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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Fully Convinced

The path of Jesus is a path that does involve loss and sacrifice, but so does the world’s path; the difference is that the path of Christ is the path of life and joy now and in the world to come.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Second Sunday in Lent, year B
   texts:  Mark 8:31-38; Romans 4:13-25; Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“For I am convinced that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.”

Are we?  As convinced as Paul in Romans 8?  As Abraham in Romans 4 today?

Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what God had promised,” Paul says, he never wavered.  In truth, Abraham did waver a bit, about trusting the child would come, about trusting God to keep him safe in a foreign land.  Paul exaggerates to make a point.

He’s right about “convinced,” though.  Abraham ultimately trusted God would do what God promised to do.  He and Sarah left home and went where God said.  They eventually trusted a child would come, trusted God’s promise.  They are models of faith for Paul.

But the issue is more one of God’s faithfulness than our faith.  No strength of faith helps us if God doesn’t keep promises.  No solid conviction is worth anything if we can lose God’s love.  Our question is whether we are convinced of God’s ability to keep promises, keep covenant, when it can be hard to see in the midst of the difficulties of life.

Peter today struggles to understand how Jesus can save if he’s dead. 

It’s not a question of his faith.  He believes in Jesus.  But he doesn’t believe this is the right path for God’s Messiah, a path he can trust for salvation.  He followed Jesus because he spoke of God’s eternal life, because he loved Peter and the poor people Peter knew.  Because he brought God’s life into a world of death.

But how can God bring the promised salvation if Jesus suffers and dies?  It makes no sense.  There must have been many wandering days for Sarah and Abraham where it didn’t make sense, either, that God could keep such promises.

Yet they followed.  So did Peter, if not always fully convinced.  So how convinced do we need to be of God’s faithfulness and love to follow as they did?

Jesus invites us to follow him.  To trust in his faithfulness.

We worry about “deny yourself and take up your cross,” get stuck in “lose your life” and what that means.  It’s simple: Jesus says, “Follow me and I will give you life.”  Then he adds, “but when you follow you will lose some things, maybe everything, along the way.”  It’s like God’s call to Abraham and Sarah to leave all comfort and head into a life of wilderness wandering, trusting only in God’s promised blessing.

Jesus promises God’s path leads to abundant, full life now and in the coming world.  He’s also totally honest about the costs.  This is the path to life and love with God, yes.  But it also means losing everything that keeps us from life and love with God.  Things we value.  Things we don’t want to lose.  Things we don’t have the wisdom to see are a problem.  Jesus does see, though, and tells us up front they’ll have to go.

Our self-reliance.  Our self-pity.  Our pride.  Our biases and prejudices against others.  Our need to win.  Our need to be right.  Our trust in material wealth, and desire for that.  Our desire for pleasure even if it harms others in its pursuit.  Our hope for a life free of pain.  Our fear of death.  Our self-centeredness, selfishness.

All these things are going to have to be dropped, Jesus says.  You’ll sometimes feel like you’re dying.  You might even in fact die.  It’s a lot to ask.

But Jesus said, “Follow me,” and many followed, then and since.  They heard “follow me!” as hopeful cry, not dismal threat.  They willingly dumped all their baggage at the fork and took Jesus’ path.

That’s the crossroads before us.  How convinced must we be to trust Jesus and follow his path?

Well, what about the other path, the way of the world Jesus mentions?

Are we convinced the world can keep its promises?  It seems fair to ask this of the other fork in the road.  There we’re promised lots of good things: happiness, youth, fulfillment.  Wealth, abundance, avoidance of death.  No suffering.  If we buy the right things, ignore the people who can’t help us, put ourselves first, focus on getting all we want, all we ever could hope for, we’ll be happy.

Hardly anyone ever gets all those things the world promises, though.  Most don’t.  We know this.

The world never tells us what it will cost, either, even for those who think they get what they want.  It never explains that tragedies happen to even the richest in the world, that self-centered, selfish people might gain everything but have no one who wants to love the person they are, that a life built on caring only for ourselves at the expense of the rest becomes so empty and devoid of meaning despair is the only option.  That we can chase the American dream or whatever dream is out there and the more we get the more we will never have enough.  The world never tells us this.  The world just says, “this is the fun path, the rewarding path.”

Every path we choose involves sacrifice and loss, it’s just a question of what we’re giving up.  At least Jesus tells us his cost.  So we need to know which path can really give life.

Against the reality of the world’s failure to keep promises, we have 2,000 years of believers witnessing that Jesus’ path is the path of life.

We have witnesses who tell us God is always faithful.  Who took the path of self-denial and sacrificial love, the path that at the crossroads looked like the harder one, and found abundant life all along the way.

They say: this path might look like you’re letting go of a lot, and you are.  It might look like you’re being changed into something different, and you are.  But this path, from the very first step, is a path of joy and hope, they say.  Walking in trust with the Lord of life, you live without fear.

The same storms and sufferings hit both paths, they tell us, but on Jesus’ path we have help to handle them.  The same problems and fears assail people on both paths, but living in the life and grace of the Triune God takes all the bite and sting out of them.

These saints, these witnesses – think of those who showed you this, some who now are beyond this path – they have told us, shown us, this is a path of life where we have companionship and love and grace with each other, where God fills our lives and the world with hope no matter what happens.

We shouldn’t get so frightened by Jesus’ words that we’re going to be losing things that we miss all his words and the words of the saints that describe what we’re gaining.

And that’s only in this life.  Just wait till you see what’s at the end.

Jesus’ sacrificial path is the more life-filled and rich path in this life, we have evidence this is true.

What convinces us of God’s faithfulness is the end of each path.  The world’s path always ends in death.  No wealth in the world changes that; we all are dying.  People hope science will find solutions, but we know everyone dies, no exceptions.

Of course that means Jesus’ path also leads to death.  Except there’s one small difference.  In willingly suffering death, Jesus destroyed its ultimate power, and rose to new life.  Not only is Jesus’ path more abundant in this life, because of the resurrection it’s the path that leads through death into eternal life with God.

God raised Jesus from the dead.  God is able to do anything to keep promises.  This we know.

I am convinced that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.

Not the present nor the future.  Not heights nor depths.  Not life or even death.  Nothing can separate us, our brother Paul says.  How convinced are we?

Most days I am.  But on the days when I struggle with my conviction, you, my sisters and brothers, hold me up in faith.  It’s what we do as a community, why Jesus put us together.  Between us we’ve got more than enough conviction to go around.  If we all find ourselves struggling a bit with our faith, we’ve also got those whose footsteps we follow, dear to us, or to the Church, whose faith now is fully lived in the presence of God.  Their witness reinspires us and gives us hope.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  There’s nothing to fear in this path that lies before us.  Jesus is our leader, our guide, even in death.  We walk it together, hand-in-hand, encouraging each other every step of the way, finding the joy of the path, until we reach journey’s end, our hope and our life.

Don’t be afraid.  God will do what God has promised.  I’m convinced of that.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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