part of the law, ignore the gospel completely, then weaponize religion. It’s what the people wanted from Elijah, who they wanted to be a weapon against a world set against them. It’s what they wanted from John the Baptist and Jeremiah, who were both ridiculed and hated by the world and the religious alike, not because they were wrong, but because they called everyone to seek mercy in the Lord who not only calls sin wrong, but loves sinners enough to forgive them.

But who do you say the Son of Man is? This is not awhat does Jesus mean to you essay. That’s where all of those other ones went wrong. Not one is a confession of who God is, just speeches about how we’d use Him. It can never be more than that. You can try to use the law, but you can only receive the gospel. And if Jesus is something to use, not receive, he only ends up being what we wish he was. Either to help us win, or to excuse us from having to listen to Him, it always ends up being law and no gospel. Those are answers from flesh and blood. They should sound ridiculous. Because they are.

This is not a chance to come up with your own answer. That’s gone wrong every time we’ve tried it. Instead we’re given a common confession. A God given creed. Peter’s answer not from flesh and blood, but from God. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. We answer the same.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

This is God given, because if it were gonna come from flesh and blood, it would just be confessions of what we see in a world of flesh and blood. Ever since Adam and Eve blamed each other over eating some fruit and Cain picked up a rock, we’ve only been looking for weapons down here.

We figure we need them because honestly, this world looks like hell. We all see it. Christians and unbelievers alike. From the pain of the standards you know you’ll never reach no matter how hard you try to the bitterness you hold towards those who stand over you and never seem to be happy with what you’ve done. To the shame of knowing what’s right and falling so short of it yourself. To the hate and suffering and pain brought by sinners against each other. Let alone those little words, sharper than knives used to cut each other down, ruin reputations. All the way To the deeper sins, ground into the dust we walk on, raising up storms we can’t explain and leaving us at a loss for words while we try to explain to a mother burying her kid why any of this makes sense. This is our world. Sin, death, and devils everywhere. I see hell just fine. If I’m going to be honest, I spend more time than a pastor should just wondering if we’re alone in it.

I’m given words to speak to you, not from flesh and blood and sin and doubt, but from a church that cries with the voice of God in heaven. Who do you say I am? From Him, the answer is a sigh of relief, a hymn of hope. You are the Christ, the son of the living God. The church was founded on these words to stand right up against the gates of hell, that hell would not overcome it. This Christ, the Son of the living God, He is the one who came into this very pit of despair and destruction. He didn’t walk with me on a beach to be my footsteps. He walked into Jerusalem to die instead. For me. For you. For all.

It makes it look like everyone who hates him was right all along. Yours is a God who bleeds. Who died naked and alone. Yet He did it for them, and for you. He did it to forgive. Every standard you fell short of. Every demand of the law. He bore the wrath and punishment for us. He died for every sinner sinking in despair and hate and pain. He did not wield a weapon, but took up a cross. He did not come bearing only law, but with it the gospel, the promise of forgiveness for you and for all. He came to call you His beloved, perfect and holy. Unstained by sin, and unblemished by the world. Not by what you’ve done, but only by what He’s done for you. By what you’ve received. You are the ones Jesus died for. Yours is the God who conquers sin, and then conquers death. Yours is the God who rose from the dead. Yours is the God who gives mercy. Yours is the God who unlocks heaven and lets the sinners in, because we are sinners no more.

Go to your pastor. Hear blessed words. In the stead and by the command of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins. Hear simple little words that tie you to the victory. And when you can’t see it, you can see that cross where He effects it. The resurrection where He proves it. In the stead and by the command of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins. Christ gives. We receive. This is yours now. All of it. Yours is the Christ, the Son of the living God. You have life in His name.

The church stands at the gates of hell with this confession, with these words. Ours is the God of the gospel. Ours is the cross. Ours is the resurrection. Ours is the mercy and forgiveness. Ours is the hope. Ours is the God-given confession of truth and life. It’s dark and hell is hot. But we will endure because Christ is risen from the dead and we are baptized into this life. We will endure a world that hates the idea of mercy for those they don’t think deserve it. We will endure a war with ourselves that we lose far more than we win. We will endure the trials and temptations, the fear and the panic, the hate and the death. Hell itself will not prevail against us here. Ours is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and we have life in His name.

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God

She only calls Him Lord.

