Thank You Jesus- Sermon fro August 30, 2020 from Pastor John


Sermon for August 30, 2020


     It was quite a demonstration. I am not referring to the demonstrations in Kenosha or Washington, D.C. protesting police killings of African-American men and women. It was a major league baseball game. It is a strange season with games played with no fans in the stands. But the players went out in the field and the game was expected to begin. Then the players left the field and returned to the dugout and there would be no game. Draped over home plate like a mourning shroud was a shirt which said “BLACK LIVES MATTER”. Other professional sports teams followed suit and cancelled games for the day. A news report showed the catcher for the Chicago Cubs in tears saying “They just do not care” referring to recent shootings of African Americans by those expected to protect. It was a shock for we expect Sports to be a form of entertainment to get our minds off the troubles of the world. But the athletes decided to take a stand, and for some an unpopular one, because something more important than entertainment was at stake.

Jesus shocked his disciples when he began to show his disciples that he must, absolutely necessary, for him to go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hand for the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and on the third day be raised. What in the world was Jesus talking about? It was expected for Jesus to go to Jerusalem and expel all enemies of the people of Israel. But instead Jesus talked of suffering and death. How could this be especially if we remember what had just happened? Peter had confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Jesus blessed Peter and then went on to talk about his church, his gathered community, and the gates of Hades, the powers of evil and death will not prevail. Words of triumph, victory, and hope but now Jesus seemed to cast a shroud over the church by talking about his suffering and death. What Jesus said was not what the disciples wanted to hear. His words would not compute in their brains, especially since Jesus was at the height of his popularity, with all his deeds of compassion and power.

Peter, the nickname Jesus gave him meaning “Rock”, decided he had enough of such talk. It was not a moment of polite conversation when Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. Peter, upset with Jesus, finally told him, “God forbid it Lord, This must never happen to you.” We might think Peter acted not out of meanness but concern, even love, but Jesus heard something else. He turned ferociously on Peter and told him “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your minds not on divine things, but on human things.” Just after his baptism, Jesus went in the wilderness, fasted, and prayed. Satan came and tempted Jesus to set his mind on human things. Knowing Jesus was hungry after a fast Satan suggested turning stones into fresh bread. Hunger is a very human need but Jesus would not use his power to satisfy himself but instead feast first on “every word that comes from the mouth of God”. Jesus would act according to the kingdom of heaven and feed the hungry multitudes. Satan next took Jesus to the Temple in the Holy City of Jerusalem and said jump off the highest point, confident of first-responder angels to catch him. It would be a very human idea to impress the Temple authorities, the chief priests, scribes, and elders and gain their endorsement of Jesus as the Chosen Messiah. But Jesus said he would not seek protection from Heaven to impress the high and mighty. Instead Jesus would live out the Kingdom of heaven among the least and suffering, and made sure they heard the good news of God’s love, and that their lives indeed did matter. Satan then hit Jesus with the ultimate human thing: the dream of wealth and power. Satan is very successful with that and would be happy to make Jesus his assistant. NO, Jesus was not interested in the American dream or any other dream of comfort or wealth, and instead would show his devotion to the kingdom of heaven by living among the very least, and calling his followers to minister to the hungry, homeless, sick, and imprisoned. Satan would have done anything for Jesus to avoid going to Jerusalem and being killed. For through the cross, and the revealed and proven love for sinners, and Jesus’ resurrection, the victory over death, Jesus would destroy the kingdom of the Evil One, Satan’s kingdom would not therefore prevail over the church of Jesus. So Peter, the Rock, became Peter the Stumbling block, and Jesus had to confront him at once.

It must have stung Peter to the very depth of his soul to hear Jesus call him a stumbling block, the word literally is ‘scandal’. When Jesus told him “get behind me, Satan” it was Jesus silencing the temptations of Satan heard through one of Jesus’ closes friends. But the words “Get behind me, would not mean ‘get away from me” but a renewed call to follow Jesus. To follow Jesus is to keep the Lord as leader, the one to follow. Peter, or you and I today must not get ahead of Jesus with our human thoughts thinking we know better. What is so challenging about this text is that it is easy, comfortable, and justified about setting our minds not on divine things but human things.

