Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 28:40 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s easy to forget how strange, how different, how foreign Jesus is to our way of thinking. It’s easy to domesticate Him, declaw Him, and start to think that He is basically like us: He says the sorts of things we would say, and He does the sorts of things we do. People say it all the time: well, my God would never do that. It’s easy to forget how foreign Jesus is to our ways of thinking, speaking, and acting.
For example, can you imagine anyone today ever saying the sorts of things Jesus say to a large crowd? Large crowds are gathering around Jesus and following Him on His way to Jerusalem. He turns to them and says, “Unless you hate your father and mother, wife and children, sisters and brothers—even His own life—is not able to be My disciple. Unless you bear your cross and follow Me, you are not able to be My disciple. Unless you renounce everything you have, all that makes up your life, you are not able to be My disciple.” Let’s not domesticate Jesus. Let’s hear Him.
Who could imagine anyone saying such a thing to a large crowd? But more than that, who could do it? Who would do it? We might be inclined to say that we would, but is it something that we really want to do? It doesn’t come naturally to me to want to give up everything. I am certainly not inclined to give up the things I like, the people I like, my life. It doesn’t sound like a good proposition. And for what? To die?
But the fact is, you are going to give up everything. You are going to renounce everything, including your life, in the moment of your death. It is not a question of whether you are going to give up everything; it is a question of whether you are going to give it all up in your death, fighting and clinging to it for dear life, which means, as Jesus says, that you will lose it all; or whether you’re going to give it up in Jesus’ death. You’re going to give up everything, whether you want to or not. Will you give it up in your death, or in Jesus’ death? In your death, and lose everything; or in Jesus’ death, which you have already died with Him in your baptism?
Jesus says to count the cost. Sit down and figure out if you can finish what you started. If you were to build a tower, wouldn’t you first make sure you had enough money to finish it? That would be the smart thing to do, rather than have a half-finished tower as a monument to your foolishness. If you were a king going to war with another king, wouldn’t you first make sure that you could defeat him with an army half as big? Otherwise, if you realized that this king is coming and you can’t beat him, while he’s still far away, you should send an ambassador to speak of the things of peace. Otherwise, that king is going to come and take everything from you in defeat.
But will you be able to make peace? If the King of all Creation is coming to you, can you speak of the things of peace? In our flesh, we think God wants to take everything good from us, and destroy us. We think He’s coming to war with us, and we had better defy Him to the end. We’re going to fight Him, even if we lose. Just as Jesus says, when He weeps over Jerusalem: If only you had known the things that are for peace! The same phrase as here. We will never send ambassadors, never acknowledge our weakness, never give up. We will fight to the bitter end to hang on to what we call ours, and then we’ll still lose it.
And God knows it. So when He appears on the battlefield, He sends His ambassador to proclaim the things of peace. The Son of God appears in flesh not to go to war with us, but to go to war against sin and death. We think He’s going to take everything from us, when what He wants is to take everything temporary from us, in order to give us what is eternal. We can’t see past our families, our possessions, our lives. We can’t see past the living and dying in this age and creation, and so we hold onto these things until we give them up in death. But God is not trying to destroy the things that He Himself has given us, all the good gifts of this life and creation. He just doesn’t want us to hang onto them until they drag us into the grave. Jesus intends to give us what does not die and decay, what cannot be stolen, the treasure of all His goodness in the new creation.
We would not finish what we started. We would not make peace with God by our building, our working, our giving up. So it’s up to Jesus. The Son of God goes forth to war, riding on a donkey, in the defeat of the cross. He takes His cross, and He renounces everything. He says to His mother, Why were you searching for Me? Did you not know that I had to be about the things of My Father? He says, Who is My mother or father or sister or brother? The ones who do the will of My Father, they are My mother, father, sister, brother. No one takes My life from Me; I lay down My life willingly, and I take it up again.
He takes His cross, and finishes what He started, all the way to the end. And He says to you and me, here, follow Me. Follow Me with your own cross. Give up everything in My death, and I will restore it to you beyond anything you can imagine. You give up temporal things, passing away, and I give you eternal things, true life. And it is not a one-time renunciation. We who have been joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection are engaged in a life-long, daily dying and rising. We pray it every morning and every evening. When we get up in the morning: keep me this day from sin and every evil. Do not let me love anything more than Jesus. Let me hold on to the things of this world so lightly that they cannot hold me in the world. Do not let me give up Jesus for the love of parents, or children, or anyone else. Let me do what Paul says, and deal with the things of this world as if we had no dealings with them.
And then, at the end of the day, a little death. Forgive me this day where I have done wrong, and keep me this night. And because your King has already proclaimed to you things of His peace, you know that He hears and answers your prayer. He forgives your sins for Jesus’ sake, and He keeps you every night, as you sleep a little death, until you die that long sleep; and He raises you up each morning just as He will raise you on that resurrection morning.
And this daily cross-bearing, this daily dying and rising, this is how we found out the true strangeness of God. See, we could imagine a god who would demand everything from us. We could imagine a god who would demand we give up our life. In the end, that’s not all that strange. But what we could never imagine is a God who would Himself give up everything. No one has imagined, and no one could imagine, a God who would take on human flesh to die and rise Himself, to accomplish the things that make for peace, and give them to His enemies, perpetually at war with Him. No one could imagine the God whom we have, who has done this. How strange! And how wonderful.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/2/22