What difference does the cross make?

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 11), Year C, June 16, 2013

1 Kings 21:1-21, Psalm 32, Galatians 2:15-21, Luke 7:36-8:3

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In the last two weeks, we’ve looked at the opening chapter of Galatians.  Paul was upset with the Galatians because they were starting to use human traditions to run their church and determine who was faithful to God, instead of depending on God’s grace and love.  They were looking for salvation in their own works, rather than in God’s grace.  Paul then talked about how God’s Word had come to him, and how it had changed him and sent him out to tell people about God’s love.  Now we come to one of the core parts of Paul’s theology: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

For Paul, the death and resurrection of Christ was at the heart of the Christian experience.  The death and resurrection of Christ was what made it possible—what made it necessary—for people of all backgrounds to come together in a community of faith.  The death and resurrection of Christ is the central event when binds all God’s children together.  We have all been crucified with Christ.  The old ways of doing things—the old ways of looking at the world—have all been superseded by the work of Christ in the world.  We have been changed right down to the very core of our being by Christ’s faithfulness in dying on the cross.

Have you ever seen the movie Pay It Forward?  It’s a very good movie, about a little boy named Trevor, his mother, and his teacher.  The teacher gives all his students an assignment for extra credit: to think up ways to make the world a better place.  Trevor’s idea is to do trying to make the world a better place by doing good deeds, and then challenging each person he helps to do something good for someone else.  Now, it would be really easy for such a movie to be saccharine, overly sweet, showing everything becoming miraculously better.  Pay It Forward doesn’t do that; instead, it confronts the brokenness of the world head-on, showing the ugly realities of addiction, abuse, poverty, bullying, all the many ways in which the world is a broken, sinful place.  It shows all the many ways people hurt one another and fall back into old, bad habits even when they try to do their very best to be better people.  And it does it without becoming overly cynical, either.  The world is still as broken at the end of the movie as it was in the beginning—and yet, Trevor’s actions and his words, his trust and his hope have had a deep and profound impact on the people around him.  The world may be the same, but they are not the same.  They have been transformed, and are better people for having known Trevor.  They’ve seen the world differently; they’ve learned to see themselves and everyone around them differently.  They have learned to open themselves up to possibilities, to step beyond the fears that cripple them.

I think that story gives us a glimpse of what Paul’s getting at here.  The world is a broken, sinful place.  All human beings are broken, sinful people.  Addiction, abuse, poverty, bullying, and injustice affect more of us than we’d like to admit.  And even if you are lucky enough not to directly suffer from any of these, there are so many other ways the brokenness, the sinfulness, of the world can affect us.  There are so many ways our own brokenness, our own sinfulness, can affect others.  No matter how much we try to be good, no matter how much we try to overcome our own faults, no matter how much we try to change the world for the better, we are only a drop in the bucket.  There is pain in the world.  There is pain in us.  And our own ability to do the right thing simply isn’t enough to stop the pain.  And yet.

And yet, we are in Christ and Christ is in us.  Jesus Christ, God who took on human flesh and walked among us.  God who knows our pain, our brokenness, because he shared it.  Jesus spent his time on Earth healing the sick, comforting the brokenhearted.  Jesus never turned away anyone: not the worst sinners, not the self-righteous ones who thought they had no need of forgiveness.  Jesus Christ knows our suffering because he shared it.  And despite our brokenness, despite our sinfulness, despite everything we do to hurt ourselves and one another, Jesus loves us anyways.  Jesus Christ loves us so much that he was willing to die for our sake, to save us and this broken world we live in.  Jesus Christ loves us so much that he was willing to die to heal our brokenness.  And that love, that death, transforms us.

Christ calls us to him on the cross.  He calls us as we are, with all our brokenness, all our faults, all the bad things we have done and all the good things we have failed to do.  We die with him, on the cross; we are crucified with him.  And when we rise with him, we are made new.  We are made whole.  We are redeemed, forgiven, saved, not through any merit of our own but through Christ’s faithfulness and love.

One of the key phrases of Galatians is “faith in Christ.”  Now, that translation is actually somewhat misleading; the Greek phrase that Paul uses doesn’t really have any good way to be translated into English that will capture the whole meaning.  You see, the same words, “πίστεως Χριστοῦ” can be translated in two different ways.  They can mean “faith in Christ,” as in, we have faith in Christ, but they can also mean “the faithfulness of Christ,” as in, we are justified by the faithfulness of Christ—Christ’s faithfulness to us and to the will of the Father.  We are justified—we are made right with God—through Christ’s faithfulness, and through our faith in Christ.  The life we now live comes through faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us.

The world is still a broken place.  It will not be healed until Christ comes again.  There will continue to be sin in the world; addiction, fear, hate, jealousy, poverty, bullying, all the evils in the world will continue to affect us until Christ comes again.  Being Christian doesn’t mean we are magically free from all the pain in the world; it doesn’t mean we’ll be rich and successful and have everything go our way.  It doesn’t even mean that we will never sin again.  We still have to deal with the reality of the world.

What Christ’s death and resurrection means is that we do not have to face that world alone.  What Christ’s death and resurrection means is that Christ is with us—in us and around us—every step of the way.  We still struggle; we still fall short of what God has called us to be; we still sin.  And yet we have been transformed by Christ.  We have learned to see the world differently; we have learned to see ourselves differently.  We are not just sinners; we are not just people suffering in a world of pain.  We are people loved and chosen by God, who have seen the profound difference that love makes.  We are people who have learned to open ourselves up to the possibilities that God offers, to step beyond our fears and our doubts knowing that we don’t do so alone.

Our actions and words can’t magically fix all that is wrong with the world.  Our actions and words can’t even fix ourselves.  And yet, we have seen the difference that love makes.  We have seen the difference that Christ makes, in ourselves and in our lives.  We know that pain and brokenness don’t get the last word; we know that in the end, God’s love will make all things new.  And we know that while we wait for Christ to come again, we do not wait alone, for Christ lives in us and we live in Christ.  We don’t do good works to try and fix the world or to earn our way into God’s good books.  We help one another, we love one another, because Christ loves us and wants us to spread that love.  We let Christ shine through our words and our actions because we know Christ.  We have faith in Christ’s faithfulness and love for us.  We pay that love forward so that all will know the transforming power of Christ’s love.

Amen.

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