Revere and Adore Him‽
I used the interrobang that you see at the end of the sermon title in a sermon 6 years ago. I use it today because of the Collect. We are to "Revere and Adore Him" it asks and exclaims. For 12 centuries Christians have been praying as we did: "make us revere and adore your holy name." Really? (question mark). The One portrayed in this text? Yes, really! (exclamation point).
We are to revere and adore the praying God? Here you should hear the 1984 Hefty trash bag commercial saying "wimpy, wimpy, wimpy" about a bargain bag that easily breaks. A title of God is "O Thou who hearest prayer" and here is God praying! And it gets worse. In Gethsemane God prays in such anguish that He sweats blood. And Hebrews 5 description of it will further unnerve you: "In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death". The Lord of life and death prays not to die.
No wonder popular opinion only revered and adored Him as a man; yes perhaps as a superman, but in the end they concluded what Tammy Wynette did: "After all he's just a man." That's what the crowds said Jesus was. "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life." Jesus had publicly healed lepers, raised the dead, cast out demons, and right before this had fed tens of thousands, and He is nothing more than what had come before. Revere and adore Him?
Well, Peter did, but that wasn't of himself. We know this for 2 reasons. One, the Holy Spirit writes, "Peter answered" in the passive. He is moved by something outside of himself. Another agency moves him to answer as he does. From Matthew 16's account we know that it's the Father in heaven. Jesus says, "Blessed are you, Simonflesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." Only God can move us, empower us, lead us to revere and adore the praying Man Jesus as Messiah, Savior, Redeemer, God in flesh and blood. But even a Spirit-moved Peter stumbles at what comes next. From, "The Christ of God!" (exclamation point) Peter goes to a huge question mark.
How about you? Do you still revere and adore Him when Jesus trumps the praying God with the suffering God' (Interrobang with emphasis on the bang.) We know, again from Matthew's account, that Peter couldn't get this far. In response to Jesus, the suffering God, Peter turns satanic (according to Jesus) saying, " God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You." Before we get all self-righteous and judgmental on Peter, we should pause and consider how bent out of shape we get when we're called on to suffer. Okay, at least I do. From common colds to common car problems to serious family things and tragedies, I think, "This should never happen to me. How dare you God' (Interrobang with emphasis on the interrogative.)
It's a category leap, a difference in kind not degree, to be told by the one you just confessed to being God's Savior, Christ, and Lord that He must suffer many things; He must be rejected by the leaders of the OT church, and He must be killed. No may about it. No possibility about it. This must happen. Actually, Jesus says, "It is necessary." Now don't go all fatalistic on me. Don't go to the last comfort of unbelief: Well, it had to happen this way. No, it didn't. God Himself wanted it, willed it, to happened this way because this was the only way to redeem you a lost and condemned creature, to purchase and win you from sin, from death and from the power of the devil.
O but you know all this, right? (Question mark.) Wrong! (Exclamation point.) Flesh and blood never knows, understands, accepts the necessity of the Suffering God. It is not the multiplication tables, a grammar rule, a scientific theorem that once memorized and you have it. Unless the necessity of the Gospel is preached into your ears and fed into your very souls by the Visible Word of Water, Wine, and Bread, you don't have it, can't keep it, won't trust it.
It is necessary that Jesus, God in flesh and blood, suffer all this or that is what will happen to you. Right now the sufferings you endure are not to pay for your sins or sinfulness, are not to satisfy God's hot white wrath against your filthy thoughts, your wicked words, your devious deeds. No, if you want to see what God requires to pay for the sins you're born with or the new ones you commit every day, you have to go to hell. There you see that the fire never is extinguished, the worm gnawing your inners never dies, the darkness never lightens. Or you can go to Jesus and see Him suffer many things because He has been judged by God and man to be the worst sinner ever. You can see all your sins, indeed the sins of the whole world loaded upon Him one by one by one, and then paid for by Him drip by drip, drop by drop, scream by scream.
