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Luke #47 A Call For Open Confession

A Call For Open Confession

Reading: Luke 12:1-12 (Matt. 26:57-58; 69-75)

Introduction: In all the times over the years that I have heard or read the story of Peter’s denial, there have remained questions that trouble me. Yes, I know that Peter was impetuous, and that Jesus predicted he would deny him, but it is just difficult for me to put myself in this story and understand certain things. Here is a guy who, according to John’s Gospel, was the person wielding the sword that cut off an ear of one of the men who came to arrest Jesus. A man so sure of himself earlier in the evening, sure that he would die for this man who took him from the fishing boats in Galilee and made him a fisher of men. Unlike 9 other members of the 12, he chooses not to run away when Jesus is arrested and taken before the high priest. Peter tags along, wanting to know the outcome, wanting to see what happens next. So here he is, bold enough to come into the enemy’s camp on the one hand, bold enough to get right up next to the fire where there is heat, but also light. but once the questions start, the man who would have died for Jesus has no memory of prior conversations, and he is not just timid, he is in complete denial to the point of cursing about it.

We know that Peter’s personality lent itself to this kind of response. We also know from Paul that even after his repentance and Holy Spirit empowerment and great leadership in the church, Peter was still subject to these lapses of memory and identity. Paul tells of a time when he had to condemn Peter to his face in Antioch because Peter had full fellowship with the Gentile believers when there were no Jewish believers around, but when the racists came to town, he became a racist with them. Why the sudden shift? What was it that could make him so sure of his identity one minute and so full of another identity the next? Was it all just a matter of fear, or was there more to it than that?

In our ongoing study of the Gospel of Luke, last week we looked at the condemnation of Pharisees and Lawyers that Jesus rendered when he went to dine with some of them. When they started to judge him because he failed to properly wash up before the meal, he attacked their hypocrisy, the outward show of piety that covered up their inward greed and wickedness. They were very concerned about tithing in the smallest of things like garden herbs, but they had no sense of justice or the love of God. They were caught up in the cultural pursuits of honor, loving the best seats in the synagogue, being the center of attention in the market place. They reminded Jesus of unmarked graves--walking on the dead made one unclean--so the Pharisees brought condemnation to others in ignorance. When a lawyer tried to complain about Jesus’ harsh words, he attacked lawyers--the keepers of the law--as well. They loaded up others with all the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots,” made others follow rules that they themselves would not and did not keep. They loved building monuments to the dead prophets whom their ancestors had put to death. They were as guilty as their ancestors, and building monuments was no blessing or escape from the condemnation in which they shared. As men who should have given insight and understanding to others, they had taken away the key of knowledge. They could not enter that door themselves and they blocked others from entering.

With the religious leaders then looking for ways to provoke Jesus, and crowds of people growing in to multitudes around Jesus, he warned his disciples, “Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy.” Last week I talked about hypocrisy that pretends to be something it is not, of people and situations today in which we put on our masks and create a persona for others to see in public that is not who we are in private. This week, as Jesus continues talking with his disciples, he confronts another kind of hypocrisy--that of claiming not to be who you are. As Luke was writing an orderly account to Theophilus, he knew full well the developments of the early Christian community, and it must have been with an eye toward those later events that he included these words from Jesus to his disciples. These were the conditions they would face, the temptations they would have to be hypocritical. The warning regarding the Pharisees--not to look like something on the outside without regard for the inside--needed to be heard from another perspective. Nothing hidden would not be revealed; everything covered would be uncovered.

Thus, in the face of persecution that would surely accompany the disciples just as it was now part of Jesus’s own confrontation with the religious leaders, the disciples needed to know what to fear and what not to fear. You see it is fear that leads to cover-up, that leads to hypocrisy. Not wanting others to see the real me leads to the wearing of masks. But it is not what others see, in the end, that is deadly; it is what God sees. Don’t fear other people who have the power to kill the body, but then are powerless. Fear instead the one that also has the power to throw you into hell. Remember that you are never outside the presence of God on this earth. Suffering and death at the hands of others is not a sign of God’s absence. Only in hell is God absent! God knows when an insignificant bird falls to the ground. He knows whether or not you have pattern baldness! God is not absent when others threaten you or even kill you.

