Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The Endless Preaching of Justification
One time I heard the comment from a parishioner who complained, "Ya, I get it, we were bad, God was good, and Jesus died for our sins... so I have heard it over and over again in one variation or another for most of my life... but I am interested in hearing other things..."
Now I was sitting in the pew with this gentleman so I am not sure of the context. It may be that the justification sermon in one form or another is all he gets. If so, that is not all bad. But it is not all good either.
The message of the cross has to be a central part of every sermon. We cannot preach and preach faithfully without having the cross and empty tomb as the core and center of our proclamation. That said, justification is not all there is to preach. Justification must necessarily lead us to sanctification -- to what Luther called growth in godliness. We are never so mature in faith or secure in faith that we can avoid hearing the Gospel of the cross and empty tomb but we can never mature in faith or secure the goal of this justification without striving after holiness, righteousness, and goodness.
The Gospel is not the motivational factor in this striving but the means to it. We strive for righteousness but not our own righteousness. We strive to live out the righteousness of Christ, into which we were baptized and which we put on in that baptism. We strive not to a goodness which the world defines but the good that is embodied in Christ Jesus. We strive not to a holiness which adorns our lives like an outward garment but the holiness that flows from the heart transformed by Christ through the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit.
The sermon must always speak Christ and Him crucified for our sin and raised for our justification but where does that leave us and where does that lead us? Surely we can agree that the goal of this justification is to become the person God has declared us to be. Not in the sense that we can or will obtain this goal but understanding that the ever striving for this goal is the nature of Christian faith and life in Christ.
We preach Christ and Him crucified and not some gospel of our own invention or the world's definition but we preach Christ crucified so that we may crucify our sinful desires and be raised by the power of Christ to new life. This is not a plateau we will arrive at but the daily work of the Christian, our baptismal vocation, that is new every morning, thanks be to God. Every morning the failures of yesterday are laid behind us through forgiveness that this new person God has breathed His life into may rise up to serve, obey, thank, and praise Him. We do this not usually in the church building but in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, shopping centers, leisure venues, etc.
We can never afford not to hear the Gospel of the cross and empty tomb, of the life that is but death and the death that gives us life... but this Gospel calls us, invites us, bids us, dare I say, compels us to become the very people God has said we are. It is in this cycle or rhythm that Christian life is lived... from the cross to the cross and back again...