Tuesday, May 10, 2016

United in Christ Alone. . .

Sermon for Easter 7C, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, May 8, 2016.

    One of the things we often do on Mother's Day is recall our childhoods and thank our moms for all they've done.  They cooked our meals, washed our clothes, bandaged our scrapes, and read us stories.  These children stories were entertaining and without even knowing it, they were teaching us many life lessons.  I can remember having a book of Aesop's Fables and my mother reading these short teaching stories to me.   
    One of the fables, The Four Oxen and the Lion, goes like this: A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell.  Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them.  At last, however, they quarrelled amongst themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field.  Then the lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end to all four.  United we stand, divided we fall...that's the lesson of this tale.
    We know this lesson.  It's been spoken and repeated by many of our leaders.  This lesson calls for oneness, and who doesn't want that?  Unity is a great thing, it's something we all desire.  We want there to be unity in our homes, in our work places, and in our churches.   
Jesus also desired unity and oneness.  In His High Priestly Prayer, Christ prayed to the Father asking for unity to exist between us, so that we might be one just as He and the Father are one.  This oneness can only come from one place, and that is Christ and His cross. 
I.    As Jesus prayed in the Upper Room, He said, "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me" (Jn 17:20-21).  With this prayer, Jesus prayed for the disciples that were with Him that night and He also prayed for all future believers who would come to faith through the work of the disciples.  This then is a prayer for you and me.  Christ prayed this prayer for you.  He wants you to have unity and oneness with Him, and with each other.   
    We try to unite with one another in several ways.  We establish clubs and organizations to bring people together based on common interests and goals.  We try to unite under the colors and banners of professional sports teams and schools.  We even turn to politics to find unity and support from people who think the same way we do.  But all these attempts to unify fail.  Clubs split up; fandom only unites until the final whistle is blown; and politics always divide more than they unite.  None of these things bring true and perfect unity because of our sin, and sin only divides. 
    In the very beginning, there was perfect unity.  Our parents lived in true harmony with one another.  But once Adam and Eve sinned, that oneness was lost.  They turned on each other and at that point it became every man for himself.  Adam threw his wife under the bus and blamed her for his sin, and ever since, we've continued to follow their example. 
We're great practitioners of discord and strife.  In every single one of our relationships we've allowed our sin to produce division.  We've said hurtful things to our friends and betrayed their trust.  We've taken advantage of our family, using them to serve our desires and refusing to serve them.  As children we've dishonored our parents and as parents we've exasperated our children.  As citizens we've shown disdain and contempt for those put in authority above us.  Our sin drives a wedge between us.  It builds an unscalable wall that separates us from one another, just as it separates us from God our Father. 
When Adam and Eve gave into temptation, their sin not only divided them, but it also separated them from God.  No longer could they live united with Him, no longer did they live according to His will.  Now they were against God, and this condition has been passed down to us. 
We're born at odds with God, separated from Him because of our original sin.  We try to reunite ourselves with Him in many ways.  We try to live according to His will.  We try to gain access to Him through our works, but these efforts always end in failure, because we can't do good works.  Our sin ruins all our efforts. And besides, trying to earn our way to God is opposed to unity with Him because it's self-reliance.  When we trust in our own abilities and in our works to reunite with God, there's no room for Him.  It's all about us.  The only way we can be reunited with our Father, and with one another, is through Christ Jesus.
II.    Only those with true love can be truly united.  This true love isn't just a feeling or strong passion, it's an action.  It's the action of completely giving up oneself for another.  This love seeks to serve instead of being served.  Christ and His cross is true love.  On the cross, the Father gave up His only Son for you.  Jesus completely humbled Himself for you.  He gave up His place in heaven with the Father and came to earth so that He could exchange His life for yours.  By shedding His innocent blood on the cross, He overcame all your sin that separates you from God.  Because of His sacrifice, the Father forgives you, He wipes your sin away and brings you back to Him.  He restores you and unites you with Christ, His beloved Son. 
    He does this through the Holy Spirit in the washing of Baptism.  This is the very washing that Matthew received today, and in it God put His name upon you.  This name is what joins you to Him, it's what unites you with the Father, and with everyone else who bears His name. 
    Christ's cross joins you and other believers together.  The forgiveness of His cross erases your trespasses against one another.  It does away with your discord, selfishness, and strife.  Because of God's love for you in Christ, you can love others and be united with them. 
    Jesus had a purpose for this unity with God and each other.  He prayed for it so that the world might see this unity and by seeing it know that He was sent from the Father.  The purpose for unity isn't only peace and harmony, although that's nice.  Its purpose is the proclamation of God's true love shown in Christ's redeeming cross.  This proclamation isn't with words, but with actions.  It's a proclamation of doing what we say.  When we tell others of Christ's love and they see this love in our relationships, this is a strong witness to Christ and His cross.  Now, our actions and unity can't bring people to faith, only the Holy Spirit can do this through the Gospel.  However, our disunity can be an obstacle to faith.  When the unity that Jesus prays for is seen, those who see it will know that it's a miracle of God, and this points to the eternal truth that Christ's cross has overcome all the disunity that our sin causes. 
    We who are many and divided by sin are only united through Christ and His cross.  It's only because of His love and forgiveness that we've received that we're one with Him.  And it's only because of His love and forgiveness that we share with each other that we're united together.  When others see this, they'll know that Jesus is from the Father, that He's the Savior.  And with faith in Him, receiving His name in Baptism, they too will be united with Him and us forever.  In Jesus name...Amen.

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