Sermon for March 7, 2021
“but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. Thanks to Sandi Meyers, our first reader, who offered those words from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. It is an interesting proclamation isn’t it. Paul focuses our hearts and minds, the core of our Christian life, on the death of Jesus and on the cross. I might have thought that he would write not only about the death of Jesus on the cross but also his resurrection from the dead. But he didn’t. Perhaps it is best that during this Lenten season we do focus on the cross and its significance to us. I suppose we will have to save the glory of the resurrection discussion until we get to Easter.
Paul compares our dedication to the cross of Jesus to that of the Jews and Gentiles. The Jewish people were looking for a Messiah and would not have expected their Messiah to be killed. There is reference in Deuteronomy that indicated that if you were crucified, you must have done something criminal. For their part, the Greeks would not have honored a hero who died in such circumstances as Jesus did. Instead, the Greeks appreciated the wisdom demonstrated by philosophers and others. I am sure that people in the 1st century laughed at Christians for celebrating the cross of Christ. Through their faith, Paul and his followers in Corinth demonstrated that God is wiser than anyone on earth and they accepted and celebrated that God chose for Jesus to die on the cross.
What might Paul have written today? What things or traits might we in this country honor. Perhaps it would be the dedication of an individual who achieved great success through hard work and insight. Maybe it would be an athletic figure who found great success in a sport. Perhaps we would cheer the scientists who found the vaccine so quickly and were able to bring it to market is such a short time. I wonder if my Canadian friends would suggest a characteristic that is most admired in their country.
As Christians today, we are thankful for the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf and it speaks to God’s love for us. Jesus gave everything he had to redeem us from our sins and to help us enter into the kingdom of God. The love of Jesus carries us when we are struggling.
We all come to church with different situations and different feelings. Some might be joyous over the birth of a new baby or we might come with the sadness of the death of a family member. This week, I come thinking about the struggles people face. I am feeling the weight of many sad situations in this world and I am here to ask for God’s help.
I am feeling the challenge of the incredible divides we see. I spent quite a bit of time listening and participating in the Mesa City Council meeting on Monday. The Council planned to vote on a new ordinance that was called non-discrimination ordinance. The new ordinance would ban discrimination for many reasons but the key one was the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the list of people that cannot be discriminated against in housing, employment and services.
Just to be clear, I chose to speak in favor of the new ordinance. I believe that we should stop discrimination in all forms including that which may be done to the LGBTQ community. In my life, I have spoken to many friends and acquaintances who have struggled with their identity, struggled with guilt and struggled for acceptance. I hope for something better for them. For your information the new ordinance passed by a vote of 5 to 2.
I spent two hours listening to opinions on both sides of the issue and I was struck by the pain people feel on both sides. People who were part of the LGBTQ community described times when they had been mistreated and hurt. The pain was clear in their voices. On the other side, I also understood the pain that was felt by people who opposed the issue. People who opposed this issue were afraid of what might happen if this ordinance passed. I felt their fears were overstated. But it was pain nonetheless. Some of the pain turned to anger. I was especially struck with the statement of one council member who said that she had received almost 1100 comments about the ordinance in the last two weeks. She said that she had never received so much hate mail and it helped her to better understand the experience of people in the LGBTQ community.
I would hope that everyone in this community would oppose discrimination of any kind. I tell this story because I am saddened by the divisiveness that exists in our world today and saddened by the deep feelings this and other issues create. I share the story to help you feel the fear, hurt, distrust, and anger that exists over this issue. And by extension, we know that other issues create similar feelings and division. I wonder how we can heal from these sharp divides or if not heal enough that we find a place to live in peace with one another. I wish that we could accept people who are different than we are. It is the possibility of healing that I find in the cross of Jesus. I say again that Jesus loved us so much that he offered himself for us. What a gift.
This morning, we will sing the hymn In the Cross of Christ I glory which Gary selected. The words seem to fit so well for me this week. The cross of Jesus towers over all the wrecks of time. Jesus takes in all of the things we have messed up and despite our failures invites us to feel his love. The second verse is my favorite. When the woes of life overtake me; hopes deceive and fears annoy; never shall the cross forsake me; lo, it glows with peace and joy. Despite all of our troubles, the cross of Jesus is always there to fill us with peace and joy. Perhaps we can share the cross of Jesus with others to help them find God’s peace and joy.
There is a song from long ago called “He’s got the whole world in his hands”. There was an image of Jesus holding the globe in his hands. It seems to fit so well for us today as we proclaim the glory of Jesus. That is why Paul speaks about Christians as a people of the cross. Because we are thankful and so moved that we choose to follow Jesus.
Jesus changed the understanding of how the world works. Paul borrowed from the book of Isaiah when he wrote, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise”. God’s ways are not the ways of humans. God’s choice was to have Jesus die on the Cross. We celebrate the victory of his death and resurrection. While Paul was providing a theological argument, he also was helping the Corinthians to understand that they were different from others, they were unique. The followers of Jesus chose a different way.
As members of the Church of the Transfiguration, we too can accept a different way. It seems likely that we will soon be able to return to a more normal life for our community. I expect that we will be able to go back in the church for Holy Week and perhaps Easter. Soon, we may be able to go to the Parish Hall for refreshments and fellowship. As followers of the cross let’s all remember that Transfiguration is a loving community. Let’s make sure that we accept everyone and welcome everyone regardless of where they come from. I ask that we be different from the fearful and antagonistic community that I experienced at the Mesa City Council meeting. We have many disagreements. But let’s disagree in a loving way. Let’s make sure that no one is discriminated in our community. And let’s try to be a good example for others.
Psalm 124 includes this verse. We say, “our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth”. Our help comes from the glorious cross of Christ. When we live in the cross of Jesus we will to find a place of love and not fear, of caring for and loving others, not rejecting others. Thanks be to God for the cross of Jesus. Amen.
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