Fish or get out of the boat

Our two passages before us today couldn’t be more different. One is a story of Peter, once more, getting it wrong. Paul’s letter to the Romans is almost a laundry list of living for Jesus. I propose they are more related than we think. Matthew paints a bold background of what it means to follow Jesus.

Jesus uses a ‘roller’ as He plasters dark reds and brown on the canvas before us. Painted with His blood, the ESV uses 20 words to define Christ’s calling, “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themself and take up their cross and follow me” v 24. Jesus makes it so clear because moments earlier Peter had tried to tell Jesus what was best for him.

Jesus was headed to Jerusalem to die but Peter thought that was a horrible idea and told Jesus so. I’m pleased to hear Jesus does not give in to Peter but called him to account, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance” v23. This is because Jesus’ call is for us to follow Him to death—Yes, eternal life. But death nonetheless because that is the very meaning of ‘taking up a cross’.

Four hundred years before Christ the Persians came upon the Greek city-state and came to a pass called Thermopylae. Here 300 Spartans faced off against Xerxes. Observers went forward in the pass and found the Greeks “brushing their long hair and doing calisthenics and other such things (McGuiggan)” which Xerxes was told, was in preparation for their death. Herodias reports that Xerxes sought out Demaratus, a former Spartan king, in camp with him who said,

“O, king. Hear then now also: these men have come to fight with us for the passage, and this is it that they are preparing to do; for they have a custom which is as follows: whenever they are about to put their lives in peril, they attend to the arrangement of their hair (Herodias 7.209)".

These 300 went on this mission aware that they were not going to survive. They walked away from their families and sons knowing they’d never see them again. They left the homes and lives they’d made never to see them again. And these were pagans.

This is the call of God on our lives. This is the command of Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is our commission to bear up, trudge forward, in the bold attempt to be like our Lord—Jesus.

Ever-present Sin

What keeps us from doing this is the fact that we are sinners. Sin is part of our DNA at birth and we affirm our desire to sin daily as we commit acts of sin and refuse to do acts of love. Theologically they are sins of commission and sins of omission.

Our sin impedes our willingness to follow Christ not Christ’s command to pick up the cross and follow. In the world most people, a huge majority never think about sin at all. Doing what is wrong brings ‘shame’ upon their family. Misbehavior is labeled as non-patriotic, giving in to bad influences, or denying the political will of those in power. This is true of many here in the U.S. as well, as fewer and fewer people have any religious knowledge

We who use that sin often deal with it by denial, pointing fingers at others or the world around us, or comparing our sin to other’s sin. What is different is that we should be aware of the pain our sin causes our Lord. I the Bible, Moses is sheltered by God’s hand as YHWH walks by and although alive, his face glowed, so as to scare the rest of the Israelites. Isaiah is facedown before the throne of YHWH and says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6:5. And Elijah seeking God is confronted with the creator in a whispering small voice. Hearing this 1 Kings 19:13 says, “When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”

When we area confronted with that life-changing moment instead of humbling ourselves and admitting our situation we are like those who try to grab their carryon baggage while the plane is on fire around them. That happened when a British Airways plane caught fire on the ground in Las Vegas. Photos showed people coming from the smoke “holding purses, flip-flop sandals, rolling bags and shoulder bags (Gold).” Weiss, an aircraft safety person summed it up well saying, “We put more value in possessions than common sense and the reality of what happens (ibid).”

Ever-present God

Being a sinner is a fact but the gospel, literally ‘good news’ is that God present as well and, in His presence, He offers us a chance to live as His people. Confession is our admission that God is correct—about us, our world, our future, our past, and everything else. God is right and correct and we are not. Thus, when Moses is sheltered by God’s hand as He passes, and an angel brings a coal to touch Isaiah’s lips we see God’s provision for sinfulness. How much greater is that seen in Jesus, carrying His cross through the streets of Jerusalem to the hill, outside the gates where He is executed.  

Along with confession we often hear the word ‘repentance’. The most common definition is to literally ‘turn around and go the way you were going’. In today’s language, you might use, ‘recalculating’. It becomes real, life-changing and world-shaking when we live the life Paul describes in our Romans 12 passage. Repentance has an inherent danger in becoming a source of pride and therefore ‘works.’ We run a risk when we make ‘changing our life’ all about us changing our life when we didn’t have the power to turn to Christ in the first place.

Romans 12:9-21gives us a laundry list of what a life that confesses one’s sin and Christ’s Lordship looks like. I believe “Let love be genuine” v.9 is the general command of Paul to the Roman church. It fits with Jesus’ greatest commandment. What follows is a list of what genuine love looks like. I came up with 19 positive actions in the ESV. Let me give you my top three failures—"be patient in tribulation” v. 12. “never avenge yourself” v. 19. And my favorite, “live in harmony” v.16. Do I have the others down? Not at all. But these three are ones that seem to float to the top of the scum pond of my life.

Let me offer some general thoughts on living with an ever-present God. First, admit you are a screw-up and that God loves you still. Part of this is recognizing that our sin is what killed Jesus. Our sin is what is shown in the scars from the thorns shoved down on His head and in the torn flesh of His back.

Second, be reminded, by coming to Christ, and admitting there is little you can do and even want to do to change. Apart from the Power of the Holy Spirit. You might take stock of your life and see what leads you to fall into sin but, except in very small, rare situations we will never overcome sin by our own willingness.

Third is that we are to rely on God’s love because it is His love, demonstrated on the cross by God’s Son, Jesus, who dwells in our hearts as the Holy Spirit who destroys the outcome of sin for eternity. Sometimes we think that all we need to know is “Jesus loves me, this I know…” but Christ’s love involves carrying a cross toward death. His love doesn’t comfort us like a warm fuzzy blanket. It’s an AED, a defibrillator, an epi shot, or Narcan designed to keep us alive, bring us back from the dead, and give us a life worth living. May we discover His power to grab hold our cross and follow after our Lord, lets pray.

Works Cited

Gold, Ashley. "The Fury Over 'Hand Luggage' Plane Evacuees." BBC News. 2015. Web. 28 Aug. 2020.

Herodotus. Herodotus, Histories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.

McGuiggan, Jim. God of the Towel. New York: Howard Books, 2014. Print.

Works Consulted

Benedict. Great Christian Thinkers. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011. Print.

Gold, Ashley. "The Fury Over 'Hand Luggage' Plane Evacuees." BBC News. 2015. Web. 28 Aug. 2020.

Herodotus. Herodotus, Histories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.

Heuertz, Christopher L. Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God In A Broken World. IVP, 2009. Print.

Hoffman, Michael. Emperor's Club. Universal Pictures, 2002. film.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Walker & Co., 1987. Print.

McGuiggan, Jim. God of the Towel. New York: Howard Books, 2014. Print.

Vassallo, Wanda. "Little Boy Just Wants to Go Home." Preaching Today. Web. 28 Aug. 2020.



Popular posts from this blog

Kenton Dismissed

A Personal Manifesto For Congregational Singing

Response to Toby [not disagreement]