Matthew 15:21-28

Most people are only interested in religion twice. Once, as a child, in wonder. We do our best to keep that one going as long as possible. Prolong that sense of joy down in the heart. We talk about miracles. The Jesus who loves baby sheep and playing with kids. It’s easier than the other one. The other time is as an adult, after hardship, for 2 questions. Why would God ever tell me no? How can I change His mind? We usually try to shut that one down pretty quick. Not because we don’t care. Because we don’t know, either. As a consequence, most people find the church to be a quiet place the one time they need it to speak loudest. So after coming up empty on both questions, most wander off, calling the whole religious experience wildly unsuccessful.

Most of us have met this woman in one way or another. Some of us have been where she is. She goes by many names, but the pattern is always the same. She’s that person who seemingly does it all right, but everything goes wrong anyway. She prays. Goes to church. Tries to be a good person. The whole bit. But her loved one is still sick. Suffering.Broke and alone.

Most of us have no idea what to say. Because what advice is there really? What comfort is there in a God who says no? This woman’s daughter is oppressed by a demon. That’s bad. So she does all the right things. She goes to Jesus, who casts them out, who says He’s there to conquer them. She prays. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” He ignored her.

The disciples got uncomfortable. Listen, Jesus, if you’re not gonna help her, at least get her out of here. We don’t know what to say. It’s hard to feel the praise song when there’s someone lamenting right next to us. But she came and knelt before Him. Really prayed from the bottom of her heart. “Lord, help me.” Nope. This food is for Israel, not little dogs. This is not that easy, childlike, wonder stage. There is no gentle shepherd. The flashy miracle goes unperformed just a little bit too long to excuse it as dramatic affect. So it’s time for the 2 big questions. Why would God tell her no? How did she change His mind, so I can do it too? Except most of our problems aren’t solved after 8 verses. Sometimes God says no.

I’ve taken the easy way out for too long on that. What father doesn’t say no sometimes? At least, what good one… No ice cream because it will spoil your dinner. ‘No’ isn’t about being mean, but good. Except, I can’t really get my head around the phrase “No, I won’t cure you cancer because it will spoil your dinner.” It’s a little less cute. Still, sometimes God says no. That “no” is enough to make us question God’s very character. Who He is. What He cares about. The thing that makes the disciples so uncomfortable, though, is that despite the temptation to call Jesus a lot of things for how we feel He treats this woman, she only calls Him Lord.

We only want to deal with God according to our experiences, but she only wants to remember His promises. Son of David, have mercy. Lord, help. These are names taught by God. They make promises about who He is. What He’ll do. She doesn’t see a chance to argue her way to what she wants. She sees the Son of David. She sees God in the flesh. If He’s there, it’s for purpose. Even if she doesn’t understand it. Even if she hates it at the moment. If He’s here when He could be anywhere, it’s for what He was promised to do. The Son of David is supposed to save.

So she won’t let this rest on who she is. That doesn’t’ matter. This is about who Jesus is, not about who she is. Canaanite? True. Little dog compared to God? Fine, I guess it’s not wrong. But Jesus is still the Son of David, and the Son has mercy on sinners. That’s what faith is at the end of the day. Seeing the goodness of God through His word, even in the face of our experiences. It’s trust in His word. Both what it says about us not being enough, but also about Him being the savior for everyone who can’t fix what’s wrong. Faith is daring to beg from God because we actually trust Him when He promised to help. Faith is holding on to His promises because He hasn’t always gotten it done the way we want, but He’s never broken one yet. Faith wrestles with God. It grabs on and won’t let go. Because if God is there to wrestle with, it’s because He won’t stand back from our problems or our sins.

You can’t wrestle with someone who won’t be near you in the first place. In her time of need, there sits God. So she grabs on and won’t let go. Faith sees a lot of ‘yes’ hidden in God’s ‘no’ because it starts with promise that God is good. It concludes that if God is near, He’s here for good in the first place. Faith is willing to stop asking the why and the how long enough to consider the who. This is about who God is. It’s a question of His being rather than His actions, because ultimately the action must follow the being. If God is good, the things He does must be good too. Even when those things look like this.

There’s a lot of evil down here. Some of it’s our fault. Some I’ll put on the demons. It’s not God’s fault, but He makes it His to bear. He’ll wade into it just to be near you. Work good inside it. Stories of wondrous miracles are great. The good shepherd who carries little children is fantastic. But if you really want to teach our religion, it can only be the cross. The miracles were great for some, but if you’re still missing yours, the cross was already for you. There God shows why He drew near to this woman and her daughter in need. Not with gentle imagery, but with a sacrifice to save. It’s good, even when it wasn’t gentle. Among evil and sin and suffering and death, God fulfills His promise. He died so that the power of demons would come undone, and this poor woman’s daughter would be free from her curse. He died so that sinners would be forgiven. So that every awful name we can rightly be called would be left behind where God buries them in a tomb. He died so that every unanswered why would be overwhelmed by an all-merciful who. Jesus died for you so that you will live. Jesus died for you so that you would find rescue, help, and even hope in the middle of the crosses of this life.

