Sunday, October 03, 2010

Sermon: Trinity 18 - 2010

3 October 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 22:34-46

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There are questions that come up in life that are very important. Big questions. Questions whose answers will guide the rest of our lives, such as: “Is the tumor cancerous or benign?” or “Did I get the promotion or am I being laid off?” or “Will you marry me?”

There are also less life-changing questions, but nonetheless questions that mean a lot to us: “Will I get to take that trip this year?” or “Will our picnic get rained out?” or “Will my grandchildren be able to come and see me next week?”

It is not wrong to ask such questions. Nor is it wrong to ask the Lord to grant the answers we want. He hears our needs and our wants. He loves us and delights in granting His children’s wishes, just as parents love to treat their own beloved children.

And yet, all of these questions – even the big questions – pale in comparison to our Lord’s question: “What do you think about the Christ?” and its related follow-up question: “Whose Son is He?”

For this is a question not only of life and death, whose answer will not only alter the circumstances of the rest of our lives, but on this question hangs all of eternity.

“What do you think about the Christ?”

Who is Jesus? Is he a long-dead religious fanatic whose followers created a religion? Is Jesus a super-nice-guy who taught us to likewise be nice? Is Jesus a lawgiver who tells us to eat our peas or bad things will happen? Is Jesus a political figure? Is Jesus a spokesman for vegetarianism, the NRA, gay marriage, or deep-water oil drilling? Is Jesus a Mister Rogers figure who doesn’t care what we do as long as we have self-esteem?

Or is Jesus something else?

Our Lord asks the Pharisees because He is challenging their conclusions. Having already silenced the Sadducees, the political and social liberals of his day, our Lord then challenges the Pharisees, the political and social conservatives of that time and place.

The Pharisees were a law-and-order group. They were devoutly religious. They were generous with their offerings. They made sure they were seen praying in public. And they hated Jesus. For Jesus called them to something deeper than mere appearances. Jesus called them to repent of their selfishness and to keep the law not merely outwardly, but inwardly. Jesus challenged them to look outside of themselves and see their neighbors in need. He reminded them that the law is really about love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” – and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

These two little sermonettes on love sum up the Ten Commandments, and indeed, the entire Old Testament. For “on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

And it is on the heels of this little lesson that our Blessed Lord forces the Pharisees to think even deeper, to directly confront the Word and will of God in the form of the incarnate God who is asking the questions in the flesh.

“What do you think about the Christ?”

This question is put to us today. It is spread around the world. It has been translated into nearly every known language of mankind. It is a profound question that is a window into eternity.

Knowing the historical record of Jesus – His life in the flesh, His death on the cross, His resurrection from the tomb, His record in the Scriptures, and His death-defying followers in the Church that continues to this day – we know that this Jesus of Nazareth is unlike any man who ever lived. And like the Pharisees, we can comb the Scriptures for clues about the Christ.

Jesus points out that there is a paradox about the Christ. He is both David’s Son and David’s Lord. He is a human descendant of David and He is also David’s God. The Christ is both God and man, both a figure of the past and of the future. Or as was revealed later in Scripture, He is alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. He is the Word who was there in the beginning, the Word who was with God and the Word who was God.

And we know from Scripture that Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save the world. Jesus is the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”

What a puny and worthless Jesus we would have if he were just a politician, a giver of advice, a life-coach, or a literary figure! For none of these have empty tombs.

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?”

St. Peter confessed on behalf of all the apostles and all of the Church when the same question was posed to him. He didn’t give a risk-free, dry, academic answer like the bloodless Pharisees – who could look Jesus in the eye and confess a Christ safely tucked away in a biblical prophecy. Peter rather confessed Jesus boldly and recklessly to His face, saying as: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

That is the correct answer that eluded the Pharisees.

For it was more than flesh and blood that revealed this to St. Peter and to us. The Holy Spirit delivered Peter, the apostles, the saints and martyrs, and all of us, to our Savior and Redeemer, for the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life, bringing us into joyful communion with our God.

“What do you think about the Christ?”

The Church has the right answer: “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And rather than reward us for giving the correct reply, Jesus gives us something far better: grace. He delivers to us the forgiveness of sins as a free and full gift. He sheds His blood on the cross and offers it in the cup. He offers His body on the cross and offers it in the bread. He gives us His Word – the same Word with the power to create the universe – and He uses that Word to forgive our sins. And even as water flowed from the sacrifice of His crucified body, pierced by the Roman spear, water is poured out lavishly and lovingly upon His body the Church in Holy Baptism: all for forgiveness, life, and salvation. All so that we can be born again. All so that we can ask the big questions in faith, knowing that His Father is “Our Father who art in heaven.”

For all of these questions that are important to us are dependent on the one question above all questions: “What do you think about the Christ?” For the answer to that question is not based on head-knowledge, nor even on biblical information. The answer to that question is a confession of faith.

And when we answer that question the way St. Peter did, the Lord’s faith is our faith, and the Lord’s Father is our Father. So then next question, “Whose Son is He?” becomes not merely an academic answer from the head: “God,” but rather a confession from the heart: “God our Father, who has forgiven us all our sins and gives us eternal life.”

For ultimately, questions don’t really change our lives. The question has an answer, and that answer is a confession of faith – the faith that saves us.

For by faith we answer Jesus with a joyous confession of faith: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, our Savior and Redeemer, our strength, tower, hope, joy, our best and truest friend, and our crown of gladness – so long as life is ours, even unto eternity. Amen.

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

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