Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Nothing or Everything. . .

Sermon for the Sunday of the Passion, Palm Sunday, preached on Sunday, March 24, 2013.

    I grew up with confirmation on Palm Sunday.  Some lament loss of the old calendar and its focus on Palm Sunday.  Some lament the rows of chairs and the scrubbed faces of confirmands wearing new suits or dresses.  Some are wary of the long reading of the Passion that is now the hallmark of this day.  They would rather dally at the triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.  But the entry into Jerusalem was not for glory, it was for suffering and the focus is not on confirmands but upon the Lord.  None of us comes to the cross willingly.  We come reluctantly to the cross – it is almost too much for us.  We cannot get enough of the things we like and desire but we get our fill of sin's ugly death pretty quickly.  We want to bypass the cross to get directly to Easter.
    The worst thing about standing before the Cross of Jesus is that in the face of His holy life and love we find what nothings we truly are.   Before the cross we are nothing  – with nothing to offer Jesus to soothe His wounds, nothing to relieve His pain, and nothing to offer Him to compensate for all that He has borne for us.  Before the cross we surrender our pride before Him and not even our humility is worth much in the face of love that suffers so for us.
    Before the cross, we are unable to deny the terror of our sins, unable to claim any excuse or justification, and unable to assist the Lord in what He must do alone, for us.  Our sins are naked before the cross.  Christ is all.  That is what the cross cries out.  Christ is all, He does all, He gives all, He loves all.  Christ is all and we are nothing.  We have no pride of place, only the shame of sin.
    Before the cross we are nothing... but in the cross we are everything. Let me say that again.  Before the cross we are nothing.  But in the cross we are everything.  Outside the pale of its grace to which we are connected by baptism and which we apprehend by faith, we are nothing. But in the cross by baptism and faith, the sufferings of Christ make the undeserving valuable, the lost are found, the sinner forgiven, and the dead given eternal life.
    That is what is so amazing.  Before the cross we stand exposed for the sinners we are, dead in trespasses and sin with nothing to say for ourselves.  But in the cross – by baptism and faith – we are made rich.  The cost of our redemption was not paid in silver or gold but in the holy and precious blood of Christ.  In the cross, God declared us of priceless worth; that is what it cost Him to love us and save us.
    We all have treasures, family heirlooms or special things we value.  The truth is that they have no value except what others assign to them, what others are willing to pay for them.  We have often seen how personal treasures count for very little in the marketplace.  Your worth and value are assigned to you not by you or what you do or what you think.  God has assigned a value to you.  That value is the cost which our Lord paid to redeem you.  It is the highest cost of all, the priceless life willingly offered and the priceless blood willingly shed to purchase you for Him.
    Every sinner, no matter how great, finds redemption here.  Every sin, no matter how great, finds forgiveness here.  Everyone who comes confessing their sin, leaves the cross rejoicing in what the blood of Christ has won and the mercy of Christ has accomplished.  Every unclean soul finds the cleansing flood flowing from His pierced side.  Every unrighteous man and woman finds righteousness here to perfectly cover up all our sin, the declaration of holiness we could not achieve on our own.  It is all here in the cross.  Before the cross we are nothing but in the cross we are declared of great value by Christ’s suffering and death for us.
    Everyone living in the shadow of death fears the light of life.  Every one accustomed to hiding their faults and failures in the shadows, fears exposing them in the light.  But God exposes them so that He might forgive them, pay their debt, and set us free.  Before the cross we are nothing but in the cross we are God's everything.  Here we see how He has loved us more than life, how His sufferings have born the fruit of redemption, and hot by His death, we have been made alive.
    No pious platitudes today.  No ego trips.  No boisterous protests.  No empty denials.  No bravado.  Before the cross we are nothing.  Stand outside the cross as mere spectator and you remain nothing... come into the cross by baptism and faith, and you are God's everything.  We may want to rush to Easter and skip the cross, but it is here, in the cross, we must pause.  Here we discover our value to God, the measure of His love, and how suffering gives birth to life.  Don’t rush too quickly to Easter or you will miss the mystery of grace that is here.  Don’t stand too distant from the cross or it will only be story.  Come near by faith, rejoice in what your baptism promises, and rejoice in the high price paid for you.  And then live out in fullness the new life this death has made possible.  Amen.

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