So wrestle with God. Hear His promise and dare to expect Him to be to be here. Hold on to His promise in the face of everything, because even when we can’t for the life of us understand why, we’re still told who. Yours is the Son of David who has mercy on sinners. It’s just who He is. Even when saying no, He’s working towards larger yes. Hold God to His promises. Expect good from Him. He dares you to in these words, because they’re already fulfilled. It is finished. Christ has been crucified for you. You are the baptized child of the Father. Even now, He isn’t far. He’s here for you in body and blood. Because God won’t be away from you in your time of need. And if He’s here, it’s for your good. Kneel here and wrestle. Lay your problems out and say simply Lord, help. Lord, have mercy on me. He promised to. He does. He will. Even in the word no. Look at the altar. He is there for you, and more, He is working for the good He’s promised you. He’s life in the face of everything that would rob us of it. Whatever evil is going on, whoever you are, He is still the Son of David. He has mercy on sinners. He has mercy on you.

She only calls Him Lord.

Don’t confuse calm with peace

Matthew 14:22–33

It’s easier to talk about the Jesus who walks on water than the Jesus who made the disciples get in the boat before the winds and waves pulled their boat from land and soaked the disciples to their bones. It’s easier to talk about the Jesus who didn’t have to take baths as a kid if He didn’t want to than it is to wrestle with the God who clearly has control of the waves since He made them stop, but let this thing go until the 4th watch of the night.

The wind was against them. Which is an understatement sort of like when someone asks you “how’s it going?” and you say “OK”. The wind was against them in the kind of way that took control of their boat from them. The wind was against them in the kind of way that the water doesn’t splash them. It beats them. These fishermen spent enough time on the water to know that if they go under in the dark in a storm like that, they’ll die. They’re surrounded by death right now. And it’s washing over them just to make clear the point.

It’s great that Jesus walked on water in a storm, but if you ignore the reality that He also made the disciples go out into what just might have killed them, you’ll miss the point. Both were done out of mercy. It’s easy to find the Jesus who walks on water then calms the storm, then squint so you don’t realize the He just might be saving the disciples from Himself. In the middle of the night, surrounded by death, the deeper truth is that Jesus rescued the disciples from the misconception that calm is the same as peace.

When Christianity confuses calm for peace, it offers neither. But still, so often, we want to describe our faith as a calmed storm, not a present Lord. We gravitate towards pictures of sunsets on the beach, scenic mountains, and quiet plains. Calm. They’re beautiful. The problem with the scenic using landscapes to symbolize your faith as a calm feeling isn’t just that those moments are few and far between. The pictures of calm are nicer, but don’t help anyone in the middle of a storm. It’s easier to stand on shore and appreciate the miracle of Jesus walking on water than it is to sing hymns while trying to keep the boat from overturning in the waves. But when Christianity is an unshakable calm feeling, the only place people can’t admit to struggling is the church, the one place God built as a refuge for them.

We imagine that a thriving faith is the kind that can walk on water and not sink, but I wonder how many of the people who’d criticize St. Peter for the doubt that sunk him into the sea also took swimming lessons. “When Peter saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”” When Christianity confuses calm for peace, anyone who gets caught struggling in it must be measured by their struggle and not their God. So we’d count Peter as weak, not rescued.

“O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” O ye of little faith, why would you think that would stop God from working? O ye of little faith, doubt all you want. It won’t stop God from pulling you out of the water. The disciples were anything but calm. Peter doubted. God still saved. All of this is given to you so you’ll stop measuring the storm, stop measuring the calm, stop measuring your faith, and start looking to your God. “Lord, save me” might not be the cry of someone who can walk on water without a care, but it’s the faith that turns toward the God who rescues us. It’s not that doubt is good. It’s that God is so good He won’t wait until we have everything figured out to draw near and save.

Even as He does it, the disciples wrestling with the storm they know is death to them. Jesus walks right over death while they struggle with it and they figure He’s a ghost because they think the only thing that can walk on death is from evil. But God promises. Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid. Because the best place to find God is in the middle of the storm, walking over death. The best place to find God is on the cross, then rising from the dead. This isn’t just a Christianity that endures the storm. It’s one that thrives in spite of the storm.

Because some storms, God sends, others, the devil, the prince of the air. You’ll never sort it out in the middle. The only difference is Jesus uses His to drive you closer to Himself, the devil uses his to pull you farther. God tests to strengthen faith. The devil tempts to destroy it. So stop questioning where it came from and instead look to the God who draws near to save regardless. Always.

