Lent 2, March 4th, 2012
A Lenten Epiphany
(Guest Preaching at St. James, Overlea, MD)
And greetings from your brothers and sisters at Grace Lutheran Church in Racine, WI. It's always an honor and privilege for me to return to St. James, where I grew up and was confirmed, and share the Gospel among you.
Today, we are but a week or so into the season of Lent. Our preparations for Holy Week and Good Friday, and ultimately Easter Sunday – have begun. The paraments are purple. The Alelluias are gone for a while. And the Wednesday night services are back on. Maybe you've given up something for Lent. Or maybe you're taking some extra time to pray or read the Bible, or some other spiritual discipline.
Lent is a sober time, a serious business. But I have to admit, I like it anyway. Not that I don't like Epiphany, which we just finished. In Epiphany, we saw the unfolding revelation of Jesus – who he is, and what he is about. We heard, “This is my son” at his baptism and transfiguration. We saw him as the true bridegroom, and the one who preached with authority. He is the one Moses and the prophets wrote about. He's the stairway to heaven. He's the one who makes lepers, and us, clean.
But now it's Lent. And as the mood has turned, yet again we come to the question in our text today, “who is Jesus?” He asks it himself, of his own apostles. “Who do people say that I am?” And after all the speculation, then he presses them, “who do you say that I am?” Peter confesses, “You are the Christ!” But Jesus isn't done yet.
For the first time in Mark's Gospel it's made entirely clear that yes, Jesus is the Christ. He's the one. The Lord, the Savior, the Messiah. Not just any old prophet, but the one they've been waiting for. The one that was promised for so long. Now he's here. Here he is. The Christ. But...
What does this mean? A good Lutheran question, which Jesus means to answer.
Immediately he begins to teach them, plainly, what it means that he is the Christ. He tells them, straight out, this means suffering, and it means death. Oh, and resurrection, too.
And Peter's head almost explodes. He can't stomach it. He has other things in mind. Not suffering, shame, betrayal, death... he's thinking of self, and profit, and success and glory! But in this Lenten Epiphany, in this great moment of revelation Jesus shows them not only that he IS the Christ, but just what kind of Christ he will be. A suffering, bleeding, dying Christ. A Christ of the cross.
What kind of Jesus are you looking for? A Jesus of the easy button? Who takes all of life's troubles away and puts you on easy street? A rock-star Jesus, loved and admired by all? A Jesus who affirms you and tells you you're good enough and just believe in yourself? A Jesus who is a bright shining example of what to do, so that you can do like him and be all bright and shiny, too? Perfect little pious people who always smile and seem cheerful? As if we could...
Or do you want the real Jesus who gets down and dirty and bloody, and is hoisted up and humiliated and crucified – for all to see and mock. A man of sorrows. A man forsaken, even by God the Father. A worm of a man, surrounded by dogs, pierced hands and feet and bloody head and back. A Jesus condemned by Jew and Roman alike. A Jesus rejected by the crowd who called for his blood. Only a few women and one disciple stick around. And even that brings more bitterness. That may not be the Jesus we want, but he's the Jesus we get, and the Jesus we need. The Christ of the cross.
Because by all this, it is finished. By all this, your sins are put away. By his suffering and bleeding and dying, life is yours.
God has a strange and mysterious and wonderful way of doing things. He reveals his power in weakness. He brings glory through shame. He wins life by death. He kills death by dying. And he forgives sins by becoming sin.
St. James, you're not the biggest congregation. You don't have all the programs and glitz that some others do. People aren't busting down your doors in droves. Some would say you're not that successful, or even that you're failing. But they have in mind the things of men, not the things of God.
You are a faithful congregation. Sinners, yes, but forgiven sinners who proclaim the suffering servant Christ. People who know that it's not about you anyway, but always, only, about Christ. You are a group of believers gathered around what is most important – his Word and his Sacrament – his true Body and Blood, given and shed for you, according to his promise. You are his baptized and believing children, and that is enough.
Just as Christ himself had a different idea of what it meant to be the Christ, we Lutherans have a different idea of what it means be the church. It may not mean outward success or worldly glamor. Instead it means faithfulness to his truth. Sometimes it means suffering, and even dying. But that's ok, because that's what our Savior does for us. None of this makes you better than anyone, but in Christ, it does make you blessed.
The Lenten Epiphany – the great surprise – the big reveal – is not that Jesus is the Christ, but that the Christ came to suffer and die. And this is good news, no matter what Peter or the world thinks. This is the will of God, to save you, the sinner. This is his plan from the foundation of the world. This, the cross, is what Jesus is all about. And so it's what we're all about. A blessed Lent to you. In Jesus Christ, Amen.