Maybe you heard the impassioned speech from a former African-American athlete who punctuated his talk with the refrain, “If not now, when?”. He lamented the sad truth of resistance to justice, the kind of justice the Bible talks about meaning a beloved community made up of people who love their neighbors and seek to console, build up and encourage one another, ever seeing one another as made in the image of God, and redeemed through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. He then spoke the sad words, ‘nothing will change’: there was landmark Civil Rights legislation in the 60’s and that is being eroded. And he gave other examples of the growing scourge of hate. He wasn’t speaking theologically but I heard him say, as we do in our confession of sins, that we are both captive and captivated by sin and cannot free ourselves. It is time to acknowledge the danger we are in, to fall for the many temptations to be stumbling blocks to Jesus, setting our minds not on divine things, but human things. But this former athlete did not surrender to despair, as hurt as he was, but he continued to be hopeful that ultimately love will win. I think of the words of Desmond Tutu, the fierce prophet who preached justice and forgiveness in his native South Africa: “Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death; victory is ours, through God who loves us.” I would like to add as well, hope is stronger than fear.”

Thank you, Jesus you did not fall for Satan’s temptation to set your mind on human things; thank you Jesus you did not listen to Peter who said the cross must never happen to you; thank you Jesus that you firmly set your heart and mind on Jerusalem because your heart and mind is ever set upon us. Because Jesus was faithful, he became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and now risen from the dead, Jesus is Lord. So now your people, your church, lives in the assurance of the defeat of the Gates of Evil and Death. We know that your love for us, people all too often duped to set our minds not on divine things but human things, will never fail.

Thankfully Jesus does not talk like presidents and politicians. But his message has political meaning: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” Politicians talk about greatness, but Jesus talks about taking up the cross, denying self, and losing your life for Jesus’ sake. Politicians do not talk about denial and losing your life in order to find it. There is so much talk that turns out to be hollow and helpless, with the status quo remaining and resistance to change that can truly help the nation be a just and beloved community. Just think of the change for good if we took up the cross and denied ourselves: wouldn’t we become gracious and not ruled by greed; wouldn’t we desire to give of ourselves instead of guarding only what is ours, wouldn’t we want to help our neighbors, whatever their color and nationality, instead of hunkering down in fear? There is a banner in the sanctuary made by Lila some years ago, listing the fruits of the Spirit, and a dove representing the Holy Spirit. The Spirit ever speaking to our spirits, if we but listen, that we are not slaves to fear, but the beloved children of God, following Jesus so we carry the cross in the strength of his love for us, and that our lives reveal love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, goodness and self-control. In the reading from Romans the apostle Paul exhorts us, by the mercy of God, to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer.

I read an article in a magazine with the title “Higher Calling”. It was about a pastor, originally from Mexico, named Juan Carlos Ruiz. He is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brooklyn. The article certainly illustrated his “higher calling”, his work among so many people. He said “The way to engage the world is the social gospel that says God is found in the downtrodden, at the edges, beyond our limits. To really be a church, you have to be relevant to your community. Otherwise you are just a bunch of fanatics and fundamentalists.” People say Pastor Juan could sell the Bible to the Devil. The author of the article said this pastor moves with such relentless energy, he could not live a life of contemplation and prayer, yet only a deeply spiritual person could work as fanatically as he does.” We might think, ‘well that is Brooklyn, lots of people, lots of need, and lots for the church to be about. But us, here in the Northwoods, there isn’t that much to do, but just be here as the church and be a source of comfort when needed.’ But are we following Jesus, or taking our leave? We need inspiration and enthusiasm, and both of those words come from the word “Spirit”. As a congregation, may we seek the power of the Holy Spirit: and be known not by a pretty location, or by a denomination, but as the church of Jesus, thankful for his faithful love, and the calling to let his love, his peace, his hope, and his changes be known through us.