Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sermon: Wednesday of Lent 2 – Reminiscere

11 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 8:27-38

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In many ways, the Christian life is a paradox. And there is no more paradoxical figure in Scripture than St. Peter.

Peter has enough faith to walk on water, but also enough doubts to sink. Peter pledges to lay down his life for his Lord, but denies Him as the rooster crows. And again we see Peter the Paradox demonstrating his keen insights into the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ only to be rebuked by our Lord, who actually called him “Satan,” because he just doesn’t seem to understand the kingdom at all.

And yet, in spite of his weaknesses, his hypocrisies, his inconsistencies, and over and against Peter’s predilection for saying one thing only to do the opposite, and even in the face of Peter’s denial of our blessed Lord in His hour of need – St. Peter is not only an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, but by God’s grace, the leader of the apostles.

St. Peter would preach the Gospel even in Rome, where he would lose his life for the sake of Christ and of His Gospel. In what might have been seen by Peter at the time as a rebuke, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” what is actually being said by our Lord is a prophetic utterance of Peter’s ultimate faithfulness. For Peter would not only take up his cross in following our Lord, St. Peter would die on a cross as a martyr to the holy faith, a witness of Jesus Christ, one of those of whom our Lord speaks, one who loses his life and yet saves it.

St. Peter, in spite of his wavering faith and at times empty boasts, is in no way ashamed of our Lord and His words. He dies faithful to our Lord Jesus because our Lord Jesus is faithful, and gives Himself for the life of the world – including this fisherman turned bishop.

St. Peter the Paradoxical is the living example of the sinner-saint. For his good intentions are often not backed by good deeds. Like his fellow apostle and martyr at Rome, St. Paul, St. Peter seems to genuinely desire and will to do one thing, while his flesh and his actions fail to live up to his ideal. Indeed, St. Peter was among the three who wanted to stay awake with Jesus just prior to His arrest, but could not. Our Lord summed it up just as it is: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

For this is not merely a quirk in Peter’s personality, it is the way we all are. We Christians all have good intentions. We may have made grand promises for Lent. We may have resolved to repent of our sins with earnest desire and passionate zeal – only to be deflated by our sins, hearing the Lord’s “Get behind me Satan” reverberating in our ears. For so often, we, like Sinner-Saint Peter, “are not setting [our] mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

We may indeed have mocked Peter for his boasts combined with his failures, when all the while, we fare no better ourselves, being “ashamed of [Him] and of [His] words in this adulterous and sinful generation.”

And though we may never be reminded with a rooster crowing, we too deny Jesus when confessing Him might hurt our reputation. And if we never outright deny our Lord, we certainly rebel against Him every time we choose to sin, every time we spurn His word, every time we flee our own cross and seek to serve our own comfort instead of the Lord’s will in His kingdom.

We may never walk on water, only to sink because of our wavering faith, but we too fall into the sea of despair and doubt, refusing to believe in the promises and Word of God that assures us that we have nothing to fear.

And though we will not be asked to stay awake while our Lord prays in sorrow as He is about to be arrested, how often we “fall asleep” instead of laboring in the kingdom, choosing to be lazy instead of diligent, for it is just as true for us that The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

And though it is unlikely that we will ever be led to a cross to be put to death for being a disciple of Jesus Christ, we will indeed bear our own crosses, we will most certainly be humiliated and mocked for our convictions for the sake of the kingdom, and we too will have our own opportunities to tell people who Jesus is: the Christ, the Savior, the Son of the living God.

Dear friends, the paradox of St. Peter is our paradox. We want to be faithful, but we are sinners. We want to confess boldly, but we too fall prey to our own fears and doubts. Our spirits are willing but our flesh is weak. And so what greater blessing to we have than the example of St. Peter?

For St. Peter is an exemplary example of the grace of God at work. Peter deserves to be abandoned by our Lord, but is rescued instead. Peter’s lack of faith merits him death, but the faith of Jesus merits him life. And even when Peter’s doubts threaten to drown him, our Lord Jesus pulls him up out of the water to give him life.

Dear brothers and sisters, we too have been pulled up out of the water, even as our old man drowns and the new man emerges. We too confess Jesus as the Christ, in spite of our stubborn refusal to allow our Lord to teach and instruct us. And when we do take up our cross and follow Christ, we are paradoxically enabled by Christ himself, by His cross and passion and death. For listen again to our Lord’s paradoxical warning and promise: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Thanks be to our merciful and forgiving God. Amen.

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

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