17th Sunday after Pentecost

17th Sunday after Pentecost (B)
September 16, 2018
Isaiah 50:9a
“Who are you?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is ½ of 1 verse taken from our First Lesson for this day, specifically from Isaiah 50:9a – “Behold, The Lord God helps me.”

This is our text. Dear fellow redeemed brothers and sisters in Christ,

So by now you know I wasn’t here last weekend. I went to Nebraska to attend the Nebraska vs. Colorado football game on Saturday afternoon. While in Lincoln I stayed with my mom and I noticed an interesting dynamic on Saturday morning. I was playing 3 different roles: son to my mother, brother to my brother Mike, and friend to my best friend Ross who had flown in for the game. Then, at the stadium, I played the role of “fan.” That’s 4 roles all before 3 PM. Crazy, right?
Every day we all have a role or roles to play each day: father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, husband, wife, child, student, friend, employer, employee, cook, mechanic, maid, volunteer, and so on. With all the different things that we are asked and required to do on a regular basis, does it sometimes get confusing? Can you sometimes lose focus on your role and its expectations? Who are you? I mean, who are you really? I don’t mean what name is on your Florida driver’s license or in an existential “gaze-in-your-bellybutton” way. Take away the titles. Take away the different roles. Strip away everything and at your barest essence, who are you? That being said, the point I want you to know is this…YOU ARE WHO YOU ARE IN THE LORD GOD WHO HELPS YOU!
Well, that’s all fine and good but who is the Lord God? I mean, if this Lord is our helper, who is he? Who exactly is it that we hope in and helps us? That answer may seem like a no brainer. We’re in church, you’re the pastor. You should know this. Sure, it’s the answer to every Sunday School question…Jesus! But in THIS day and age…well, let’s not assume anything. There is such a radical misunderstanding of who Jesus is – who the Lord God our helper is. So the question in this age is a tragically valid one…who is Jesus and how does He help me?
Who is Jesus? How much time do we have? If you want to know Jesus, I mean REALLY know Jesus, then Mark 8:31 is a key verse: “(Jesus) then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected…and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” That’s Jesus. Son of God and Son of Man. He is the one who came to suffer, be rejected, be killed, and after three days rise again for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation. That’s who the Lord God who is your helper. There is a simple yet powerful word in Greek that Jesus used a lot when talking about His purpose: , which is usually translated “must” but it really means “it is divinely necessary.” It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to suffer, be rejected, be killed, and then rise again to free us from the punishment for being our sinful selves. His suffering, death, and resurrection define Him, and it also defines us as his disciples.
Because he is your helper, because you are his follower, because you are his disciple, Jesus goes on in Mark 8 to explain who YOU are; who you ought to be and what you are called to do: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). You are who you are in Christ, the Lord God, and those in Christ deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow the Lord God.
If you know anything about Martin Luther, you know his Catechism question “what does that mean.” So…what DOES this mean to deny ourselves, take up a cross, and follow him? To deny ourselves means that you no longer make the rules, and that doesn’t sit well with our sinful nature. Sinful yourself tells you to skip church and Bible Study because there are better things to do. Sinful yourself tells you to leave the ministry and mission of our church and school to someone else. The sinful self tells you to let someone else take care of all our property, let someone fix all those buildings, let someone else worry about paying those bills.
Jesus says that if He is your helper and you follow Him, then you DENY yourself and listen to him instead. When we deny ourselves, that means Jesus makes the rules from now on.
Our Lord God also says that we are to take up our cross and follow him. The great ministry constant I’ve learned over 15 years is that “everyone has something.” You all have a cross to bear. Some of them are “heavier” than others. Some have their fair share of splinters. Some seem too bulky to manage on your own. Whether that cross is a cross of financial woes or health care issues or pain or addiction or depression or grief or loneliness or family situations, we too pick up that cross and follow him knowing that the Lord God helps us. When that cross is too heavy for you, Jesus picks up the heavy end and helps you along the road of life.
To be faithful, following Christians is not about being a “big” church. It’s not about being a “fun” church. It’s not about being an overly influential church. It’s all about Jesus. It’s about following our helper: denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following him. It’s being able to cry out with confidence, “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!”
The Christian existence is about a life of necessity. The necessity of faith, the necessity of forgiveness. The necessity of love. As a result, ; it is absolutely necessary for us to love others, because we have been loved first. ; it is absolutely necessary for us to share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus. ; it is absolutely necessary for us to teach others – to teach our children…of who they are as the baptized and redeemed people of God and what that means for them in this life. ; it is absolutely necessary for us to stand up for the truth of the scriptures in a world that no longer wants to acknowledge the inconvenient truth of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.
Who are you? You are who you are in Christ. Who is Christ? He is Jesus, the Lord God who has come to seek and save the lost like you and I. Friends, let’s live like we know it and allow others see how much it helps us. Lord, our helper, we believe. Help our unbelief. May the Lord God truly help us to do so each and every day, and it’s good to be home.