Friday, October 23, 2015

The scandal of Christianity. . .

Sermon for St. James of Jerusalem, Bishop and Brother of Our Lord.

It is always tempting to think that people need a reason to reject Jesus.  In the Gospel for this day, Jesus came to His home town and the people who supposedly knew Him best, rejected Him and His message.  We extrapolate the idea the familiarity breeds contempt.  Maybe it does.  But the people did not need a reason to reject Jesus.  They needed one to receive Him.

None of us needs a reason to reject Jesus.  We have sinful hearts, fearful of God or of anything and anyone we cannot control.  God is shocking to us and to our lives.  A God who wears human flesh and blood, born of a Virgin, to suffer, die, and rise – well that God is even more shocking to us.  Just as it was to the people Jesus encountered so long ago.

The miracles of Jesus were beyond dispute.  The teachings of Jesus were pure and holy.  His life was not hypocritical or a sham.  He was the real thing.  The only thing they can charge is that Jesus was one of them.  Indeed, He was and is.  Our Lord is not ashamed to wear the clothing of our humanity, to suffer in our place on the cross, and to die our death for sin. But we are ashamed of Him for doing so.

God is man.  Jesus is Lord.  This is the scandal of Christianity, then and now.  The Greco-Roman gods could imitate humanity and seduce people for fun but Jesus comes as one of us in truth to save us and carry the guilt, pain, and shame of our sin to the cross.  Jesus is still a scandal.  The surprise is not that people disbelieve but that they do believe.  Only the Spirit can break down the walls of the heart and bring the skeptic and doubter to faith.

Today we honor James of Jerusalem, Bishop and, by the way, brother of our Lord.  He was not beyond the doubt, fear, and rejection of Jesus.  But into the darkness of doubt, our Lord shone the Light of His grace, the Spirit worked, and James the skeptic became James the Bishop who would unit a church divided among Jewish Christians and Gentile ones.  And when he went home at night, could it be that people said of him what they said of Jesus his brother?  He is just like us.

Even when people reject the Lord, Jesus does not turn His back on them.  Or us.  We have found the favor of God in the Son of God who is like us.  He turns us skeptics into brothers and sisters of Christ, teaching us to pray together with Him, “Our Father,” and to walk in the way of trust.  Every time it happens, every time one person comes to faith in the God-man Jesus Christ, every time forgiveness clothes the guilty, every time grace comes to the unworthy, every time life comes to the dying... every time it is the miracle of grace and no boast of human decision and choice.

Thanks be to God.  James the skeptic became James the believer.  Not all of Nazareth came to know God in the flesh of His Son, Jesus, but James did.  And you did.  And I did.  And in each and every case, grace triumphed.  It is a miracle.  Not that people reject Jesus – that never needs explaining but that people hear and believe, believe and live, live and rejoice... that is beyond explanation or reason. . . it is an act of grace.  Thanks be to God!

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