The Rev. Paul J Cain
Holy Cross Day, 14 September 2014
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Today is the first of two Sundays in a row where we have a special church festival in addition to this being the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity. Today is also Holy Cross Day, and the sermon text is the Holy Gospel for Holy Cross Day, John 12:20-33:
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” It was a simple request. And they were Greeks! We are not told specifically if they were Greek-speaking Jews or Greek converts to Judaism. What we are told is Jesus’ reply: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” These people wanted to see and hear Jesus, and He makes Himself heard by predicting again his suffering and death. Jesus will die.
But that’s not all of the story. If it were, there would be little point talking about a crucified Jewish man nearly 2000 years after his sad and unfair execution. The Father speaks, revealing that Jesus is not only a man, but the Son of God: “I have glorified it [My Name], and I will glorify it again.” How? Jesus says, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die: He would be lifted up on a cross.
When the Church preaches the forgiveness of sins, Christians often take for granted that forgiveness. Since grace didn’t cost us anything, we assume that it isn’t worth much. Consider what it cost God: His only-begotten Son! Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted this over 60 years ago: Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 1937 (DBW 4, p. 44).
That living, incarnate Jesus Christ reminds all of us that there is a cost to following Him. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
There is a cost in this world to following Jesus. We may feel that we miss out on so-called “fun” activities when we all know that the so-called “fun” in question is actually sin. Of course there is fun that is not sinful. But somehow, that doesn’t seem as attractive to us as the devil’s temptation.
Sometimes the cost is a disagreement in the family about Jesus. There may be different priorities when it comes to what the family does on a Sunday morning. There may be ridicule at work or school. Sometimes the cost is internal. An individual grieves over a lost business opportunity because a less profitable venture was actually more beneficial spiritually.
There are times when the cost gets to us. We cry out, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say?” Jesus said those words. He knew He had come for a purpose, to save us from having to bear the cost of our own entrance into heaven, something we could never accomplish.
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
The cross is central to our Christian message. Jesus carried His for you and your salvation. You do not have to carry His burden, but the Lord does give you a cross, too. It has a different purpose. And it helps you better focus your heart, mind, and eyes upon Jesus, especially when the troubles of this world make it hard to see Him.
Again Bonhoeffer in an extended quote: [The cross] is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering that everyone has to experience is the call which summons us away from our attachments to this world. It is the death of the old self in the encounter with Jesus Christ. Those who enter into discipleship enter into Jesus’ death. They turn their living into dying; such has been the case from the very beginning. The cross is not the terrible end of a pious, happy life. Instead, it stands at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ.
Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death. Whether we, like the first disciples, must leave house and vocation to follow him, or whether, with Luther, we must leave the monastery for a secular vocation, in both cases the same death awaits us, namely, death in Jesus Christ, the death of our old self caused by the call of Jesus. Because Jesus’ call brings death to the rich young man, who can only follow Jesus after his own will has died, because Jesus; every command calls us to die with all our wishes and desires, and because we cannot want our own death, therefore Jesus Christ in his word has to be our death and our life. The call to follow Jesus, baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, is death and life.
The call of Christ and baptism leads Christians into a daily struggle against sin and Satan. Thus, each day, with its temptations by the flesh and the world, brings Jesus Christ’s suffering anew to his disciples. The wounds inflicted this way and the scars a Christian carries away from the struggle are living signs of the community of the cross with Jesus. But there is another suffering and another indignity from which no Christian can be spared.
To be sure, Christ’s own suffering is the only suffering that brings reconciliation. But because Christ has suffered for the sin of the world, because the whole burden of guilt fell on him, and because Jesus Christ passes on the fruit of his suffering to those who follow him, temptation and sin fall also onto his disciples. Sin covers the disciples with shame and expels them from the gates of the city like a scapegoat. So Christians become bearers of sin and guilt for other people. Christians would be broken by the weight if they were not themselves carried by him who bore all sins. Instead, by the power of Christ’s suffering they can overcome the sins they must bear by forgiving them.
A Christian becomes a burden-bearer—bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). As Christ bears our burdens, so we are to bear the burden of our sisters and brothers. The law of Christ, which must be fulfilled, is to bear the cross. The burden of a sister or brother, which I have to bear, is not only his or her external fate, manner, and temperament; rather it is in the deepest sense his or her sin. I cannot bear it except by forgiving it, by the power of Christ’s cross, which I have come to share. In this way Jesus’ call to bear the cross places all who follow him in the community of forgiveness of sins. Forgiving sins is the Christ-suffering required of his disciples. It is required of all Christians. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 1937 (DBW 4, pp. 87-88). End Quote
We are tempted to think that Christ Himself is a burden we must bear when we are faced with temptations from the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Yet, Jesus comforts us with the fact that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. That doesn’t mean life is always easy, but that we are not alone. We do not have to carry the cross of our own sins. We do bear the burden of forgiving others as Christ forgave us. That is part of the cost.
When you struggle with forgiving others, when you are burdened by a sin you committed against someone else, see Jesus. If He can forgive that other person, you can, too, for you are forgiving them with Jesus’ forgiveness. When you think that your deeds are unforgivable, tell Satan to stop deceiving you and remember that Jesus died for all and for all your sins. There is a cost, but the benefit of discipleship is valuable beyond all numbers!
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” It was a simple request. Jesus’ reply is that He is most clearly seen on the cross, answering for all sin. That is the point this Holy Cross Day and every Sunday. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.