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God's Work in Progress
Mt. 16:21-28
HW in HI

I hear everything went pretty well in my absence. Except that last week Reg decided to preach on this week’s gospel. I spent some time wondering about that, whether maybe this week I wanted to preach on next week’s gospel and so on. But I decided we’d run into a problem right around a week before Christmas when I’d be on the gospel where Mary brings forth a new born babe and wraps him in swaddling clothes. And then there’s Easter – I’d be preaching the resurrection on Palm Sunday.

The disciple Peter is again front and center this week. Peter is the guy that always has something to say. He has a powerful response to Jesus when he is asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. He doesn’t equivocate, he just flat out says it. This is Peter’s viewpoint: he has found God on earth. Somehow the unthinkable has happened, and here he is, right next to the Messiah. And the messiah begins to explain that he will suffer – actually that he will undergo great suffering. Peter reacts as most of us might, he cries out, “No!” I guess today we would say that he is in denial. How many of us have heard of the approaching death of a loved one and cried out, “No! This can’t be happening!?” Probably most of would react just like that.

Jesus doesn’t respond with great compassion. He says, basically, get out of my way. The CEV puts it this way: “Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. He said, ‘God would never let this happen to you, Lord!’ Jesus turned to Peter and said, ‘Satan, get away from me! You’re in my way because you think like everyone else and not like God.’”

Time and again Scripture tells us that God doesn’t think the way we think. The psalmist quotes God as saying, “Your ways are not my ways.” What would it take for us to think like God?

We have a model of Godly thinking in the life of Christ. Peter thought exactly what you and i would have thought, “No, don’t hand yourself over to death and suffering. Get out while the getting is good. Don’t do it!” And then we have the thinking of God, the thinking of Jesus. I will stretch myself as far as possible for you, even to the point of breaking. I will do this because you are worth it.

Those are the powerful thoughts of the Savior: you are worth it. I will save you. I will sacrifice everything.

Sacrifice. Sacrifice doesn’t come easily. I wonder: for whom are you willing to sacrifice? For whom would I sacrifice? And just how much would we sacrifice? A few dollars? A couple of hours? Our lives?

Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Sometimes that is exactly the sacrifice that is called for. At the dreadful tragic shooting in Columbine High School last Spring, one teacher safely shepherded many of the students to safety, only to lose his own life to the bullets of one of the gunmen. And so he laid down his life for his friends. Human thinking would have been more along the lines of Saddam Hussein who used human beings as shields. But that teacher was Dave Sanders, and he used his own body as a shield.

Before the shooting at Columbine, I would have said that it is highly unlikely that any of us would be in a position to die for our faith. At least not in this country and not in our lifetimes. Cassie Bernall was a junior at Columbine that day last Spring, and a Christian. A gun-wielding student asked her if she believed. A crystal-clear moment suspended in time. The Nicene Creed when it means something. Choose. If you say you believe in God, you will likely not live. If you say you do not, perhaps you will. Cassie said, “Yes.” The trigger was pulled, and she became a martyr as surely as any saint.

Oswald Chambers wrote a devotional book called “My Utmost for His Highest.” It was written right around the time this church was begun. He writes, “If you say you are sanctified, show it. The experience must be so genuine that it is shown in life.” A friend of mine says the same thing a little more graphically, “A person is no more a Christian because he or she sits in a pew in church, than that person is a car because he or she sits in the garage.”

We, each of us, joined the body of Christ completely the day we were baptized. Of course, we were welcomed before that, but on that day we made a commitment. We said, “Yes!” to Christ, who had already said yes to us. The Holy Spirit was present. And our lives were meant to be changed forever. But were they? Are our lives holy? Would someone know we are Christians by looking at our marriages, our parenting, our friendships? How about the way we deal with or neighbors?

Yakov Smirnoff made the point. He is a Russian comedian, who emigrated to the United States. He said he wasn't prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, "On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk--you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice--you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, What a country!"

We assume that our lives will change instantly at baptism. Dramatically and without a lot of work. Again, that is a little like baby powder giving us an instant baby. Which would be pretty wonderful, if you think about it. For one thing, none of us would ever need to go to church again. My job would be to do baptisms for people who need never come to church because they are instantly transformed.

Of course, if that were the case, the world would be transformed, the kingdom would have come, and you most certainly would not be sitting here this morning.

I want to encourage each of us to think of ourselves as God’s work in progress. Becoming Christians who seek God’s word and do it. Spending more than a few minutes each week, a few dollars each month – but rather spending our lives on God. Becoming Christians who love God so very much that, if it came right down to it, loving God so much even we would give our lives.

The KJV, Mark 8:36 “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”