PENTECOST 12, A – August 27, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 11:33 – 12:8; Matthew 16:13-20 

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. (Is. 56:1)

 

            We live in interesting times. There are protests, and anti-protests, and much discontent and unrest; and yet, most of us live rather peaceful and calm lives. There are financial woes and fears, especially due to debt and the financial obligations that loom; and yet, most of us live pretty comfortably. It’s easy to think that things have never been worse, and not see and appreciate the good we have.

2,700 years ago Isaiah spoke to people looking for change, for improvement: “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” His advice is so interesting! To those pursuing the blessing of improvement, of righteousness, and even of the Lord Himself, he says: “Turn around and look behind you: to the past, to Abraham and Sarah, and the Lord’s work in and through their lives.” Do the same! Turn around, look back, and see:

HOW BLESSED YOUR LIFE IS IN CHRIST!

In Christ we can look back – to our Christian ancestors, whose lives have shaped our own lives, as well as upon our own lives – without shame. What a blessing this is! Many look back with shame, seeing only wrongs and sins, and so desire only to tear down and bury and forget.

It’s interesting that Isaiah directed people who wanted to find God and His blessing to look back at Abraham and Sarah. Now, they certainly are examples of faithfulness, to God and to each other. God revealed Himself to Abraham when he was a worshiper of idols. He called him to go to a new land that He would give to him and promised him many descendants, and so he and Sarah promptly packed up and left their relatives and the life they knew. They traveled for years without ever having a place of their own, and lived for a long time without having any children. But still, they stayed together and trusted that God would bless them with their own land and many descendants; and He eventually did. What examples of life-changing faith they are!

But, they did not always show such faith. More than once, when they entered a foreign land, Abraham denied his wife by passing her off as his sister. She was a beautiful woman, and he was afraid that he would be killed if a powerful ruler desired her. Only God’s intervention kept both of them safe. And, did you know that they picked up slaves along the way? An Egyptian woman named Hagar was taken as a servant for Sarah, and Sarah didn’t treat her very well. After years of not conceiving a child of her own, Sarah even had Hagar sleep with Abraham so that she could have a child for her. How terrible! That’s what they did then. Many were the sins of Abraham and Sarah!

And God didn’t hide them. He caused them to be written down in the Bible and remembered. He wants us to see and know that He is not ashamed to be the God of sinners. He didn’t turn away from Abraham and Sarah but watched over them – and Hagar and her son Ishmael, also. He revealed Himself to them, forgave them, led them to a steadfast faith in Him and made them a blessing to many.

Look to Abraham and Sarah, “the rock from which you were hewn, and the quarry from which you were dug,” and learn about your God. Your past sins and weak faith – oh, God knows them, as He knew theirs. You can’t hide your past from Him! But, you don’t need to be ashamed before the God of Abraham and Sarah. You don’t need to tear down monuments and memories in an attempt to hide your sins. God is not ashamed to be the God and Savior of sinners! He even sent His Son, with whom He is one in eternal life and goodness, to bear your sins and end their shame by dying for them. In Christ crucified all is changed! You can not only look back without shame; you can also see God’s presence with you in spite of your sins! This will help to turn your shame into joy. Isaiah speaks of this. “The Lord comforts Zion,” he says. “He makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” It’s like looking back at a loud and angry argument you had with your spouse, remembering how stupid it really was, and laughing about it. God doesn’t remember your sins with anger and shame; He only sees how He helped you, and ultimately forgave and changed you. Look with His eyes, and your wilderness will become like the Garden of Eden!

This means you can now live joyously and look to the future with confidence – even though you remain a sinner, and your sins rear their ugly heads at times. Oh, boy, do they!

“I appeal to you by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” says St. Paul. Oh, yes, considering all that God has done for us in Christ, how gladly we should live for Him and serve others, just as Jesus did! And yet, how often are we unwilling or grudging in our service. How quick we are to find fault in the service of others and not appreciate them. How wrong this is!

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked His disciples. And you know, don’t you? “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” How blessed you are to know this! Well, you don’t know this because you are smarter than others. God the Father has opened your mind and heart and revealed this to you. Your faith in Jesus is evidence of God’s work and presence in your life! How glad we should all be, then, to speak of Him. But, it’s easy to speak about Jesus when you are with His followers. It’s much harder to do so when you’re among people who don’t believe in Him, and perhaps even oppose Him. When Jesus was on trial before the High Priest, Peter’s boldness disappeared, and he denied even knowing Jesus. How many times have each of us been silent in much less dangerous situations?

Jesus knows these sins, as He knew that Peter, who boldly confessed Him, would later deny Him. Still, He remained with Peter and the others; and He even promised Peter: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Even though a sinner, Peter would bring Christ’s forgiveness to sinners and open heaven to them. This Ministry of forgiving sins in the name of Jesus remains among us. It is a rock against which the gates of hell itself may beat, like Hurricane Harvey against Texas, but will not overcome.

In fact, not only is your shame taken away and heaven opened to you as by Christ’s Ministry your sins are forgiven; your lives are also changed. You are made the body of Christ! Your very body is made holy and acceptable to God, and He makes you a gift to others. God makes us all gifts to serve in various ways. I serve in the Ministry of Christ, loosing your sins and opening heaven to you. You serve in whatever your station, or vocation, is. You are a gift from God to others in your station in life. Serve with zeal, with cheerfulness, and with generosity. This is a witness to Christ.

“From God and through God and to God are all things,” says St. Paul. Our lives – past, present, and future – are His, cleansed and made holy, a beautiful garden in Christ. How blessed we are! To Him be glory forever! Amen.