In reality Christianity is not Christians copying Jesus to walk on water. It’s Jesus pulling up sinking sinners. Even though we doubt, Christ pulls us out of the water. Even though we lose focus on God in the storm, He doesn’t lose focus on us. He reaches down into death and pulls us back out. He dies upon the cross for you and rises from the dead, taking you with Him. And if Christ can pull you out of the grave, go ahead and let your calm be damaged. Set aside the idea that calm is the same as peace. Peace is knowing God draws near to save those who struggle. Those who sin. Those who doubt. Those who sink. Peace is knowing Jesus joins you in the storm to pull you out of death. Peace can exist in the storm because Jesus will be in it too. That means we can even find peace when we sink into death. God will only pull us back out to life.

When Christianity confuses calm for peace, it offers neither. Because I wish I could promise you that if you just believe enough, you’ll walk on water and nothing bad will ever happen, but you won’t. I can’t. But worse, you’ll never have peace in the storms that do come, no matter who sends them, because you’ll only measure God’s presence by whether or not the wind’s blowing, not whether or not He’s there with you to pull you out of the water. Forget calm. Know the peace that surpasses understanding. Know the Jesus who draws near to save.

Jesus gives peace that doesn’t need calm, just a promise from the God who saves sinners. You don’t have to be afraid of the water. You don’t have to be afraid of the prince of the air and the storm. Maybe the waves beat you too, but they cannot hurt you. You see, you have already been stung by water. You have already been drowned once. In baptism, the old Adam inside us was stung, and he was drowned, so that just as Christ would die and rise, we would die and rise with Him. Just as Christ has risen above death and the grave, we too will rise. In our baptism, just as Christ walks above the waters, we will be brought with Him, over any wave, through any storm.

Christianity is the promise of peace given in Jesus. He is with us, in our baptisms, until that last hour at the very end of the night when Jesus returns to his boat. On that glorious last hour, when Christ returns to us as Judge, the wind will cease, because satan, the prince of the air, is once and for all defeated. On that day all our troubles will end, all our pain will vanish, and we will live with our Lord and Savior forever in peace. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Don’t confuse calm with peace

Jesus has compassion

Matthew 14:13-21

The disciples just got back from their first taste of trying this in the real world. I remember how that went. They have some concerns too. They really shouldn’t complain though. It went worse for John the Baptist. He died. To be more specific he just had his head cut off and paraded around a party for saying the things he was sent to say – the word of God. Things weren’t going great. The disciples are frustrated and scared. Even Jesus is hurting.

So Jesus pulls everyone back. Full retreat. You can call it a crises of faith if you want, but even if hate term, faith is under siege. Heartbreak. Fear. Sin. Suffering. Hate. Death. All of them chip away at it. It’s easier to talk about words like hope when you aren’t losing sleep over something. Or 5 somethings. It’s easier to maintain conviction when you’re the one in control and feel safe. It’s one of the honest criticisms of our faith that we’d rather ignore because it hits too close to home. It’s easier to think God takes care of you aren’t on a ventilator. It’s easier to talk about His commandments when you didn’t get caught breaking them. It’s easier to be pro life when you aren’t pregnant at 15.

When you’re not in control, when you’re not safe, when you’re best friend was just beheaded for preaching the same kind of sermon you’re supposed to preach and you realize maybe God has a different plan for your life than you do …then what? When you’re heartbroken and afraid and hurt and sinful…then what? We all still try to keep that conviction we had in better times, but our voices get shaky. God will take care of me…but…really?

You can see it as the crowds follow Jesus out to the wilderness. They want answers. They want hope. They want help. You can hear it in the disciples nervous answer. How are we going to feed so many? “We only have five loaves here and two fish.” You might even do it yourself in a few minutes. Look up at the host that is the body of Christ in some flatbread, listen to the promise, this is the peace of the Lord who is with you, and say…ok…but…really?

Then call it like you see it. Jesus didn’t save John’s life. He fed 5000, but that seems like a pretty small miracle in comparison no matter how many people Jesus picked up the check for. Especially since a verse later He left so He wouldn’t have to keep doing it as their king. He immediately gets into a boat and dismisses the crowds. Especially since He hasn’t done it for you. We know people hurting, dying, suffering, and Jesus isn’t helping the way we want. And if that’s all we have to go on, yeah, conviction will be in short supply. If you want to look at each problem, things look bleak. So instead of measuring God by every single problem, by everything you think you lack, look to who He is in the face of all of it.

