Scripture readings: Ex. 1:8-2:10 and Ps. 124 (or Isa. 51:1-6 and Ps. 138) Rom. 12:1-8; Matt. 16:13-20 Sermon by Dustin Lampe from Matthew 16:13-20 and Romans 12:1-8
TOTAL SURRENDER (part 1)
GIVE IT UP!
Note: this is part 1 of a 2-part sermon with the overall title "Total Surrender." Part 2 (Give It Away!), covering Matt. 16:21-28, will be published in the August issue of Equipper.
Common wisdom says surrender is for fools:
- It’s the antithesis of strength and control
- It’s what wimps do
- It’s the last resort after you’ve tried everything else
- Common wisdom says you must “hold the rope or die”—do not surrender to weakness!
- It says never give up on your dreams and your goals—never surrender them!
Well, that’s what the world says. But according to Scripture, surrender is for the truly wise:
- It’s not an act of the will, but a letting go of willfulness
- It’s the calling of every Christian
- It’s the final letting go of the idolatry of self
- Scripture says that surrender to God is the only way to freedom
- Ultimately, surrender is about letting go of attachments
- It’s more than just a one-time act—surrender is a way of life
Let’s face it, we will all surrender to something or someone, but to what (or who) do Christians surrender? In this sermon I’ll assume we all have surrendered to Christ—but can we learn more about what that means and how to live it out more fully?
What is Surrender?
Perhaps a story will help answer this important question:
A man was traveling and found a precious diamond, previously undiscovered. He put it in his pocket and kept it. One day another man comes up and asks the man for the diamond. Upon request, the traveler gave the beggar the diamond. The beggar departed overjoyed that he had been given the virtually priceless diamond. However, after a few days, the beggar returned in search of the traveler and gave him back the diamond. He entreated him: “Give me something much more precious than this rock. Give me that which enabled you to give the diamond to me.”
That, my friends, is what surrender looks like. Both the traveler and the beggar surrendered. Like the traveler, we all have accumulated a certain amount of precious things, be they material, emotional, academic, etc. Like the beggar, we all have grasped these things, holding them tightly. But perhaps like the beggar and the traveler we have learned to surrender to the greatest gift of them all—the gift of surrender itself.
Today, let’s think about surrender in light of three questions raised and answered in today’s Gospel and Epistle lections:
- Who is Jesus?
- To what are we clinging?
- How do we see people?
Let’s take them one by one.
1. Who is Jesus?
Let’s reread our Gospel passage, Matthew 16:13-20.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Here is a call to awareness. We all need to be aware of who Jesus is and the authority he possesses. There are various theories about the identity of “this rock” Jesus mentions here. A likely explanation is that it’s Peter’s confession as to Jesus’ identify as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. This confession is the “key” that opens access to the kingdom, and Peter is leading the way.
What is clear from this passage is that Jesus, as Messiah and Son of God, is in charge—he is the key and Peter’s calling (one we share) is to loosen his grip on the things of earth so he will be set free to grab hold of the things of heaven—Jesus himself.
We have a tendency to want to make things difficult. Unlike Peter, we don’t just confess that Jesus is Messiah and Master and leave it at that. We want to go out and conquer. We want to win and we want to be right. Therefore, at times we need to pull back and realize the bottom line: Our principal calling is to surrender to Christ, to his perfect will; to confess who he is: “Lord, you are God and I am not!”
But we don’t like letting go of the things we hold tight to. We cling to man-made ways of achieving salvation, deliverance, happiness. Chief among them are man-made religions, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. It almost always includes the idolatry of self. We like to tell Jesus that we have thing under control—“I’m my own Messiah, thank you Jesus—you need not worry about me, I can take care of it.” No spirit of surrender here—just self-protective, self-justifying idolatry!
2. To what are we clinging?
What are we holding in our tight grip? A desire for acceptance? A desire for control? Permission to harbor unforgiveness (it sometimes feels good to refuse to forgive others, it keeps them indebted to us!). But to the extent we hold onto things like that, we will lack the ability to hold onto Christ, our true source of spiritual power, deliverance, healing, salvation.
