In Christ Alone

Intern Pastor Scott Adkins
Holy Cross Day A, 9/14/14
1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 3:13-18, Numbers 21: 7-9

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Hello everyone! It is great to be here with all of you on this Holy Cross Sunday, a day where we take a break from the Pentecost Season to reflect on the cross, and what it has meant for us and what it cost for Jesus.

In our first reading for the day, St. Paul said that the message of cross was “foolishness” to those that are “perishing.” That is, those that do not have life in Christ. To human understanding, what Christ did makes absolutely no sense. So I ask you instead. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

While we think about that, I heard a story about our predicament from Peanuts, when Charlie Brown went to see Lucy for her “psychiatric advice” for five cents.

Lucy said to Charlie Brown, “Discouraged again, eh, Charlie Brown?” “You know what your whole trouble is? The whole trouble with you is that you’re you!” Charlie asks, “Well, what in the world can I do about that?” Lucy answers, “I don’t pretend to be able to give advice…I merely point out the trouble!” Lucy speaks up, “You know what the whole trouble with you is, Charlie Brown?” Charlie answers, “No, and I don’t want to know! Leave me alone!” He walks away. Lucy shouts after him, “The whole trouble with you is you won’t listen to what the whole trouble with you is!”

As funny as Charlie Brown and Lucy can be, however, it is true for us. The problem is not what our sin is; how much we lie, cheat, lust, or steal. The problem is us. The problem is the sin itself that is ingrained within us at the deepest levels. In order for us to understand the work of the cross we have to understand ourselves and our sinful nature.

In his letter to the Church in Rome St. Paul reminded us (Romans 3:12) that in multiple places in Scripture (Psalm 14:3, 53:3, Ecclesiastes 7:20) we are told that everyone is a sinner. Everyone is guilty; there is no one who is good on their own. It’s a huge problem that all people have. The question is, how do we solve it?

The problem with us human beings is, that we want to solve our problems ourselves. The prideful streak in our sinful human nature says to us that we need to take care of all of our problems. After all, a real responsible adult cleans up their messes and fulfills their responsibilities. We can’t take away our sins, so what do we do instead? We try to make sure that the scale of good deeds vs bad deeds stays in our favor. How often have you heard something like that? “I suppose I’m a good person. I give to charity and I haven’t killed anyone.” We hope that will be enough for God when we stand before him one day. This is the “wisdom of the world” that St. Paul is talking about.

However, that doesn’t work with God. In the Old Testament the Prophet Isaiah says that our good deeds are like “filthy rags” before God. The good deeds that we are trying to rely on, our own human acts, mean nothing, and our sins are still there. There is no way for us to handle it on our own. The “wisdom of this world,” our determination that we must take care of the problem of sin on our own, does nothing for us. Heck, we can’t even choose to believe in God or Jesus! He even has to send the Holy Spirit to take care of that for us!

Like St. Paul said, no one is exempt from this. From the youngest baby to the Mother Theresa’s of the world, all of us are sinful enough to

warrant God’s judgment and both the heavenly and earthly consequences for our actions. Don’t believe me? Look at the baby? Has any parent here seen a young child, the most innocent of human life, throw a temper tantrum or not listen to the rules that Mom or Dad has set for them? Yeah, even babies are sinful too.

Thankfully for us, however, God does not leave high and dry. Jesus tells Nicodemus, the high ranking Jewish Pharisee that he is talking to in our Gospel lesson for today what God’s plan is. He says Jesus brings up a familiar story to Nicodemus, a rabbi who studied the Old Testament. He brings up a story about Moses, about how God saved the Israelites during their disobedience and sinfulness.

The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. (Numbers 21:7-9)

This was the story that Jesus was referring to. Yes, it, may seem a little weird, but it’s Israel’s history. In fact, it is because of this story that the symbol of the medical profession is a snake wrapped around a pole. In this story though,  Jesus is comparing himself to the snake and the Israelites to the people of his day. The Israelites, like the Jews ad Romans of the first century A.D., were disobedient to God. Even the Pharisees, those that were most devoted to following God’s Law, were only interested in the letter of the Law, not what God really wanted.

What happened in this story is what Jesus is really interested in. He tells Nicodemus that he, like the snake, must be lifted up for all to see. The result is that all who see the Lamb of God on the cross and believe will live, just like all of the Israelites who saw the snake being lifted up on Moses’s pole.

This is God’s solution to our problem. In the scale that we were thinking about earlier, this is God tipping it in our favor when we never could. This solution is that God sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

If you think about it, God’s solution to the problem of sin makes absolutely no sense to our human understanding. Think about it. In a world preoccupied with selfish gain, whose ultimate desire is for each person to save themselves, what sense does it make to save someone else at the cost of their own lives? It doesn’t make sense at all. We admire it. That is why when people risk their lives to save others we honor them with awards and medals. But when God does it for us? That sounds like foolishness to our human wisdom.

The irony is that it is not foolish. It works. That is how God destroyed the “wisdom of the wise.” He destroyed it on the cross. That what St. Paul means by “we preach Christ crucified.” We preach to the world that you cannot make up for your evil on your own. We preach Jesus Christ died for your sins. And when that seems like a laughable prospect, we show that it worked. That Jesus did create us into something new. Even though we are still sinners, Just like Pastor Ed told us a few weeks ago, we are “Simul Iustus et Peccator” Simultaneously a saint and a sinner. Even though we have life in Christ, we still are sinners. Because of that, in the words of Martin Luther, our namesake Reformer, “we have to drown the Old Adam, that is, our sinful selves, in the waters of our baptism daily.” The problem is, as one of my seminary professors once told me, that Old Adam is a heck of a swimmer!