It was compassion that moved Jesus each time. It was compassion for the loss of His friend drove Him to the desolate places to mourn. It was compassion for the people there drove Him to feed the people that followed Him. It was even compassion that drove Him away after. When He went, it wasn’t to abandon them. He carried their pains and fears and most of all their sins with Him. He wanted to do more than answer one fear after another as they arose. He wasn’t meant to be that kind of King. He left to snuff them out completely. His was to go into Jerusalem to wear a crown of thorns so that sinful desire and scared idolatry would not devour us, that enemies like death and the devil would be robbed of their sting. That the sinners would find mercy. That the dead would live. That those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be satisfied. Even when everything looks like this. Maybe you don’t see Him still working in the middle of all your problems, but neither did the disciples surround by hungry mouths to feed.

In the face of fear and sorrow and a complete lack of everything needed, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks, broke it and gave it to the disciples. 5000 were fed. It wasn’t dependent upon their conviction that everything would be ok when it didn’t look like it. It was dependent upon Christ’s mercy. The same love, the same mercy that drove Him to care for those saints drives Him to care for you, even if He does it different. 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and 5000 people I never met honestly don’t make me sleep better at night in the face of what’s wrong in my life, but the God who had compassion on them does. He’s the same God who has compassion on us too. That’s the same God who, in a one time miracle, helped and saved us all, not because of our conviction, but because of His mercy. He bore one cross, one resurrection, one sacrifice for all of time and for all people. In that one miracle He conquered every enemy, forgave every sin, and destroyed every death. It was compassion that drove Him to that cross so that we can stop addressing each day like a brand new disaster. Because there’s always another problem. Always another fear. Always another tragedy and another loss. But there is a one time miracle that stands in the face of all of it. Christ was crucified for you. He is risen from the dead. Let the cross shape your hope for the future, not whether or not God dropped a pile of money from on high to pay off your mortgage. Let the compassion of God that has no end give you hope for tomorrow, not what you’re afraid He neglected. Eternal life guides cares of this world, cares of this world does not guide eternal life because the compassion God had to save your soul doesn’t disappear when it comes to what you don’t think you have enough of.

It worked for John. They cut his head off, but he stood beside Christ at the Transfiguration, alive and whole. Jesus says he is Elijah come again for those who will hear him. John is in heaven now. On the last day, he will rise, because Jesus did it first. Even a death like that could not separate us from the God who has compassion enough to join us in the grave to raise us from the dead. And in the meanwhile, when conviction is in short supply, see the same thing played out again. Jesus has compassion on His saints. Week after week, He takes bread, and after giving thanks, breaks it and gives it to you here until everyone is satisfied. It is His body, given for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, especially the ones that make people look at you differently. You eat forgiveness. Be satisfied. It is His body, given for you, for the victory over death for you and all who believe. Even those gasping for breath. You will live. Rejoice. It is His body, given for you, as an answer steeped in compassion to every frustrated sinner losing sleep over one something or five of them.

It doesn’t mean we won’t ever go without. It means we can have hope even when we do. Because even when our conviction wavers, God’s mercy doesn’t. We won’t throw out the law that convicts and burdens us. We’ll embrace it to serve our neighbor. We won’t measure God strictly by His providence before our eyes, but by His miracles that give way to providence. We will be the sinners Jesus died for and the sinners Jesus fed. When conviction is in short supply, when you are afraid or burdened, guilty or ashamed, turn in here. There was one miracle that gives us hope. Christ, who was crucified for you, is risen from the dead. There is a new miracle here for you each week. God still takes bread, after giving thanks, breaks, gives to you.

Jesus has compassion

parables are about Jesus

Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus speaks to the disciples in parables. At the end He asks if they understand. Everyone says yes, because parables are simple. Almost nobody actually does, because parables are hard.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. We always figure we’re that man. It leaves us speaking boldly about our love for God but in an awkward spot when it meets the real world. We can be perfectly comfortable insisting we’d give up everything for Jesus while scoffing at the notion of tithing 10% of everything. We can insist we’d face death rather than fall away from this confession and faith while watching the service online for safety. We can insist Jesus is our treasure but most of us would have a harder time going a week without a cell phone than a month without a bible. It makes even temperance feel like sin and caution like unbelief. And it festers inside us since nobody can see it. It leaves us feeling dirty like a man who makes sure nobody’s looking before dishonestly covering up the treasure so nobody else will find it before lowballing someone for the field. But sure, Jesus is the treasure we seek out and give up everything for in secret, and at someone else’s expense. Because why would you want to share Jesus with anyone?

