Second Sunday In Lent – Vicar Schleusener

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

One of the most insidious effects of the Fall upon the human race is the obsession with making everything be about ourselves. To see, understand, and act upon things based on the unspoken assumption that we’re the center of the story. That our actions are what determine the final outcome. The stories that we tell ourselves, from antiquity to the present day, reinforce this notion, because the actions of the heroes determine the final outcome of the story.

But while it’s true to say that our actions are important, and can have a profound effect on things, that truth isn’t because we’re the center of the story. And if we make the mistake of thinking that we’re at the center of the story, we’re just about guaranteed to think that the final portion of our Gospel text for today means the exact opposite of what it’s truly saying.

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The sinful human nature that longs to be at the center of the story loves to twist this passage. To believe that what Jesus is saying is that everything comes down to me. My choice to deny myself. My strength to bear up under my cross and its suffering. My excellence in following Jesus. My courage in losing my life for the sake of Jesus and His Gospel. In proving by my diligent efforts to convert my friends and family to Christianity that I’m not ashamed of Jesus and His words.

The sinful nature loves this interpretation because it’s all about me. In this interpretation, my actions determine the outcome of the story. I’m the hero. I’ve done what Jesus commands, so He’s obligated to save me. Which means that in the end, I’m the one in control.

Hearing it laid out like this, I expect that your Lutheran senses are tingling—if not outright screaming at you—telling you that this interpretation reeks of heresy. And it does, indeed carry the stench of heresy. But where did it go wrong? Isn’t this just a simple and straightforward reading of the text? Well…yes…but no. It’s not. It’s built on fundamental misunderstandings from beginning to end.

You see, only someone steeped in modern, missional adaptations of Christianity would be likely to make the mistake of thinking that silence equates to being ashamed of Jesus and His words. If shame meant silence and silence meant shame, then Jesus, who was silent before His accusers, would have been guilty of being ashamed of Himself and of His own words. Clearly, a ludicrous interpretation. While silence may indeed come from shame, that’s decidedly NOT what Jesus is talking about here.

Think, for a moment, about Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Mark (14:33, 35) tells us Jesus was “greatly distressed and troubled” and spent multiple hours praying simply “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” If it were possible for us sinners to be saved by any means other than the bloody sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the Father would have removed that bitter cup from His beloved Son. And since the whole purpose in His coming was to die on behalf of sinners, had there been some other means by which we could be saved, Jesus wouldn’t have come at all.

The mere reality of His coming. Of His death and resurrection on behalf of sinners, tells us that there was no other way. That no human effort could ever have delivered us from our bondage to sin and death. And denying this? Claiming the ability to save ourselves? That’s called being ashamed of needing rescued. THAT is what Jesus is referring to when He talks about people being “ashamed of [Him] and of [His] words.” To be so ashamed of the weakness that prevents us from saving ourselves that we reject the freely offered grace of God. That we refuse to believe that God forgives us when He says He does, freely and without charge. To insist that we have to offer something in exchange.

It’s our need to be the center of the story. Our need to earn our own salvation. To deny ourselves and take up our self-made (or self-perceived) crosses so we can prove our devotion by following Him. That’s what it is to be “ashamed of [Him] and of [His] words.” That’s why Jesus calls on us to deny ourselves of our obsession with being the center of the story. To take up the cross of daily drowning the old Adam, that good swimmer, who craves to be the hero whose actions determine the final outcome of the story. To follow Him who freely distributes His forgiveness to everyone who simply believes His words. To not attempt to save our own lives, but to cast them solely upon His work and His Gospel promises.

If you find yourself clinging to the old Adam today. Unable to let go of the obsession with being the hero of your life story. Holding on to a misguided sense of shame over your weakness and inability to save yourself. Then look to Him who died upon the cross for you. Fix your gaze on the One who atoned for all of your sins. On the One who delights to forgive your sins. Who comes to set you free from the burden of needing to be good enough to earn your salvation. Who comes to give you the peace of knowing that His forgiveness is yours. Who speaks to you through the mouth of His called and ordained servant, saying, “I forgive you all of your sins.” Who feeds you with the very body and blood of the Incarnate God that takes away all of your sins.

And as you believe His promises of forgiveness, even the sin of that misplaced shame is forgiven and washed away. So that on the final day when “the Son of Man…comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels,” He will be proud to call you His own. In the holy name of Jesus.

About OSLC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *