Sunday, February 25th, 2024

The Things of Man, The Things of God

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. We’ve had a full 2 weeks to digest the Super Bowl, all of the controversies that surround it, especially in this age of social media and online interaction. There’s no shortage of controversies, controversies within the game itself. Maybe there was missed calls you thought should have gone one way or the other, dropped passes or blown assignments that could have changed the outcome of the game if they had just gone a little bit differently. The big one this year-overtime strategy. What should you do if you win the coin toss in overtime of the Super bowl? Maybe you don’t care about the game. Maybe it was the controversies for the things surrounding the game that caught your eye, the halftime show perhaps. What songs were played, what songs should have been played, costumes that were worn and apparently there was something with the roller skates that I missed, or Taylor Swift, too much coverage of Taylor Swift, not enough coverage of Taylor Swift. But there was the criticism of the criticism. Why are we even care about Taylor Swift and whether she’s at a football game? Maybe she’s a deep state plant to get people to vote for Joe Biden, or maybe it’s the controversy over the commercials. That surfaces every year. Which ones are the best, which ones are the worst. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and Tom Brady dancing around in jogging suits for Dunkin’ Donuts, Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to pronounce neighbor for State Farm, or the always endearing awkwardness of Michael Cera selling Cere Ve lotion skin cream, or maybe it was none of those. If you looked at my timeline on my social media accounts, they were flooded with a different controversy. “He gets us” commercials. Maybe you heard about those maybe you didn’t. There’s a commercial that showed Christians washing the feet of various people, washing the feet of a young woman at an abortion clinic, washing the feet of a Muslim family, washing the feet of various homosexual or transgender people. You get the idea. The tagline at the end of the commercial said this. “Jesus didn’t teach hate. He washed feet.” He gets us, all of us. And not surprisingly the controversy came from all sides. It was criticism from those who thought the ad itself was a waste of money, that violated the very spirit of what it was trying to proclaim? Why would you spend $100 million plus on commercials about helping people when you could just use the money to help people. Then there was the criticism from those who said that the ads just simply condoned sin, condoned heresy, by showing Christians washing the feet of people living in open and unrepentant sin, and then, as with the Taylor Swift, there was just the criticism of the criticism, people saying that when it comes to getting a Christian message out there before an unbelieving world, something, anything is better than nothing. So what are we to make of this? What are we to make of that “He gets us” campaign and the commercials and the controversy surrounding them? Well, I think the first thing we have to do is acknowledge the goal and the motivation of the ads themselves. The second is to ask whether or not they accurately portray the Biblical Jesus. So, first things first. Why do these ads even exist. Why did somebody put them on air during the Super bowl? What can we take from them? For Christians, I think it’s a way to challenge ourselves, it’s an opportunity for us to ask ourselves if we have grown comfortable and complacent in our Christianity. Think about it like this. We aren’t even scandalized by the story of the Good Samaritan. There might be some merit in asking ourselves who the Samaritans of our own day are. Who are the people that we are uncomfortable around, that Jesus would still reach out to and love? Who are the people that we are comfortable judging, and looking down on the high horse of moral superiority? Who are the Samaritans of our day? There’s a reason that Jesus was not welcome among the religious leaders of his time, and to ignore those realities is to simply ignore parts of the Biblical Jesus that make us uncomfortable. For those outside the church, these ads are an invitation to step beyond the caricature of the church being a place filled with hate, the place of nothing more than self-righteous people gathering together just to judge others. The truth is the majority of our world sees the message of the church as a message of hate, and in that regard these ads present us with some helpful questions. Does my language in my conversation obscure the gospel or invite people to it? Are the things I put on my social media loving and charitable? Do my attitudes actually mirror those of my Savior? Do I love even the least of these with the love that I myself have received? And while those maybe helpful diagnostic questions to a point, they ultimately leave us short. They miss the mark because they lead us down a path at which the true Jesus is not found at the end of it. There are questions born of the Law and the Law will always leave us in our sin, this side of heaven. We could never present God’s Law in such a way that it would make sinners comfortable. That would just leave us in our sin. To those who want to remain in sin, the message of scripture will always be a message of so-called hate. So, while it’s true that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and that he ate with tax collectors and sinners, if that’s all that we think he is, we kind of missed the whole point. Just consider today’s Gospel reading. Jesus and his disciples traveling through Caesarea Philippi, Jesus turns to them and says “Who do people say that I am?” “Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah”. But then Jesus asks them “Who do you say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Christ.” Jesus says “Yes” and then charged them strictly to tell no one that he was the Christ. Now why would you do that? Well because the 1st century expectations for what the Christ was going to be and what the Christ was going to do was expectations that were wrong. They were looking for a military Messiah. Someone to raise an army and drive the Romans out of Jerusalem, someone to reclaim the Promised Land and usher in an age of economic prosperity, raising Israel back to the golden status it had in the days of David and Solomon. But as the reading continues, Jesus immediately begins to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many things. That he is going to be rejected by the religious establishment, that he’s going to be killed, and after three days, rise again. He tells them this openly, he tells them this plainly; there’s no misunderstanding what he’s trying to say. So, Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke him. That’s no way for the Christ to talk, Jesus. That’s not a future fit for the Messiah and there we have the overlay, the similarity between the controversy over a few Super Bowl commercials and the text of today’s Gospel. Who exactly is this Jesus and what did he come to earth to do? Did he come to reach out to tax collectors and sinners? Did he come just to leave us an example that we should do the same? Do these commercials accurately portray a biblical Jesus? Well kind of. But thinking that Jesus simply came to demonstrate the kind of love he expects from us, that’s missing the point. Such thinking leaves our minds on the things of men not on the things of God. It leaves us focused on our own attitudes, on our own words, on our own actions, and even worse, it keeps Jesus off the cross. Peter tells Jesus it’s not fitting for the Messiah to be rejected or to suffer or to die. Peter believes that Jesus must take his place on the throne of Israel to usher in the golden age of Jerusalem. What are we tempted to? Are we not often tempted to join the voice of our culture telling Jesus that it’s not fitting for the Messiah to be rejected, or to suffer, or to die; instead he should preach a message of tolerance and peace without expecting repentance, reaching out to all people and accepting them no matter what their creed, or orientation, or life, without any expectation of change. Do we think that Jesus should just end world hunger, or global warming, or the border crisis without any sacrifice from his church for those among us with means? Do we think that Jesus should just affirm the outcast in our midst for such affirmation must be the only true form of love, right? And Jesus’ response to us is the same as it was to Peter. Get behind me Satan. You are not thinking about the things of God, you are focused on the things of men. Why are you trying to keep the Messiah off the cross? Why do you stand in the way of what the Messiah came to accomplish? Do you want to love like Jesus? Let any who would come after me deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. Yes, it’s true. The message of Jesus is for all people. All gender identities, all sexual orientations, all races, all religions. The message of Jesus is for all people, but not because it’s a message of tolerance and acceptance, but because of the message of repentance, of turning our back on a former way of living, putting to death the old Adam and being brought forth in the new life of faith. And there’s not a single person on earth who doesn’t need that message. Not a single person in this room who doesn’t need that message. The joy of the Gospel is that there’s not a single person in this room who doesn’t have that hope. There’s not a single person on earth for whom Jesus didn’t go to the cross. For when Jesus went to the cross, he died for the sin of the whole world, all creation, and he reconciled God and man, putting back together what had been broken by sin. The call to repentance is an invitation to those broken by sin. Come to me all who labor, come to me all who are burdened, I will give you rest. Learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and in me you will find rest for your souls. Controversy over commercials over Super Bowl ads is nothing more than the latest incarnation of the age-old debate over who Jesus is and what Jesus does, over who we are as his church, what we are called to do. So perhaps the solution is just to go back to the basics. Is Jesus for all people? Of course. So, trying to get the message of Jesus out to the over 120 million people who watched the Super bowl, well that’s a noble aim. Are there a lot of people in our world who feel like the church is simply a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites, who sit around and cast stones at others? Of course. So, a message trying to breakdown those walls and reach the disenfranchised, it’s also kind of a noble aim. But is Jesus simply one who come to us in our sin to give us a hug, and tell us it’s all going to be OK. No. No Jesus is much more than that. He comes to show us that the path of sin ends in death, he comes to reveal our sin, to show it to us, and to call sinners to repentance. He comes to turn us around from continuing down that path of sin, and he invites us and gives us a new life in him. This world will never understand Jesus. Sadly, many in the church will miss the point too. Let us simply take Jesus at his word. He is the Christ who came to suffer many things in order to win our freedom, true freedom, not simply the ability to do or live as we choose. The freedom to live as he intended. To live as he designed us. Our righteousness, our identity is found in being united to him, and because we are alive in him, we have peace that the world cannot give us. So yes, let’s be willing to wash the feet of those in the world around us, but more than that, be ready to show them the Savior who does so much more. He doesn’t just get us. He dies for us. He died in our place. He changes us. He lives in us. He works through us. He has made us his own. He will never let us go. In Jesus’ name, Amen.