Maybe that parable’s broken. Let’s do the other one. They’re short so we can do that today without going long. Lord, Thee I love with all my heart, but if the sermon is longer than 15 minutes I’ll depart. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Let’s go searching for the pearl of great wisdom here. Unless it takes longer than 15 minutes. Moving right along.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But I’m sure we’re the good fish because I can think of other people doing way worse. Never mind that we spend more time with this one taking on the role of angels doing the separating than imagining actually having to subject our sins, our idols, and our excuses to their eyes. Because weeping and gnashing of teeth is easier to consider if you’re sending other people there instead of being sent there yourself.

Jesus speaks to the disciples in parables and we usually treat them like Christian nursery rhymes and fables. We assume there’s a moral to each story, a way to behave. We assume they’re about us. It’s why we misunderstand them. Hearing we do not understand. Seeing, we don’t perceive. There’s a law answer and a gospel answer to most questions. Only one brings any real peace though the other doesn’t do anything more than let us excuse what we can’t fix.

Consider the parables today. None start with you. Each begin the same. The kingdom of heaven. Nobody gets to the kingdom of heaven by the law. By works of the law no one will be made righteous. No one will be saved. The kingdom of heaven is about the gospel. It’s about Jesus for sinners. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” If this is about Jesus, parables are simple. If you make it about yourself, parables are impossible.

When we treat parables like Christian nursery rhymes and fables, they always end up in the law and never the gospel. Do this. Be that. The law accuses. If you can hear the law and not feel like a sinner, you’re not hearing the real law or you’re not really seeing yourself for all your excuses. Parables contain the secrets to the kingdom of God. That means they’re about the only way we’re getting there. Jesus. The gospel. If you want to understand parables and you don’t see Jesus at the center, you’re missing the point. It is God who justifies. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Not even yourself.

You aren’t the man who finds the treasure and sells all you have for it. You’re the treasure. God loves you so much He considers you priceless even in the face of the sins, idols, and excuses that leave you buried and dead in a field. He sells all He has to buy you. He doesn’t pay in gold or silver, but in His holy and precious blood and His innocent suffering and death that You would be His own. He finds us buried under the wages of sin, buried in cemeteries, and pays the price on the cross to redeem you. He gives His own life to buy yours back. He joins you in the tomb then pulls you up out of your grave. He promises that even as He is risen from the dead, you will rise. For you were bought with a price. You are the pearl of great price. Jesus looks at you and sees someone worth saving no matter the cost.

The parables aren’t about how much you love God. They’re about how much He loves you. They aren’t about how much you would give for God. They’re about how much He already paid for you. Look to the cross and see the stories come to life. Everyone trained to find Jesus in the parables finds the true Treasure. The gospel. The old promise made to Adam and eve, the new promise made every day to you. You are righteous because Jesus died for you. You are baptized. Washed. Holy. Loved. This is how the angels sort the catch on the last day. Those who find their righteousness in Christ fear nothing. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. In your baptism, you are more than conquerors through Him who loved you. In your baptism, you are the prize Jesus conquered death to win.

parables are about Jesus

There’s only one cross that matters.

Matthew 10:34–42

I always get nervous when Christians start talking about taking up their cross and following Jesus. It isn’t that we shouldn’t. It’s in the bible. What makes me nervous is the way we talk about it. It always sounds off. Hey Jesus, I know you were literally scourged, beaten, spit upon, and had nails driven through your body to hold you to a cross to suffocate on your own fluids while people mocked you as you hung naked to die. I totally get where you’re coming from. Like this one time, someone made me wear an old tshirt over my face and I didn’t want to. It was really uncomfortable, but I get it. Sometimes Christians just have to bear their crosses too.

Never mind some of the disciples our Lord spoke to were literally crucified, I don’t think that’s what Jesus means. It’s actually not that most of us haven’t suffered the way Jesus did. Good. It’s not a contest. The worst pain you’ve ever felt is still the worst pain you ever felt. That’s the whole thing. When Jesus says “take up your cross and follow me”, most of the time we only identify the cross by how it looks. Painful. We look for the times we hurt as the fulfillment of what He calls us to do. It completely changes what the cross is. It turns it inward. Selfish. You’re the only one that can feel your pain. If you stub your toe, mine doesn’t actually hurt. I can relate to it. Empathize with it. Remember doing it myself. Still, I’ve got nothing to do with your toe and the coffee table. Sorry, the time the coffee table made you take up your cross to follow Jesus.

When you measure your cross by the pain you feel, the cross is just the source of the pain. The coffee table is one thing, but if we’re being honest, the worst pains most of us have felt were usually caused by someone, not something. The people that can hurt us the most are usually the ones closest to us. Do not think that Jesus came to bring peace to earth, but the sword. Families set against each other hurt in a way that puts the coffee table to shame. This is the really dark thing that happens when Christians talk about “taking up their cross and following Jesus” in terms of dealing with suffering. Most of the time, by bearing the cross, we mean each other. Bearing the cross stops being for your neighbor and usually ends up being because of them.

