Preaching to the saints of the Lutheran Church at Christ-Elkhart and Faith-Hugoton in Kansas since February 8, 2015. All sermons prior to that date were preached either at Trinity Lutheran Church-Layton or First Lutheran Church-Tooele, Utah.
Dear People of God,
Holy Cross Day is observant of the day in 335 A.D. that St. Helena, mother of Constantine, dedicated a chapel commemorating the spot on which nine years earlier she was believed to have found the actual cross upon which Jesus died. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built on the mound upon which the cross was raised outside the Jerusalem city wall, after pagan temples (which ironically reserved the spot and memory for the locals) were removed. As with other legends, it is difficult to know where the truth ends and the fables of men begin in regard to St. Helena's claim and the observation of Holy Cross Day.
But thanks be to Christ Jesus, the Son of the living God, He has His apostle Peter confess the faith to the generations of His redeemed to come: ". . . we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'" 2 Pet 1:16-17
And so it is that our faith is not based upon the shrines that we build to lift up the cross, but upon the testimony of the prophets and apostles, and upon that Word of God spoken and poured out upon repentant heads and tongues and hearts. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God," as the Holy Spirit tells us through Christ's sent one, Paul [Romans 10:17].
And what is that Word?
Well, for starters, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. It is a message for the simple, for the powerless, for the empty, for the poor, for the downcast, for the least of men. And so it is a message not popular among the rugged, independent, freedom loving, happiness seekers of this world.
But to us who are being saved [that Word, the message of the cross] is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." 1 Cor. 1:18-19
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus' beloved disciple John reveals just how this will be accomplished. He writes, "Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, 'Sir, we wish to see Jesus.'"
Now remember here that wisdom and prudence are the calling cards of the Greek culture. This will help you better understand Jesus' remarks that follow in today's Gospel lesson. Philip and Andrew bring the request of the wise and prudent Greeks to Jesus that they wish to see Him. And what does our Lord, the Son of God do? He speaks a message made for the lovers of wisdom who asked it:
But Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor."
Of course, Jesus is speaking here of the death He would die and how it is only through His death, and our being baptized into that death to follow Him that we can truly see Jesus and live. . . .
". . . for this purpose I came to this hour. 'Father, glorify Your name.'" . . . Jesus answered and said, . . . "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself." This He said, signifying by what death He would die.
And only in this way, through the lens of the cross on which He died for us, can we see Jesus -- not in the wisdom of the world. It is likely the Greeks who wished to see Jesus wanted to quiz and test Him according to their philosophical standards - the kind of standards that like to pose questions such as "Could God create a boulder so heavy he could not lift it?" Such questions seem to be stumpers to make believers and their God look like fools.
But when by faith you understand the message of the cross, it truly is the power of God that destroys the wisdom of the wise and brings to nothing the understanding of the prudent. The question is not what could God do, but what would He do -- what has He done -- for us?
The God who could lift anything, took on the form of a man, a servant, and instead let Himself be lifted up.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:5-11
Dear people of God, when you sing Lift High the Cross as you leave the sanctuary today, please remember this - the song is more a prayer to God than a work order for us. For what is impossible for us men is possible for God. Even Christ Himself, rather than lifting the weight of the cross on Calvary, was lifted upon the tree for all to see and draw all peoples to [Himself."]
And by the cross He places upon you in the waters of baptism, He forgives you all your sin and lifts you up for all the world around you to see; that they too may be drawn to Him and lifted up by His cross into the kingdom of heaven -- in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Insofar as this sermon is a true proclamation of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, it belongs to Him and His Church. Therefore its use is free to all who deem it worthy and beneficial.
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