Let’s read again the first part of today’s lection from the Epistles:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Rom. 12:1-3)
The command here is to “be transformed.” But what does that mean? Sometimes (often?) this passage is used as a call to effort: “Work hard at transforming yourself!” “Get to work, be more disciplined.” Well, we are called to participate in the work the Spirit is doing in us to both call us to Christ and conform us to Christ. And so our will, our effort is involved. But just as we are justified by grace, so too are we sanctified (transformed) by grace)—both are gift of God that we receive by surrendering to Christ—letting go of what we’re holding on to and grabbing hold of him!
The gift of transformation by the spirit comes to those who surrender to the Spirit. This is made clear in Rom. 12:4-8 where the Spirit, as part of what is he doing to conform us to Christ, gives us gifts for ministry. Note also in Rom. 12:3 -5 the emphasis on surrendering self in order to love others, and that leads us to our third question:
3. How do we see people?
As we know, the greatest command is to love God and love people. The question now is this: How do we see people?
God, who is a triune communion of love, has created us in his image. Therefore we, like God, are relational beings—wired for relationship. We are in constant relation to other people, whether we are near them or not. Agree with them or not. Love them or can’t stand them (and sometimes we feel both ways about the same person, amen?).
If we are to understand surrender and how we’re doing with it, we must take a step back and look at how we see people, because this most definitely ties in with how we see God and his call for us to surrender.
There is a Chinese story of an old farmer who had an old horse for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped into the hills and when all the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?” Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” Some weeks later the army marched into the village and enlisted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they passed him by.
Was that good luck? Bad luck? Many things that seem to be evil may be good in disguise and vice versa. Thus we are wise when we leave it to God to decide what is good luck and what is bad, and thank him that “all things turn out for the good for those who love him.”
Think about this story of the old farmer—I hope you find it greatly freeing. We can get caught up in all kinds of complications, scruples, legislations. Sometimes it’s good to shake all that off and hear the simple command from Jesus: “Love God and love people.” And when we think about the consequences related to this command (obedience or disobedience) once again we are set free, because in thinking of ourselves soberly and realizing our humble limitations, we aren’t being asked to do it perfectly. We aren’t called to solve the problems of mankind. That is not our burden. We are called to do our best and leave the results to God.
How will things turn out from there? Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?
In our relationships with God, people and self—we are most fortunate when we surrender the consequences of our decisions in our relationships with others and don’t cling to any preconceptions about the results.
What do stories about diamonds being held loosely, and farmers walking simply, mean for us today? Is this just rhetoric to throw on the flames of the fires of contemplative people? Is this mere philosophy? Or do these things matter in your real, everyday life?
Many of the basic cycles you are caught in whether you are aware of them or not (cycles of worry, anxiety, fear, anger, unforgiveness, seeking control), hold us prisoner if you cannot look at them and address them asking the three questions our readings today has bid us ask:
- Who is Jesus? Will you run to him, confess him, trust him!
- To what are you clinging? Will you loosen your grip on the “stuff” of life and binds you to be free to grab hold of Jesus?
- How do you see people? Do you see them as complicated messes outside of God’s superintending care. Will you surrender to him and to his will and join him in loving people unconditionally, the way he does?
A final thought here: you cannot surrender by an act of your own will. Surrender too is a gift of God’s grace. It’s one often received in stages. So take a deep breath, ask God for the gift, and receive it with an open heart. And don’t be in a big hurry—surrendering typically means being “actively passive.” Grace and time are essential. God is not in a hurry.
You may wish to close by leading the congregation in a prayer of surrender. Below is a sample (perhaps it could be printed in your bulletin so people can read it with you then take it home).
Loving Father, I surrender to you with all my heart and soul. Please come into my heart in a deeper way. I say “yes” to you today. I open all the secret places in my heart to you and say, “come on in.” Jesus, you are the Lord of my whole life. I believe in you and yield to you afresh as my Lord and Savior. I hold nothing back. Holy Spirit, bring me deeper conversion to the person of Jesus Christ. I surrender all to you---my health, family, resources, occupation, skills, relationships, time management, successes and failures. I release it all to you and let it go. I surrender my understanding of how things ought to be---my choices and my will. I surrender to you the promises I have kept and the promises I have failed to keep. To you, Holy Spirit, I surrender my weaknesses and my strengths. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.