It is necessary for God in Jesus to suffer, sigh, bleed, cry, be damned, and die for your sins, all your sins! (Exclamation mark.) So, you don't have to. Most men lead lives of quiet desperation; many women lie in bed and think of things that might have been because they're bearing an awful load of sin and guilt and the wrath and judgment of God that comes with it. Yet, God Himself sent His only beloved Son into their flesh and blood just so they didn't have to do that!! (Double exclamation points.) So in living in quiet or not so quiet desperation, in lying in a bed because we think this is the one we made and so have to, we're like the sad case of the man in 1830 on death row who had been given a presidential pardon but refused it (wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Wilson). We're in Plato's cave thinking the dark shadows of gloom and grief are reality. Why do this' (Interrobang). It is Jesus suffering, rejecting and dying that leads to resurrecting. Although the suffering, rejecting, and dying you do aren't to pay for sins, in Christ they end in same place His did: Resurrection! (Exclamation point).
Now we come to the last part of the text, and the struggle here is not to make it into a equation or a how to: I do this and I get that. A 3-step plan for being a follower of Jesus. How to lose your life so that you save it. This makes Jesus into a self-help guru rather than the God, Savior, Redeemer, and Lord He is. Do you know what determination, what superhuman strength it takes to deny self, to take up your cross each day, and to follow Christ out of this vale of tears, out of this realm of sin, death, and the devil? Here's a song for you: "Hath He marks to lead me to Him/ If He be my Guide?/ In His feet and hands are wound-prints,/ And His side.'/ Hath He diadem, as Monarch,/ That His brow adorns?/ Yea, a crown, in very surety,/ But of thorns.'/ If I find Him, if I follow,/ What His guerdon here?/ Many a sorrow, many a labor,/ Many a tear'" (TLH 514). As the Church Lady would say, "Isn't that special!" She said that with an exclamation point, but it really should be an interrobang here. Who wants to follow wound-prints, a crown of thorns, sorrow, labor, and tears?
Surely, I have no power, no innate desire for this, and Jesus is plain about us not having the ability. It's not in our life, that's why we must lose it. It's not in self that's why we must deny it. But like I can do that! (Exclamation point.) That's like trying to hold my breath till I die. That's like trying to pick myself up by my own shirt collar. I need Someone outside of me. I need Someone other than me. I need someone bigger than me. And that One came to me when I was a baby and drowned me and raised a new me at the same time. That One came to me throughout my life in every Word of Absolution, of forgiveness, of pardon even when I sought Him not. That One came to me in the flesh, into my time and space, with Wine that is His blood to sooth by wounds and Bread that is His body to feed my body for life everlasting.
And so we have the deep mystery that is the Christian Faith which to explain is to destroy or at least to neutralize it: I who need to pray to God need a praying God; I who suffer at the hands of sin, death, and the devil, need the God who suffered in my place. I follow this God on the path of suffering, rejecting, and dying not to pay for my sins but because my sins have already been forever paid for! (Exclamation mark.) I'm drawn to a crucifix not an empty cross, not because Jesus hasn't risen from the dead but because as Paul says I need not just Christ preached but Him crucified.
Not just confessional Lutherans but all types of suffering Christians get this. A Free Church minister in England, Edward Shillito, wrote "Jesus of the Scars." "We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow, We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars. Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace. If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near, Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;... The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak; They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God's wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone."
The poet ended with a period; I would have used the interrobang. I'm not a fan of most modern things and the interrobang is definitely a modern punctuation mark. While most other ones have been around for centuries, the interrobang dates to the 60s. It's a combination of "interrogation point" the technical name for the question mark, and "bang" which is printer's slang for the exclamation point (www.merriam- webster.com/dictionary/interrobang). It confesses our ever present prayer, "Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief." It illustrates what the Collect says: the Lord is the One who must make us ever revere and adore Him. There's no question about that only and an exclamation point. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (20190714); Luke 9:18-24