But you must acknowledge that presence. Jesus says, “whoever confesses me before me, I will confess, I will acknowledge before the angels of God. Whoever denies me before me will be denied before God.” But here is the interesting part: “you can deny the Son of man, this earthly body in which I now dwell and still be forgiven. But you cannot deny the God presence, the Holy Spirit” That is the difference between Judas and Peter, or between Peter and Ananias and Sapphira, isn’t it! Ananias and Sapphira were accused of lying to the Holy Spirit. Judas was guilty of denying that Jesus was Messiah, the divine Son of God, by his betrayal. Peter, if you remember that reading, was accused of being with that man Jesus from Nazareth and Galilee and he said, “I never knew him.” You can deny Jesus, but you cannot blaspheme, you cannot deny that God presence, the Holy Spirit. Jesus was accused of blasphemy when he offered forgiveness to the paralyzed man. He claimed that God presence for himself. Now Jesus says that people who deny that God presence--that same presence that will give them what they are to say when those who can attack and kill this earthly body do put them on trial--people who deny that presence cannot be forgiven.

Do you hear the issue of hypocrisy in all of this, of finding oneself needing to claim “I am not who I really am”? “I am not a disciple,” Peter says, when he is! Early Christians had many occasions when it would have been convenient to say, “I am not a disciple, I am not Christian.” Jesus warned that to go so far as to deny the Holy Spirit presence of God would be to go too far. As one reads through volume two of Acts, it is that Holy Spirit presence that empowered and enlivened the people who became the church, who acted as the living body of Christ on earth. There were plenty of reasons to say, “We are not who we are.” There were plenty of opportunities not so much to be ashamed as to be afraid of that Gospel of Christ which is the power of salvation--afraid to openly confess Jesus as Lord. There were all kinds of opportunities to pretend not to be who they were.

Today, we sing the song written in the 18th century by Isaac Watts, “I’m not ashamed to own my Lord nor to defend his cause.” But is that really true? We are so thankful to be in a free country where there is no threat of persecution or reprisal for our assembly this morning. No one is going to come rushing in here with A-K 47s demanding a confession of allegiance to the emperor and a denunciation of our allegiance to Christ. On the other hand, aren’t there times every single day in which we choose not to confess our allegiance to Christ openly, when we don’t want people to know that we know this Jesus of Nazareth. Think of the things we need to hide from other people so that they don’t think we’re religious fanatics or something. There is a rebellion to giving up any of our “freedoms:” we have to see what we want to see, drink what we want to drink, be where we want to be--we just want to do it anonymously. Where no one will suspect we are Christ ones. Are we not ashamed of the gospel? Are we not embarrassed at times to tell others of our faith? Don’t you feel embarrassed sometimes to tell people you are a Church of Christ Christian?

Speaking of denial, what has our tradition done with the Holy Spirit? What have we done with the conviction that God presence (the Holy Spirit) is the gift received personally at baptism; that God presence, the Holy Spirit, is the seal of our inheritance; that we are the living Temple of God in the Holy Spirit; that we all have access to God through the Holy Spirit; that since we don’t know how to pray, the Holy Spirit prays for us? If we have not blasphemed the Holy Spirit, or denied the Holy Spirit, what have we done? What do we proclaim, what do we want our neighbors to know about us, what are we afraid to tell?

Do not fear those who can kill by body this morning. Rather, “fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (12:5-7). May that Holy Spirit presence, that God-presence, empower each one of us this morning not to be ashamed of the Gospel. May we be empowered to openly confess our faith. May we find the strength and courage to avoid those places and circumstances in which we are embarrassed for people to know we are Christ ones. May we all confess this morning, not only Jesus as Lord, but also our failure to openly confess him before others.

Delivered at Brentwood Hills, March 5, 1995 a.m.

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