That’s why we don’t make the crucifixion a contest in hurting. We don’t mark the real Christians as the ones who have been through more. We don’t identity the cross by how it looks. The cross isn’t about what hurt looks like. It’s about who it’s for. Jesus sacrificed for the very people hurting Him. When we lose sight of that, the cross is robbed of all forgiveness. When the cross is because of our neighbor instead of for them, it leaves us only as victims looking for oppressors and enemies. It leaves you looking for injustice, not justification. It leaves you angry at the very people Jesus bore it for in the first place. The word martyr is robbed of its first meaning. It isn’t just someone who dies for the faith. The word martyr used to mean witness. Witnesses pointed to Jesus. Some of them died singing hymns. Some prayed for their enemies. Jesus died for the whole lot, and those martyrs who clung to Jesus found a life that no death could take away. Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, but the sword. For once, realize that isn’t a call for more war. It’s a call to stand for something even if it’s for the ones who have hurt you. Ask Peter who swung one at the soldier’s ear. You aren’t to wield the sword but to endure it and cling to one truth the whole while. He who died for you even died for them.

The call to take up your cross and follow Jesus isn’t a call label your hurts as true marks of Christianity and revel in them because they prove you love Jesus more than the people hurting you and more than the ones who haven’t hurt as badly. If all you’re looking for is enemies who caused you pain, the second part of the reading makes no sense. It’s a call to hear those sent to you by God as the ones who bring hope. Look to the little ones who need a cold cup of water and serve them. Then stop pretending they’re only God given if they don’t happen to be sinners who have wronged you. They’re the sinners sent to you by the God who showed you how much they were worth by paying the price for their souls in blood. Care for the least of these, because God paid the highest price for them. Sacrifice for your neighbor not out of obligation, but because that sinner who hurt you is someone God said is worth His own life. Not because it saves you. It doesn’t, and it doesn’t need to. It’s just an extension of the mercy shown to all. Because there’s only one cross that matters.

Jesus died on it for sinners. For you. He bled and died not because of His enemies, but for them. That’s what makes His death a sacrifice and not just a tragedy. The sins of all are forgiven there. It’s even for you, angry and hurt. It’s for you, bitter and resentful. It’s for you who would rather see someone Jesus died for as a source of wrong than a soul redeemed. For that anger, your sins are forgiven you. For that grudge, there is a call to carry forgiveness. Take up the cross and follow Jesus. Then realize that isn’t a call to hurt. It’s a call to cling to the only cross that saves. All forgiveness comes from there. Even the forgiveness you offer to each other. None of it comes from you. All of it was won by Him. Take up your cross where your Jesus died for you and carry that forgiveness won there everywhere you go. Revel in it. Your sins are forgiven you. Take up your source of salvation, where Jesus died for you. Wear it on your neck. Hang it on your walls. Take up your cross and let your identity not be the one who hurts, not the victim, but the one who carries the mark of forgiveness and the peace it brings everywhere you go. That forgiveness means something. Angry or not, it is still finished. Sins are paid for. Your salvation doesn’t depend on your feelings, but your Jesus. Hurt or not, you will not lose your reward. Victim or oppressor, your salvation is given in Jesus and cannot be taken.

There’s only one cross that matters.

Compassion, not control

A lot of the frustration of Christianity comes from the idea that we expect the God who is all-powerful to hold a tighter grip on creation. So much of what matters to us is fragile. So much can destroy the body and everything it holds dear. It’s easy to say God is in control when everything works out in the end like movies taught us things should. It’s harder when life is a slow-motion train wreck. It feels like God spun up the world then stepped back. At best, when Christians try to describe a God in control, it feels like nothing more than occasionally giving things a little push here or there. You can tell by how many of the descriptions of God’s control involve the words “at least”. At least I didn’t die. At least he only lost one arm. It wasn’t even the one he writes with. You’ll be hated by all for my name’s sake, but at least the one who endures to the end will be saved. You’ll be persecuted in one town, but at least you can flee to the next. So…yay?

It’s so frustrating that we usually lose sight of the fact that this is exactly the world God intended to send missionaries to. He sent them out into a world full of “at leasts”. Into a world full of dangers.  Bearing a truth that will turn families against each other and invite persecution on the ones who speak it.

