Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Sermon: Wednesday of Lent 5 (Judica)

15 March 2005, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Metairie, LA

Text: Matt 26:31-35 (3 Year)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today’s text calls to mind the old saying: “The way to hell is paved with good intentions.”

At first glance, it is a curious saying – why would “good intentions” lead anyone to hell? Of course, the answer is the built-in assumption that good intentions do not lead to good actions. In fact, good intentions often serve as a convenient substitute for good actions. Although this little saying doesn’t come from Scripture, it certainly has a ring of truth to it – especially in light of the “good intentions” of the disciples. It is a demonstration of our inability to overcome sin by “will power.”

And no-one has more “good intentions” than Peter: “Even if all are made to stumble because of you” – literally “even if everyone is scandalized by you” – “I will never be made to stumble.” One has to be careful about using a word like “never.” It is known as a “universal quantifier.” One of my high school math teachers had a rule: “Never use a universal quantifier.” Which is a clever way of saying: “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” Peter made a promise that he could not keep – his “good intentions” notwithstanding. And Jesus stings him with his prophecy that “never” was just around the corner.

“‘Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you!’ And so said all the disciples.”

Very good intentions indeed. Especially uttered by the clergy. Many centuries ago, a pastor named John Chrysostom had a different twist on the way to hell: he said it was “paved with priests’ skulls.”

Of course, we all know what became of Peter’s “good intentions.” We all know what became of those of the other disciples. And we all know about our own good intentions. We really mean well, don’t we? We make resolutions for the new year, and promises at Lent. We have every intention of managing our money better, being a better husband, wife, son, or daughter. We really do intend on reading the Bible more, taking classes to learn something we should know, being more diligent about church attendance, striving to be more tolerant and forgiving, to be a better witness of Jesus and the Christian faith. We have resolved to take better care of our bodies, we are determined to overcome our addictions and weaknesses. We promise Jesus again and again that we will control our anger, we will not gossip about others, we will stop telling white lies or cheating on our taxes. We will stop putting on a pious front so that people will think better of us.

We promise “God, we will never do that again. We will live our lives for Jesus, and if necessary, we will die for Jesus. And then the rooster crows. Then God’s law is preached. Then our conscience reminds us that we look as foolish as the disciples, relying on our own willpower and “good intentions.” And keep in mind where the disciples had just come from when they made their quickly-broken promises: they had just come from the Lord’s Supper! Only moments after being absolved of all their sins, after having just received the Lord’s Body and Blood, they are sinning by relying on their own willpower and making promises they cannot keep.

But the good news is that for all of our broken promises, there is One who keeps his promises. For our broken promises are covered by our Lord’s broken body, the Bread of Life broken for us, for the forgiveness of all our sins. Where we are unfaithful, he is faithful. Where we lie, he is true. Where we make promises with all good intentions, he makes the promise that is backed up by deeds.

And even though our Lord was “made to stumble” on our behalf, even though he was made to fall to his knees on our account, and even though he was put to death for our good intentions and wicked deeds, he is the one who can make good where Peter could not. For it is our Lord who can truly say: “Even if I have to die… I will not deny you.”

Though the road to hell is paved with good intentions (and priests’ skulls), the way to heaven is covered with the blood of Jesus, and the gate to that road is the body of our High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ. And no matter how good our intentions are (and how badly we stumble in carrying them out), Jesus continues to give us his Body and Blood. He continues to allow his unworthy pastors (who like the first pastors also fall into the trap of “good intentions”) to forgive our sins and preach the Gospel.

While we are right to struggle against sin, to make it our intention to do good and shun evil, we can rest in the fact that the only one whose “good intentions” always translate to “good deeds” – even when ours don’t. And our Lord’s deeds translate into eternal life for us. And that is indeed Good News. Amen!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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