This reality, of Jesus Christ being crucified and lifted up on a cross for all to see to put that Old Adam to death really seems like something foolish of Jesus to do. But however, the fact that it worked according to God’s will proves what St. Paul said, that the foolishness of God surpasses the wisdom of man. This fact is a stumbling block to all of those who don’t yet believe. As St. Paul said, it is a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.” The Jews couldn’t accept that God would save us on a cross personally like the snake that their ancestors saw, and the Gentiles could not believe God’s logic, so they called it foolishness. But to those who believe, both Jew and Gentile, we recognize it as the power of God which saves us from all sin and evil in the world and in ourselves.

The lifting of Jesus Christ on the pole of the cross is what saved us. In that act of sacrifice for us, God proved His love for us and took up all of the sin, all of the evil in the world that we can never erase on our own into himself and destroyed it forever. God did all of this without us even asking him to or expecting anything in return. None of it had anything to do with us and what we did or what we chose or what we decided. It was all up to Christ, who chose to love us by choosing the cross. Praise be to God for that Holy Cross that Christ chose for us. Amen.

Shepherd Like Jesus

Intern Pastor Scott Adkins
Shepherd Like Jesus
3rd Sunday After Pentecost A, June 29 2014
Ezekiel 34:11-16, John 21:15-19

Good Morning everyone, and happy senior Sunday! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

When I was a little boy, I loved being with my Grandfather. When I was little, like 3 or 4 years old, we would visit him at his home in Michigan a couple of times a year. When I was there, I loved going on walks with my Grandpa, I would pull a little toy airplane around with me. This little toy airplane had a boarding stairway that would pop open, and it would do so when I pulled it across every crack in the sidewalk. Of course, a toy airplane can’t pretend fly with the boarding ramp open, so I would stop to close it on every. Single. Crack. My grandpa didn’t mind, however, even though that me closing the ramp meant that he had to bend down as well since he was holding me other hand. All I thought about then was how much I loved walks with grandpa. What I see now though, was just how much my grandfather loved me and how he led me around in a safe place, even though I had my own agenda.

I’d kinda like to use that as the launching point for our sermon today. My Grandpa led me around with love, even though I wasn’t particularly paying attention, and he didn’t let me go, much like a shepherd does.

Both of our readings deal with sheep and shepherds. In our first reading, from the book of Ezekiel, we see God as the good shepherd. It is a great passage; Israel or the people of God, represented by sheep, are lost and scattered across the land. God says that he himself will search after the lost sheep from the darkness. Once God finds the lost sheep, he pledges to take care of them himself. He takes them to the lush pastures on the mountains of Israel where they will be well-provided for and at home– the place where they belong in a world where they are scattered all over. God pledges to heal the injured and to implement justice among his sheep.

Sounds great? Doesn’t it? It makes me think of Jesus the good shepherd from John 10 or the parables of Matthew 18 or Luke 15. In fact, this passage of Ezekiel would pair very well with that passage. However, we have a different passage, one from the conclusion of the Gospel of John.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus is risen from the dead, but he has not yet ascended into heaven. In it, Peter and John were fishing, and Jesus appeared to them one day. After catching a ridiculous amount of fish and eating some food, Jesus started talking with Peter. Their conversation I think is very understandable. Although Jesus was talking to the Apostle Peter, he may well have been saying these words to you or me. Because of that, I’d like you to imagine for a moment that Jesus is saying this to you.

After their breakfast of fresh fish, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, Scott, son of James, do you truly love me more than these?” Now, what are “these?” It could be the fish and tackle, which was Peter’s profession. Do you love Jesus more than you career? How about those around him, like his friend John? Do you love Jesus more than the relationships in your life? The 1st Commandment says you should love God above all things, and if you believe Jesus is Lord, then you know what that means.

In any case, Peter answered yes, he does love Jesus more than anything. What Jesus replies with is really unusual when you think about it. Jesus says to Peter: “Feed my sheep.” Peter is a little confused, so Jesus says it to him 3 times just to make sure it sinks in! Remember, these sheep are not literal sheep- they are the people that God cares about. They are everyone, all of God’s human creation. Jesus then tells Peter some details about his death, but then he finishes by telling Peter follow me

We are told to feed God’s sheep. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to take care of God’s people. Jesus is requiring us to take care of each other. Jesus wants us to follow him, but in order to do that we must take care of each other. We must be each other’s shepherds, our brother’s keepers. Jesus wants us to feed his sheep. For some, that may mean literally feeding them, taking care of bodily needs. For others, it may need walking alongside them in times of sorrow or need. Whatever it is, Jesus wants us to take care of all of God’s children, because each one is someone for whom the Son of God died to redeem.

This rings true in our Old Testament reading. While our reading seems all great and good, which it is, there is a little detail left out in the lectionary. Immediately preceeding our Old Testament reading for today, in Ezekiel 34:1-10 is a scathing criticism of the shepherds of Israel. That is why God’s sheep are scattered. It is because the people of Israel failed in shepherding each other and instead took advantage of one another. God says here that they, the sheep, were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. No one at all even bothered or cared that the sheep were missing. In contrast, Christ the Good Shepherd left the 99 in the flock to search out the one lost sheep and rejoiced .

God does look after the lost sheep, those that are scattered, lost, and in danger. However, Christ calls us to feed the sheep that we encounter. Don’t be like the shepherds in Ezekiel who abandoned their sheep and took advantage of them. When Christ calls to you and asks you, “Do you love me?” and if you say yes, be prepared to feed Jesus’ sheep. It doesn’t take much to follow Jesus. You don’t have to be a genius, or an athlete. What it does take is a heart that responds like Peter did when that question was asked. Peter said yes, and fed the sheep when Christ called: “Follow me!” Jesus Christ takes care of us, and we need to take care of each other. Amen.