Sunday, September 14, 2008

Holy Cross Sermon

Holy Cross Day – September 14th, 2008 – John 12:20-33

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
September 14th is a lesser known Holy Day of the Church – Holy Cross Day. At least it is one of the lesser known Holy Days unless you happened to attend Holy Cross Lutheran School for 3 years of middle school. Holy Cross, quite unsurprisingly, made a rather big deal out of Holy Cross day when it would roll around – and it is a good day. Maybe not so high as Christmas or Easter – but once every few years, when it falls on a Sunday, it is worth our time and consideration. So today, we celebrate the Cross of Christ – and we will ponder it and its importance to us, by looking at our Gospel text from John.

Now, among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Phillip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” In the Gospels, the times when Jesus interacts with Gentiles, with non-Jews are few and far between. But that’s the context, the situation for this Gospel lesson today – Greeks come looking to see Jesus. So – what will Jesus show them – they have come to see Him. What will Jesus show? A healing? Or maybe His wisdom with a parable? No – instead, what will Jesus show them, what will He talk about? His death and resurrection – Jesus will show them the cross.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Christ says this after Palm Sunday as Good Friday approaches. The Son of Man is to be glorified, but His glory is not chiefly in demonstrations of earthly power, His glory is not in wealth, His glory is not a matter of healings. Rather it is this – 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. I don’t think I have to explain the point behind this verse too much around here. Yes, planting time is coming – and yes, seed wheat is expensive – but what is planted should bear a yield worth much more than just the cost of that seed wheat. The wheat must be planted, or their will be no yield in the Summer. Likewise – Christ looks here to His own death, looks to the Cross. Why? Because Christ wants a rich and full harvest – Christ wants to bear much fruit – He desires not to be alone but to have you be with Him for all eternity. And so He must go to the Cross – for it is with His death that Christ wins you from the power of sin, death, and the Devil. Christ desires you – desires His harvest – and so He willingly goes to the Cross, willingly dies – just as our farmers are willingly going to put seed wheat, put money into the ground – so that there might be the joy of harvest.

Your relationship to God is defined by the Cross. Now, there are many things that are part of that relationship – God does indeed bless us with things in this life, God gives us forgiveness, and we pray, we worship – many things are involved in your relationship with God – but it is centered, it is defined by the Cross. Your God is not some distant god who doesn’t care – He is not some angry god you must somehow make happy – He is not some pagan god that your worship needs to entertain. He is the God who willingly suffers for your sake so that He might claim you and have you as His own for all eternity. We understand how we relate to God in view of the Cross because if Christ is to be our God, He must go to the Cross – and He does – He does so willingly.

Now, this is also instructive for our life. Our Lord next says, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” If Christ had decided to scorn the cross – we would be lost. Instead, He willingly suffers and dies for our sake. He suffers all this so He can have this relationship with you, both now and for all eternity. But here is the rub. We can be distracted. We can be so enamored, so in love with the things of this life – so focused on the things we have here, that we lose our focus on Christ, we forget about Him – and our faith starves, and we lose it. It’s the horrid irony – there are so many people who love, who crave the joys and pleasures of this world – and they spend all their time chasing after them – working harder and harder to have more here, jumping after any fleeting pleasure they can find here – only to lose all joy and pleasure and happiness in hell. Christ warns us against this. Do not view this life as the end all, be all of existence. Rather this – Christ and Him Crucified is what is of chief importance – and let Him remain so in your life. Don’t put the work in your life, don’t put the joys in your life above Christ – otherwise your faith can wither and die. This is a thought we don’t like to have. How many people, if you asked them if they were going to heaven, would say, “Sure, I’ve been a good person.” A horrible and sad answer. They’ve forgotten Christ. And yet, how many people, even people raised in the Church, even people raised in this church – might give that answer? But that is what happens to us, to our faith when we put the things of this life above Christ. Your relationship with God is not defined by who you are, what you do – but it is defined by Christ and His Cross – and if you abandon that, you have lost Christ. Make time to be in Christ’s Word, to see His Cross – for there is life and salvation.

Christ makes this more blunt when He says, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there my servant will be also.” We follow Christ – we don’t love and value the things of this life over everything else – rather, we leave them behind, and like our Master Christ Jesus we are to serve – even at cost to ourselves. As we sang earlier today – we follow where our Captain trod. And why? Because our eyes are focused upon Christ – we see Him, we see His love for us, and that love overwhelms us, flows through us, and must be shown, must be given out. That is simply the pattern of our lives – Christ has joined Himself to us – He is the vine, we are the branches – as He is our master we cannot but help but bear fruit – fruit of love and service. Christ has purchased and won us by the Cross, and so we see Him, His love, and He brings us to follow Him.

Doesn’t mean that this is always easy. 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. Jesus knew – Jesus knew that Maundy Thursday and Good Friday would be a hard day, a rough day. He knew. And yet, He knew why it was happening – knew that He would win you life and salvation, that He would do the Father’s will and win for Him a holy people. And so He went to the Cross. Jesus also knows the struggles you face, the times you have hard, rough days. The days where sin looms heavily – the days where you are too busy, too busy working or too busy having fun to make time for Christ. Jesus knows your struggles – and that is why He went to the cross – so that your sin might be forgiven, that those struggles might be conquered and put away. Listen to the last thing Christ says here in our Gospel, and draw from it complete hope.

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 unto myself. Christ knows the temptations you face. He knows that Satan, the prince of this world, seeks to load you down, by hook or by crook, to distract you, to burden you with guilt, to do anything he can to distract you from Christ. But know what the Cross is – it is Christ breaking the power of Satan. The Devil no more has authority, no more has control, and in Christ you can deny Satan, you can deny his temptations. And why? Because Christ has been lifted up, He has been lifted up upon the Cross – and He has drawn all people, drawn you here, unto Him. You are focused upon Christ – the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel – and you are now a new creation, made new by Christ and His death. Your old self, your sinful nature was crucified with Christ – drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism. That is the point of Baptism – it connects you with Christ’s death and resurrection – it gives you victory over Satan. That’s why as part of the baptismal rite we have the line – “receive the sign of the Holy Cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” We have been drawn to Christ and His cross – attached to Him in the gift of Baptism. The struggles you face in this life – they are no longer your struggles alone – for Christ is with you. He has died and risen again – and therefore you are never alone – for He is with you always.

And so this day, indeed, every day, every time we gather in this place – see strive to see and understand this gift more and more – we look to the Cross of Christ, we look to the Crucified One – so that we might know His forgiveness better and better – that we might receive it again when we need it (which is always), that our lives might be shaped by the Cross. May God grant that you are always drawn here to behold the Cross of your Lord and Savior Christ Jesus. Amen.

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