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"How Big is Your God?"

Matthew 16:21-26

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 12, Proper 17, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Aug 31, 2014 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

When our concept of god is too small we do things, in his name, that demonstrate just how small we believe he is.  The god of ISIS, the Iraqi jihadist group, is a small god.  His people are to usher in his rule, his dominion and power, by force, by blades of steel, rather than by persuasive words of the spirit.  Their god is not big enough, powerful enough, or, persuasive enough to convert people to his way, to his truth, by any other means.

Today, in the Himalayas, a man by the name of Swami Ramakrishna sits in his tiny house near the Ganges River.  He won’t speak a single word today.  He will continue the devotional silence that he has kept now for five years.  He allows himself an exception of only three days each year when he is allowed to speak.  He has convinced himself that he can best please and appease his god by maintaining complete silence. 

Dai Jo and Lai San, Zen monks in Kyoto, awoke around three o’clock this morning.  Almost uninterrupted, they’ll sit until 11 o’clock tonight immovable in the Lotus position as they seek, with intense absorption, to plumb the Buddha-nature that lies at the center of their being.

When our concept of god is too small we do things, in his name, that demonstrate just how small we believe he is.  Simon Peter, the central character in the Gospel for this morning, had just confessed the wonder, the magnificence and the utter incomprehensible nature of the Incarnation of the Son of God.  When asked who Jesus is, Peter replied, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus affirmed just how right Peter was in his confession.  “You are Peter (He said).  And on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will never prevail against it.”

Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, became the foundation on which the Christian Church would be built.  As long as the Church confesses the divinity Jesus and His work of the saving the world from sin by His own life, death and resurrection, there is nothing that will ever be able to prevail against it!  How great, my friends, is the One True God, who builds His Kingdom, not with steel, or, with self denial, or, even with self-imposed religiosity, but with the power and strength of His own Word, a word that was made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ!

Throughout history, God’s people, as they have confessed the name of Jesus, have witnessed princes bow and armies lay down their weapons in awe of a power they could not overcome.  Indeed, as the Apostle John wrote, “In Him (that is, in the Word made flesh), In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never been able to put out the light.”

We needn’t make any concessions for our God!  We confess His holy name and that confession alone will prevail against all enemies, great and small.  Peter, the very same man who made that glorious confession of Jesus, shortly thereafter, let his conception of God dwindle.  Jesus said that He would be crucified and that three days later He would rise from the dead.  At that point, Peter took it upon himself to rebuke his Lord to His face.  “God forbid it, Lord (he said)!  This will never happen to You!”

Evidently, Peter thought, if God isn’t big enough to protect His Son, I will!  On one level Peter’s assertion seemed quite heroic.  I mean, he seemed to ready face anything, even death, to protect Jesus.  In fact, on another occasion he said as much.  “All of these others may leave you, Lord.  But, I, I will never leave You.” On the one hand Peter’s assertion seems heroic. 

On the other hand, his assertion is quite arrogant and it betrays his view of just how small he thinks god is.  Peter’s conception of the smallness God is perhaps nowhere more evident than when he stood with Jesus at the moment of His arrest.  You may recall, Peter took out a sword and lopped off the ear of one of the soldiers of the High Priest.  Jesus commanded him to put the sword away assuring him that even in that moment of desperation, God was still in control.  “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”

When our concept of god is too small we do things, in his name, that demonstrate just how small we believe he is.  You and I, from time to time, find ourselves wringing our hands in worry over how things in life are going to turn out.  God has given us today, but we want to know about tomorrow.  Even if we are content to put today in His hands, and we believe He big enough and strong enough to handle today, we struggle mightily to hold on to tomorrow. 

When Peter tried to protect Jesus, he was rebuked rather harshly.  “Get behind Satan (Jesus said)!  For you don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men!” The things of men always appear easy, the things of God, not so much.  You and I only want ease and happiness, perhaps a little money and good friends.  God though, says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

As baffling and unpalatable as death seemed to Peter, it was God’s way.  Oh, how great is our God!  He defeats sin and death by becoming sin in order to die the sinner’s death.  And then, when the world weeps and mourns, when it cries out the foreboding sounds of sorrow at the injustice of it all, He breaks forth from the tomb in triumphant victory over death and the grave!  “Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous.  Our God has done mighty things!” “Death has been swallowed up in victory!”

To lose one’s life in Christ is simply to see God as He is, in control of everything, even when everything seems to defy that control.  Martin Luther, who wrote a few things about the Theology of the Cross, this notion that God calls us home through suffering and trial, once said, “a theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.” In other words, you and I, those who have been baptized and redeemed by the blood of Christ, needn’t sugar coat life’s trials or even Christianity’s seeming defeats. 

The bottom line is, God wins!  The confession that Peter made, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is the confession that prevails!  Neither soldiers might, nor human denial, nor the crosses we bear in Jesus’ name, will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! 

How big is your God?  If He’s too small, it’s time for you, along with Peter, to make the good confession and to move forward with all confidence knowing that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” On that confession God has built His Church and “not even the gates of hell will ever prevail against it.” In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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