Sermon Holy Cross Day

September 15, 2008 at 11:15 am Leave a comment

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September 14, 2008

I don’t know if they still allow this,

but up till a few years ago, when you watched an NFL game on TV

every time a field goal or extra point was kicked,

you would see someone behind the goalposts holding a bedsheet or a posterboard

with the words “John 3:16” scrawled upon it.

What were your reactions as you saw that poster being held up?

Was it happiness that at least the millions for whom football is a religion

had the Gospel preached to them at least once on a Sunday?

Was it embarrassment or even anger that faith was being forced down people’s throats,

giving people a view of Christianity as an intolerant dogma?

Was it introspection, as you were moved to consider John 3:16 anew?

“For God so loved the world,

that he gave his only Son,

that those who believe in him may not perish,

but have eternal life.”

Did it renew your faith to have that subliminal message on your TV screen,

or did it undermine your faith, become a stumbling block for you?

One of the ways in which John 3:16 has been a stumbling block for people

has only arisen in the past few years or so.

When I was in seminary,

I had to write something called an approval essay,

which was read by people in the churchwide office

to determine whether or not I was going to be approved for ordination.

So it was a very important essay.

The confirmands’ test this December will be far easier.

One of the parts of this four-part essay

was to interview someone from another faith.

I spoke to a Buddhist in the Harrisburg area.

She was not Asian, as you might expect, but of European ancestry,

and she once had been active in a strict Presbyterian church

where the pastor preached often on a dogma called “substitutionary atonement.”

In other words, that God the Father sent Jesus the Son to take the punishment for our sins.

This became very difficult for her to swallow,

and eventually destroyed her faith altogether,

because she was in a marriage

where her husband regularly physically abused her and her children.

And hearing the story repeated every week

that we deserved nothing but punishment

but that God decreed that his innocent Son would receive it,

She began to see God in the same way,

as an abuser of the innocent.

I didn’t succeed in persuading her otherwise,

but one of the great gifts of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity,

that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-equal in majesty,

is that we understand Jesus’ giving of his life

as the willing offering of God Himself.

Although, in John 3:16,

we hear that God sent the Son,

in other places in John,

we hear Jesus say that he himself lays down his life

and has power to take it up again.

Jesus is not an unwilling recipient of the Father’s wrath,

rather, in the willing offering of the Son on the Holy Cross,

God the Holy Trinity,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

absorbs the consequences of our sin and ingratitude

and makes a way through them.

The willing offering of himself on the Holy Cross

is the way that God deals with the problem of the world.

What is the problem of the world?

St. Paul says this in 1st Corinthians,

“Jews demand signs, and Greeks desire wisdom.”

The answer you want from God can tell you

what you think the problem is with the world.

Many of the Jewish believers in Jesus’ time wanted a sign from Jesus

to prove that he was the Messiah that they should follow

in revolution against the evil Romans.

They thought the problem was other people, and many wanted God’s Messiah

to help them show those other people who was boss.

Others, mainly Greeks, thought that the problem was ignorance.

They wanted a wise man to lead them into greater and greater wisdom,

so that they, the special ones, might escape from the ignorance of other people.

What do you think you need to be saved from?

What is the problem of the world?

I read this week in an unimpeachable source

what the five most persuasive words in the English language are.

All right, the unimpeachable source is Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader.

Take that for what it’s worth.

But it sounds exactly right:

according to Uncle John,

the five most persuasive words in the English language

are discover, easy, guarantee, health, and results.

Sounds like many Americans believe

that the problem of the world is ignorance of a method or a product

that will guarantee positive outcomes,

and if we can just find that right system or product,

we will be happy, healthy, and content.

No wonder the cross does not appeal to many of us Americans.

When the Christian faith is presented as a system for social improvement,

national blessing, or personal health, wealth, or advancement,

the Holy Cross is relegated to the background,

becoming a stumbling block or foolishness.

But for us who are being saved,

it is the power of God.

For I have it from an even more unimpeachable source than Uncle John

that the problem is not that the right system or product has been withheld from us,

and that once our ignorance is dispelled, we will be wise and blessed.

The problem is not those other people, whether they be Roman occupiers

or Sarah Palin or Hillary Clinton

or Barack Obama or John McCain.

The problem is that we, even we here, are impatient, and ungrateful, and grumblers,

that we are self-centered and self-righteous

and our self-centeredness and self-righteousness comes back to bite us

like poisonous serpents in the desert.

We need to be saved, not from others nor from ignorance

but from ourselves.

And in God’s own self-offering on the Holy Cross

the Holy Trinity accomplishes our salvation,

giving us an eternal life that begins now and is brought to completion in the life to come.

To look with faith upon the Holy Cross

is to confess that the problem is me,

that there is a gap between God’s self-emptying love

and my self-seeking life,

and that here God himself bridged the gap,

did not demand that I suffer the poisonous, noxious consequences of my rebellion

but endured it himself and overcame it.

To look with faith upon the Holy Cross

is to believe that with Jesus, we are called to live lives that bear other’s sins

and endure them,

so that we may show ourselves to be truly grateful recipients

of the eternal life God offers.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,

that all those who believe in him may not perish

but have eternal life.”


Entry filed under: 1.

Sermon 8/31/2008 Religious Belief in Wittenberg, Germany

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