Sunday, September 13, 2009

Christian's the Name--Confessing's the Game

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Felton, MN
September 13, 2009—Dedication of Building Addition
Mark 8:27-38

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

“Christian’s the name—confessing’s the game.”

That’s a little too cute, I realize--but it does get right to the heart of this gospel text.

To follow Jesus is to confess Jesus. A church caught up in God’s mission is always going public, bearing witness, offering testimony about Jesus to the world.

This morning, as we dive deeply into this story, we learn some things about “confessing Jesus Christ” before the world.
· We learn that opportunities for confessing often come on the margins of life, when we’re under the gun.
· We learn that confessing is more than sharing information or passing on gossip.
· And most importantly, we realize how confessing moves beyond bold words, to costly deeds of self-emptying love.

1. The first thing we learn here is that confessing Christ often happens on the margins, when we’re under stress or affliction. Confessing Christ isn’t something we do while sipping tea in the parlor—confessing isn’t an armchair exercise for persons who dabble in religion. No. Confessing Christ happens most often when you and I are under the gun.

Notice where this gospel story takes place geographically. Jesus and his disciples are leaving the comfort of their own land and venturing into the non-Jewish villages of Caesarea Philippi. They are leaving the safety of home—venturing out into alien territory, into a veritable religious marketplace. Before they head off into this frontier region, Jesus schools his disciples in the art of confessing.

We live in a 21st century religious marketplace. Gone are the days when we could assume people were all church members or Christians just like us. Nowadays it’s easy to rub elbows with persons captive to other values, living out other scripts, following other “gods.” If they have any opinions about Jesus, they’re probably all over the map.

We’re also living through a global recession, in the midst of a society that’s increasingly polarized, and in a church body wrestling with tough questions like the role of gay and lesbian persons among us. Hot enough for you?

So, when the time comes, when someone pitches us a slow ball right over the plate!—what will we say? When it’s time for us to testify, to speak up for Jesus and his way of life—what words will fall out of our mouths?

2. The second thing we learn in this story is that confessing Christ is about more, so much more than sharing information or passing on gossip.

That’s how it seems to start out here, though, doesn’t it? Jesus asks his disciples for the local skinny—“what are folks saying about me? Who do they say that I am?”

It’s always easy, of course, to speculate on what others are thinking, right? We hear them, we watch their body language, we intuit their opinions. And gossip—who doesn’t enjoy passing on a little of that from time to time?

The disciples are ready for Jesus’ first question: “Who do people say that I am?” Their answers just flow. What a fascinating “window” on the first century gossip about Jesus! Was Jesus another John the Baptist—come back from the grave? Or was he the reincarnation of Elijah, who never really died but was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind? Or was Jesus one of the other prophets of the Old Testament? The possibilities seemed endless.

But that wasn’t confessing. Imparting information, passing on gossip—that’s not “confessing.” Confessing is another animal entirely.

We get to the act of confessing only when we’ve heard Jesus’ second question in this text: “But who do YOU say that I am?”

At this point in the story I imagine an uncomfortable silence descending upon the otherwise-talkative disciples. Because now they had to “speak for themselves”—now Jesus was getting personal, putting them on the spot, peering into their hearts, seeking their own response.
Maybe the disciples didn’t know how to respond to Jesus. Or maybe they knew how to respond but lacked the gumption to open their mouths….all of them except Peter. Never adept at holding his tongue, Peter blurted out the first thing on his mind—and he happened to be right on target: “You are the Messiah.” “Jesus, you are God’s ‘one and only’—you are the one we’ve been waiting for.”

And of course, Peter was exactly right! Peter had Jesus’ identity down pat!

So why does confessing Christ come so hard for us Lutherans? Most of us memorized these lines from the catechism: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, son of the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the virgin Mary is my Lord. At great cost he has saved and redeemed me, a lost and condemned person. He has freed me from sin, death and the power of the devil—not with silver or gold, but with his holy and precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death….”

With a great script like that, there’s really no reason for us to be tongue-tied when we’re asked: “and you, what do you have to say about Jesus?”

3. Thirdly, this beloved gospel story shows how confessing moves beyond bold words, to costly deeds of self-emptying love. There’s a price to be paid when we clear our throats, speak up and give voice to our Christian witness.

Because confessing Christ allies us with God and God’s ways….and that means that confessing Christ sets us against everything that opposes God and God’s ways. When we confess Christ we put our lives on the line. We align ourselves with God’s mission in a hostile but hungry world….we reach a point of no return. We can’t “unring that bell.”

Peter the great confessor nailed it when he named the identity of Jesus—but he “slipped on a banana peel” when it came to naming the way of Jesus—the way Jesus be the Messiah for us.
Peter confessed who Jesus was, but he either couldn’t see, or he refused to see how Jesus would act as the Messiah. Peter couldn’t stomach the cost—the cost to Jesus, and by implication, the cost to Peter and every follower of Jesus.

Because here’s how Jesus lived out his life as the Messiah: he opted to give it all up, to toss it all away, to let go of everything and open himself up to the very worst we human beings could dish out. Peter couldn’t stomach that—couldn’t bear to think of the cost—the “blood, sweat and tears” price-tag of our redemption.

So he offered a counter-confession to Jesus—“God forbid!”

And Jesus fired back just as strongly: “Get behind me, Satan”…”stand aside, Adversary…..I’m doing things God’s way, not the same old, same old human way.”

Now I need to pause here, take a sharp turn, and apply all of this to what’s happening here this morning at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. Where are the points of connection between this gospel lesson from Mark chapter 8 and the building dedication festivities of this day?

I believe that you here at Gloria Dei are all confessing Christ rather boldly, rather publicly this morning. You’ve “gone public” with this building project—stuck your necks out—quite literally—to make your center for mission more open, more accessible, more welcoming for all people.

And you’ve done it in the midst of a painful economic recession. Nobody would have blamed you if you had called a “time out” when the economy tanked—but you barreled ahead anyway, exceeding even your own expectations of yourselves.

And what you’ve accomplished makes sense to me only if it’s a sign that you’re convinced Jesus Christ is Lord—God’s “one and only”—and that you realize it’s your job to lift up Jesus with all your might, here in this community.

Words are integral to confessing Christ—to be sure.

But costly, sacrificial, going-against-the-grain deeds are also ways we confess Christ.

You could have ducked, played it safe, gotten by….but instead God led you to embrace the cost of this confession, embodied in your building addition that we dedicate today.

It’s about more than money, of course—but the money side of this project is pretty amazing….and I can tell you that you’ve been an inspiration to others in our synod, over-subscribing your capital campaign goals in a time when most of us are tightening our belts.

I believe that all of this—all that we celebrate this morning—is a reflection of the fact that you know and confess who Jesus is, and that you’ve aligned yourself with not only the identity of Jesus, but also with the way of Jesus—giving yourselves away for others, sacrificing your play-it-safe security, giving--perhaps beyond your means, investing yourselves in this project which can and will help yourselves and others
See Jesus more clearly,
love Jesus more dearly and
follow Jesus more nearly.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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