Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

13th Sunday Pentecost

  1. Pentecost 13.17 “Always Be Batman” Matt. 16:21-28

He should have stuck with the answers he cribbed off Someone Else. Peter, that is. “Stone”, as he was sometimes known, back then. Jesus praises Simon extravagantly for his answer to the question “Who do you say that I am?” when he blurted out “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Great answer! But it was not his work, this answer that Simon says. Jesus blesses him extravagantly because of the answer, hangs a really cool nickname—“Stone”—on Simon partly on account of it, and partly on account of his tendency to sink when water-walking 🙂 which is nice, but Jesus says this was not Simon’s own work. He did not come up with this answer himself, by studying, observation, reflection, personal insight or wisdom. Simon got it from Someone Else. He cheated. Cribbed. Copied off Another’s paper…

“Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, Simon Bar-Jonah, but My Father who is in heaven…” So, not Simon’s own work. We call it “plagiarism” today, honor code violation, copying, cheating, intellectual property theft. Hard words. Not something anyone today is proud of, as we mostly follow the cult of originality today and reward “creators” lavishly. To be a plagiarist, an intellectual property thief, is not something modern people view well.

But Jesus is fine with it. More than fine. Immediately after noting this was not Simon’s clever, original, and creative work, but cribbed off God the Father’s copybook, He gives Simon a new name, “Stone”—good name—and even more cool, gives him the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, lets him use them as Stone’s own. Better than the keys to dad’s Porsche, really. Way better. You can be jealous of Stone for this. That kind of jealousy is no sin. And if it leads you into shameless plagiarism yourself, boldly stealing from Someone Else as Stone himself, well Jesus will be pleased with you too. Extravagantly so!

When St. Paul says that Christianity is a scandal, an offense to Jew and Greek alike, this is a large part of what he’s talking about. The way Jesus raises plagiarism to the highest art form, above originality and creativity itself. To take what is Another’s as your own, to put Another’s intellectual property forward as your very own work, and to demand full credit for this stolen stuff as if it were your own is pretty brash. And much admired by the Lord of Heaven and Earth Himself. Might even get you a cool nickname too, like “Stone”. But it’ll also get you talked about in the halls by everyone else as not cool at all. Dirty, low, and underhanded is how most will see this that Jesus is so enamored with. Simply put: what Jesus calls “right” the world denounces as “wrong”, very wrong. Putting your name on Jesus’ paper? Shouldn’t that get you ten to twenty in purgatory at least? How can it get you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven? What’s up with that?

Well, Christianity, that’s what. In fact, this is the Gospel right here, in a nutshell, the whole deal, what the thing is really all about. It’s not about being a nice person (as Sasse says, which of the Apostles was a “nice guy”?). It’s not about being moral and ethically pure. It’s certainly not about saving other people, and having a missional mindset. If cheating is the only way into the Kingdom, copying off Another, what else is going to be going on inside the Castle Keep? Puritans everywhere are appalled. What sort of Kingdom and Crew is this that the Lord gathers to Himself; and by what questionable means?

Even Stone doesn’t stick with it for long. No sooner has he made the Great Confession, the ultimate peek at Someone Else’s test paper for the answer, and gotten a great, cool name, and Keys to Dad’s Kingdom (and a command to keep it to himself and not to tell anyone else) Stone begins to sink back to our level. Jesus immediately begins to show them that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. And Stone says “No way! This shall never happen to You, Lord.”                        You would think this concern for Jesus’ well-being, for His glory and honor is the sort of thing that would get Stone more rewards, more praise. But no. It gets Simon other names—“Satan”; “Scandal, to Me, you are!” not cool…(!)

Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Peter lacked the self-concern that is key to the Kingdom. As Paul also says: what good is it to save the whole world and be lost yourself? No good at all. So take heed to yourself first, as Paul advises the pastors of Ephesus, lest, after preaching to others, you yourself should be disqualified

In a world that praises altruism as the highest good, this is shocking stuff. Paradoxical, too. Glory and honor don’t count much with Jesus. Cross and suffering are much higher in His estimation. It is by suffering and the cross that Christ wins the world for Himself. But such winning of a world is God’s work, not ours. It is for Stone and for us not to do the wining, but rather to be won by the cross, ourselves…

And here’s how that “winning” works: by losing everything for Christ’s sake! But not as paradoxical, maybe, as it sounds. If your own answers are all wrong, cheat, crib, steal Someone Else’s—Someone who has the right answers. Make them your own by the boldest, brashest plagiarism. If your works won’t work, won’t make the final cut, then steal Someone Else’s, Someone better than you. If your life is full of shsssin, drop it like a hot potato, lose it like a bad habit. If everything you think and do and say is wrong, try the opposite. Or as a t-shirt someone recently gave me puts it so well: “Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.”

That’s Christianity, the Gospel of the Cross, in a nutshell right there—if you just write “Jesus” for “Batman” there, you really don’t need much else, theologically. If you care about yourself and your soul, then get rid of it! by means of the cross, as completely as possible and become Someone Else… After all, it’s true what Picasso says: bad artists copy; good artists steal. Take that Great Exchange. Here is what Jesus commands: if you would come after Him, don’t just copy Him. Be Him! Deny yourself, deny that you are you, quit being you, and always be Jesus. Lose your old life by taking up His cross as your only possession, and in this loss of all that is yours, you will find all that is His…

This is why I said at the outset: he should have stuck with the answers he cribbed, Simon should have. Then he would have stayed Stone, instead of slipping back into the dreary, old life of Simon Bar-Jonah. If you can be Stone, always be Stone, man. Way better life, even if it is identity theft, like in MadMen, when Dick Whitman stole Don Draper’s dog-tags to get himself out of that hell-hole of a war. And ride that new identity to the End, let it absorb you completely into a New World, a New Way. Because, when Jesus Returns, He will judge you by your works, and if by the cross, through faith alone, Christ’s works are all you have left, all yours Peace surpassing understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Advent Vespers –

Wednesday, 15 December 7:00 p.m.

17  December 2017

3rd Sunday Advent

8:30 Matins

11:00 Divine Service with Communion

9:45 – Sunday School and Adult Bible class

Classes for ages 3 and up

Advent Vespers – Wednesdays – 7:00 p.m.

December 6, 13, 20

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service – DS w/Comm

7:00 p.m  24 December 2017

Christmas Day Service – DS w/Communion

11:00 a.m.  25 Christmas 2017


Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.