Looser is probably the worst thing you can call an American. People from other nations can call us ugly, greedy, or proud, and we're not bothered. But look out if they call us losers. That's a fighting word, but that's what Christ would have us be.
Who wants to be a loser? No American certainly. No team cries, "We're number 2," and holds up two fingers, do they?" Even though the players of the second place team in the World Series and the Super Bowel still make ten of thousands of dollars extra, how come they're never happy? You know why. Who remembers who came in second? Do you know who took second place in last year's World Series? How about the year before that?
Americans don't care about numbers 2 and below. American's want winners. The only losers we care about are those who eventually become winners. The "Rocky" movies are about a losing boxer who wins against impossible odds. Americans are for underdogs who become top dogs. A stock theme in kid's movies is a down and out person or team going from losers to winners.
Jesus, however, is a loser. He said things like, "I am a worm and no man," and "I have less than birds and foxes do." He was described as having no form or beauty that anyone should want Him. He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted acquainted with grief, and esteemed by no one. He wasn't a man of winning but a man of sorrows.
Now don't misunderstand. Jesus could've been a winner. The crowds thought Jesus was a winner they could all admire: Some powerful figure from the recent or distant past like John the Baptist, Elijah, or a famous prophet such as Isaiah or Jeremiah. Jesus could've had the crowds eating out of His hand. All He had to do is to let them go on thinking He was one of these winners.
Imagine if people mistook you for Tiger Woods or Barry Bonds or Donald Trump? You would be considered a big winner, wouldn't you? People would ask for your autograph, want their picture taken with you, buy you drinks, give you gifts, treat you like a king. That's how it could've been for Jesus if He had played upon the crowd's opinions because they all considered Him to be some sort of winner.
Actually, He was more of a winner than even the crowd thought. Jesus was as Peter called Him, "The Christ of God." He was God's Messiah. He was God come down to earth in flesh and blood to rescue mankind. Jesus was more than someone who looked like a winner from days gone by; He was the Winner of winners, the true Number One, the only true God in flesh and blood who never lost at anything. Jesus could play against Tiger Woods and make a hole-in-one every time. He could hit a home run every turn at bat. Jesus could be not just one of the 10 richest people in the world; He could buy all the rest and still have a fortune left over.
Wouldn't you like to be a follower of such a Jesus as that? Wouldn't it be exciting to be associated with the Messiah, the Christ of God, God in flesh and blood? Can't you just feel the excitement as all the disciples realize what Peter has just said and Jesus has accepted - that He really is the all powerful, all holy Christ? But what does Jesus do? He strictly warned them to tell nobody. And then He told them that far from winning grandly He was going to lose terribly. He who was all powerful was going to "suffer many things." He who was the God of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law was going to be rejected by them. He who was life itself was going to be killed. He who was able never to die would need to be raised back to life.
The disciples were stunned. They know Jesus is a better golfer than Tiger Woods, but He tells them, "I'm going to be laughed off the course." The disciples know that Jesus is stronger than Barry Bonds, but Jesus is going to strike out or ground out to the pitcher. The disciples know Jesus is far richer than Donald Trump, but He's going to be bought and sold for the paltry price of an ordinary slave.
This is our Jesus. He's a loser, and it's as American as apple pie to be ashamed of a loser. If Jesus had made many others suffer instead of suffering many things, He would be attractive to us. If Jesus had been accepted by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the Law, He would be acceptable to us. If Jesus had killed others and raised them from the dead, then we Americans could be proud of Him.
If only Jesus had put up some sort of fight; if He had died fighting instead of quietly going to the cross; if He had even been able to carry His own cross the whole way, but O no, He couldn't even do that. He stumbled and fell and had to have Simon of Cyrene help Him. If Jesus had at least shouted back or spit back at those who mocked and ridiculed Him on the cross, He would be acceptable at least a little bit to us Americans. But Jesus is pure loser.
Only losers want a loser. In the movies nerds only have other nerds for friends, geeks with geeks, and losers hang with losers, How about the disciples? They're considered uneducated hicks by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the Law. At least 4 were ordinary fishermen; 1 was from a group of religious fanatics; 1 was a hated tax collector; 1 was a thief who stooped so low as to steal from the group. All of them were losers.
The temptation before us all is to be a winner, to reject being a loser, and to reject the Loser of losers Jesus Christ. That's why Jesus warns us about being ashamed of Him and His Word and so lose our soul. O you may gain the world by being a winner who is ashamed of Jesus, but what good is the whole world if you lose your soul? What good is it if you're Number One in this world but not among the number of saved in the next?
The temptation to be a winner who rejects the suffering, losing Jesus is particularly sharp to boys and men. Religion in America since the 1800s has been thought of as a woman thing. Women needed Jesus as a crutch; men could stand on their own two feet. Even in Jesus' day, His supporters were for the most part women. At the cross who was not ashamed of the suffering, dying, losing Jesus? The women. They all stayed with Jesus to the bitter end. Of the men, only the youngest John stayed. And look at paintings of him. He too is made to look weak and soft. The kind boys and men pick last for a team.
No one can be, will be a real loser on their own. Our only hope is for Jesus to make us losers. Jesus makes us losers by making our life and self so heavy that we want to be free of them. You know how when you say to someone, "I'm such a loser," and they say, "No, no you're not?" Then they try to show you all the things that are special about you, all the things you're good at. I do that too. But not Jesus. Jesus doesn't want to build up the self but tear it down.
If Jesus wanted to build self up, He would not have us come here and say what we do. We don't come here each week and say: "I'm a pretty good person." "I'm not as bad as most people." "I'm a sinful kid but an A student." No, we say, "I am a poor, miserable, sinner." We say, "I'm a loser." We say that because Jesus has been at work in us through the Law of God showing us as St. Paul says that no good thing dwells within us; that we are spiritually blind and dead; that we are enemies of God by nature, sinful and unclean.
We don(t just admit to being these things, nor do we just set them down. We cast them on Jesus. We admit that our sins are so heavy, our self is so unclean, our life is so dead that there is no life, no hope, no help in us. That's why every week before we confess our sins we also admit that our only help is in the Name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
When we say we're losers, Jesus doesn't say, "O no you're not." When we say we're sinners, Jesus doesn't say, "You're not that bad." He says, "Here, give Me those sins. I'll take them. I'll be responsible for them." So although He could hit a hole-in-one every time, Jesus takes the blame for our hitting the ball through the window. Although Jesus could hit a home run every time at bat, He strikes out and is made fun of in our place. Although Jesus could buy the entire stock market, He sells Himself for a pittance to buy, to redeem our eternal souls!
In terms of our text, rather than have God reject us God in flesh and blood lets Himself be rejected. Rather than have us suffer the many things we deserve for our sins, Jesus suffered many things in our place. Rather then allow us to be hung us on a cross for our sins, Jesus hung in our place. Rather than save His life Jesus lost it so that He might save ours for eternity.
Jesus must make us losers, so He can LOOSE us from our sins. There is no way you can get through this day let alone this life without sinning. The only solution, the only salvation is if Jesus looses your sins from you. Let Him loose you from your self too. You don't have to go through life looking at your self: how good you are, how bad you are. You can forget about self and see only Jesus. Because that's what God sees when He looks at you; He sees only Jesus. He sees Jesus losing in your place and you winning forgiveness, life and salvation in His place.
Loser! The next time you hear someone say that thank God that you are a loser because Jesus says He came into the world to save the lost, that is the losers. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost V (20070701); Luke 9: 18-24