A disciple is not above his teacher. If they call Jesus the servant of evil, how much more will they call you bigots, enemies, and small-minded idiots? It is enough for the servant to be like his master, and Jesus came into the world to die, so what’s that leave for us who follow Him? This was the pep talk Jesus gave the disciples before sending them out.  Jesus is a terrible motivational speaker. There’s no way to dress this up. He intended them to fail by all worldly standards.

He didn’t promise them people would hang on their every word. He didn’t promise them power. He didn’t even promise the church would grow. It’s something we need to come to terms with. The church was never called to growth. Just faithfulness. God promised to handle the rest as He wills. You. Go and speak the truth.  Don’t hold back a word. I’ll take care of the rest in my time and on my terms. Don’t worry about how it looks. Just cling to the truth. It’s freeing, even if it’s terrifying. Jesus sent us out into this world to cling to the truth, and even though it should have failed by all worldly standards, we’re here. We didn’t do that. God did. He’s still working, even if it looks like the world is falling apart.

Christianity will not conquer the world. It’s not supposed to. There have been a few times we’ve tried and maybe even come pretty close, but if we ever do, whatever that is, it isn’t witness. I’d argue the times we came the closest were the times we looked the least Christian. It’s madness by the world’s standards, but when you look to our Lord, nothing is covered that is not revealed. To aim after what the world calls success is to aim away from the failures Jesus points us toward. To aim after glory is to aim away from the cross.

See it embodied in Jesus. He entered into creation not for what the world calls success. Not for the power they measure it by. He came into our world to fail by those standards. Jesus came into the world to allow all those things to overwhelm him as He died on the cross to save sinners who didn’t have enough control to save themselves. He came to save you, not by strength, but by weakness. He would not call down fire or angelic armies. His divinity was not measured in control, but compassion. He came to be given over unto death, and after dying, to rise again to life, that we would have hope even if we don’t have control. It turns everything on its head. How do you see failure? Suffering? Humiliation? Are these the things you flee from, or the marks of the cross our Lord bore for you, the promise of victory? If you measure God’s love by the control He gives you, you’ll miss it, but what He tells you in the dark, say in the light. You are loved in the way of the cross.

It’s the great difference between the religions the world puts together and the ideals the church so often steals from them. To the world, it’s all about control. To Jesus, it’s all compassion. He has compassion enough to sacrifice control to save you. Hear it in what would otherwise sound like a threat. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. The world can’t destroy your soul. Even the devil can’t do that. The only one who can destroy both your body and soul in hell is God. Recognize if this is about control, you don’t have it. You can’t do enough to fulfill the law. You sin and fall short of its demands. Those weaknesses you flee from are evidence even apart from the 10 commandments. Fear God. Recognize you can’t control Him. Then recognize you don’t need to. If God is the lion, He may not be tame, but He is good.

Look at the weaknesses you try hardest to escape and recognize that when God tells you even the hairs on your head are numbered, it isn’t Him telling you how to keep from going bald. It’s Him telling you He loves you so much He knows all your going through and joins you there. He enters into weakness. Failure. Humiliation. Weakness isn’t proof God is far. It’s proof He is near. Look to the cross where He is made weak with you and for you. He bleeds and dies for you that you can know that no failure can keep Jesus in the tomb, and so no weakness can harm you either. Do not be afraid of what can destroy the body. Jesus will raise it. You are of more value than sparrows. You are of more value than the things that fall apart. You are worth what was paid for you. Not gold or silver, but the death and resurrection of God. You are worth God’s mercy and compassion.

See God in terms of His goodness, not in terms of whether or not you can make Him do what you want. Let go of control. Know that somethings break and can’t be fixed this side of glory. Know that the universe is very big and you are very small. Know that’s exactly the world Jesus establishes His church in. Know the odds are against us, and always have been. Push back anyway. Disturb the universe. Rejoice in the gospel. Watch a world focused on control push back harder than you ever could, then rejoice. Jesus didn’t conquer the world either. He didn’t need to. He conquered death. This is why there’s a church. To give mercy to those God has compassion on. To give life to the dying. To give hope to you. To be a source of goodness and truth and beauty in a world so bent on success. 

It isn’t about winning. It isn’t about control. It’s about compassion. So that when we confront the world we live in we can acknowledge something about who we share it with. There are people here loved by God. You are loved by God. Acknowledge it before men, even though they’d mock it. You wear the robes of resurrection even now in your baptism. These robes can’t be stained. They can’t be sullied. They can’t be torn. They are proof that the Son sees you as His brothers and sisters. They are proof that God’s goodness is for you. They are proof that nothing in this world you can’t control can destroy you because the one in charge of your soul has promised you salvation and life everlasting.

Compassion, not control