Monday, August 28, 2017

You're the Messiah; Now What?

Yesterday, I preached a sermon on Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah in which I challenged all of us to acknowledge the implications of our own confession. If we say that Jesus is the Messiah, then we are saying that the kingdom has come. If we follow Jesus as the Christ, then we are saying that his ways are God's ways and that we aren't going to accept a world in which those ways aren't in control. There was an urgency to that message. Even tomorrow isn't soon enough for God's kingdom. That's what it means to say with Peter that Jesus is the Messiah and not just another prophet. But, when I climbed out of the pulpit and prepared to recite the words of the Nicene Creed, I felt this strange desire to interrupt the service and climb back into the pulpit to keep going.

I didn't, thankfully, but I did leave the service thinking, "So what?" Confessing Jesus as the Messiah and proclaiming the arrival of God's kingdom and insisting that God's reign be established on earth are all nice in principle, but how are they executed in practice? I didn't finish the sermon. I didn't get to the "what are we all going to do about it?" part. Funny enough, I think that comes this Sunday.

I'm not scheduled to preach, but the gospel lesson is the continuation of Matthew 16: "Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." Now that Peter and the disciples have acknowledged who Jesus really is, Jesus can tell them what his ministry will really look like--not a triumphant political or military or religious victory over the Roman or Jewish authorities but a submission to torture and execution and, through death, the defeat of death. Of course, that's not what Peter has in mind. "God forbid it, Lord!" he says, to which Jesus replies famously, "Get behind me, Satan." In other words, the "what we're going to do about it" isn't what we think it is, and it isn't necessarily something we're looking forward to.

After proclaiming that Jesus, as Messiah, is the one to bring God's kingdom, how do we participate in the coming of that kingdom? Jesus said, "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." We become vehicles through which the reality of that kingdom is fully present on earth when we give up our claim to power, prestige, wealth, influence, social connection, community respect and empty ourselves completely for Christ's sake. The only way that God's ways--the poor become rich, the weak become strong, the dead are raised to new life--become the world's ways is if we live into those godly ways fully right now. If we believe that God's reign is established in the one who dies on the cross, we, too, must die in order to participate in that kingdom. But what does that look like?

It means proclaiming God's alliance with the poor, weak, oppressed, and destitute to those who stand on the side of human riches, human strength, and human authority. It means risking career, family, home, life, and limb to side with those whom Jesus came to save. It means demonstrating for the cause of justice even if it causes us our life. It means preaching for the sake of the gospel even if it costs us our job. That's what we do. That's what it means to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. If he's the one who brings God's kingdom, then he's the one we follow...all the way to Calvary.

If that's hard to accept, that's ok. The disciples didn't like it either. In fact, they didn't really get it until after Jesus had been raised from the dead. If you aren't willing to take up your cross and follow Jesus, spend a little time at the foot of Jesus' cross, and then wait beside the tomb. Let him show you what it means to win a victory for God and trust that as the darkness of the crucifixion becomes the light of resurrection so, too, will you find your own strength to follow him--not from within but from the one who calls you.

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