Second Sunday in Lent
February 25, 2018
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran Churches
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
Dr. Watson said, “This is all very well but the thing becomes more unintelligible than ever. How about the mysterious ally? How came he into the room?” “Yes the ally,” replied Holmes thoughtfully. “How came he then?” Watson asked. “The door is locked; the window inaccessible. Was it through the chimney?” Holmes, answered, “The grate is much too small. I had already considered that possibility.” “How then?” Watson persisted. Shaking his head Holmes replied, “You will not apply my precept. How often have I told you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains however improbable, must be the truth?”
From the ‘Suffering Servant’ passages in Isaiah chapters 52 and 53 through our Lord and Savior Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson, humanity is taught the by the prophet the Messiah will be “despised and rejected,” “a man of suffering acquainted with infirmity,” “accounted as one stricken and afflicted by God.” “(H)e was wounded for our transgressions, crushed by our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole.” Less poetically Jesus tells us quite plainly, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Even though it seems well nigh impossible for omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent God to set it to take our transgression on and suffer out of an all encompassing love for disobedient us. Since God so declares it must be so.
Yet we often live as if we are not under such a divinity. I can clearly picture our seminary Luther and History professor Robert Goeser dramatically taking on the voice of humanity against Jesus Christ on the cross, “We don’t want that kind of God!”
Within us is Peter’s response to such a deliverer. While Peter figured out from his time with Jesus, that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God, he could not fathom such an entity suffering. Someone with Jesus’ power and wisdom does not suffer. He goes from triumph to triumph, making his foes look silly.
Look at how we support sports. When we moved here I noticed a lot of Virginia Tech pennants on vehicle antennas and flags flying on porches. I quickly figured out the Valley team was not the closer University of Virginia. The next thing I noticed was when their basketball team started something like 1-10, the pennants and flags disappeared. This area is not even close to being alone. In some cities the fans wear bags over their heads if their team is especially awful.
People have done some pretty extreme things with Jesus. Early on Gnostic Christians argued Jesus was not really human. It was divine play acting so we could get the teaching and graphically see God’s love, like one would watch a solid movie that told the story well and had realistic enough effects we could almost feel what is happening on screen. When living in Seattle I heard a television evangelist tell the audience Jesus was really a millionaire whose headquarters was in Jerusalem. Follow Jesus and the material good life would be yours.
On the other sided of the spectrum there are people who take on extra suffering to be holy enough. It is not enough for Jesus to suffer or for us to have to suffer for our faith due to historical placement. On Ash Wednesday I spoke of Pharisees fasting one day for themselves and one day for those who did not fast. I’ve seen people go much further than that. When 13 going to or from a scouting event in the Philippines we saw a man on the road carrying a cross, wearing a red robe, a crown of thorns, being whipped by two attendants with leather straps. They were going to a barrio where others liked him gathered to hang on crosses on Good Friday as part of religious ritual observance. At the time I was both horrified by and in awe of such faith.
Then there is the more common, ‘God, creation, the cross, companionship, and eternal life before you is not enough. You need to do more.” The prior lectionary’s lesson for this Sunday was Genesis 28, Jacob’s dream of the heavenly ladder with angels ascending and descending. God promises Jacob, “the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring….Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised to do.” I think I would feel pretty confident for a number of months hearing something like that. Jacob’s vow is “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.”
On those occasions when such things come to mind I have come to picture Jesus looking at the extremes, not wanting to live with any downs, discounting Christ on the cross as an insufficient price for my sin, or you need to do more for me, with sadness. Sometimes telling the Peter in us to “Get behind me Satan for calling me to human notions of greatness” and to the other paths: “All I ask is you accept what I have done and love one another as I have loved you.”
It sounds simple. We know it isn’t always. Even Abraham, who Paul rightly praises as a model of faith obeying the command to pull up stakes and go to an unknown land and accepting the promise of an heir, had his moments of wondering when or if an heir would be born to him and Sarah. Today faith in such grace is a hard sell for humans who tend to operate between the poles of striving to be on top and or being entitled to the good in life
Still God’s words declare we can say with Paul at the end of chapter 4, Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. We are in the same place when recognizing and believing God “raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” As improbable as it sounds, from Abraham through Isaiah to Jesus such grace is God’s way with us.
At the start of chapter five Paul summarizes this truth well: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have access to this grace in which we stand.” Amen.