3rd Sunday in Lent

March 23, 2014

Summary

A message for the world

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:1-8 ESV)

We tell our children ‘If you’re going to do something, do it properly the first time’. If want them to be as successful as possible; life’s too short to waste on failures and laziness.

If we are a member of a group, we want that group to be successful. We follow our sports teams wanting them to win. We come here to church where winning isn’t the name of the game but we still would like to see success – spiritually that’s hidden, so we’ll settle for numbers. We’d prefer God to answer our prayers as we asked, to do it our way – and can so easily think he hasn’t answered them at all when things don’t go the way we prayed – despite the truth that God does respond to all the prayers we pray.

We know life has its own trajectory – parts of it are in our control, parts not – but overall, people will choose success over failure, more over less, power over weakness. We will choose this.

So what do you do when your Lord and God dies on a cross and that is the last picture the world has of him? The disciples of Jesus learnt what happened next – that Jesus was raised – that death’s power was broken – that forgiveness of sin and life with God in a growing relationship with God is possible. The disciples know this but the world doesn’t. Jesus didn’t appear before Pilate or Caesar or fly through the sky in glory and so the world’s last picture of him is that of the cross and burial.

Thus emerges the tension for Christians who live in this world wanting success in all aspects of their life, even their faith – that it be strong and they be seen to be on the winning side. No one wants to be viewed as a loser. The trouble is that the God they follow who has all power – is all-powerful – demonstrated this power by not using it, as the world killed him on the cross. This tension is real. We want the power and the success but we can’t work out how the cross fits in.

In Lent we recognise our sins, our imperfections, our failings and that’s ok to do as long as I give you the power to overcome sin, be perfect and successful. The Gospel I proclaim gives you the strength to endure, gives you the power to make a new start each day. While we live in this world, we’re still living in these bodies of sin, living in a capricious world, and facing death. ‘C’mon!’ the world sneers, ‘can’t your Good News, your Gospel do that better than that?!’.

Paul replied in the first chapter of Romans: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the

righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV) His letter goes on to explain this Gospel he proclaims and lives by and in our text this morning – our second reading – we hear Paul describe God’s power – this righteousness given to us because of Jesus’ death on the cross and received through faith – as us having peace with God. Because of Jesus, the Christian can rejoice in the hope of God’s glory – one day the world will see Jesus in the clouds but not yet. Now – and here comes the unexpected, here comes the cross as it were, here comes the reply to the world’s sneer – we also rejoice in our sufferings – our struggles, our failings, our weakness because that is reality – that is part of life in this world – and to deny sin, death, and evil – is to really live in fear – but we can face what you, world, throw at us, and what our sins throw at us, and what evil throws at us because none of them have the final say over us because we keep looking at the cross of Jesus and seeing his defeat of them to control and have the final say.

So our lifestyle is honest – suffering – harsh and tragic or low grade grey constant – happens – and we’re not masochistic or sick but realistic but because of Jesus and his cross, we’ll even boast of our sufferings, world, because we can persevere – endure – we don’t have to drown ourselves with drugs or pleasure or wealth or whatever it is that you use to not face reality – and this endurance shapes us, our character as we face the truth that God won’t abandon us – that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ – and this produces hope in us so that we’re not ashamed of who we are because we are constantly filled, touched, washed, fed with God’s love – with Jesus through work of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, we know we choose our behaviours, we have choices how we live with those around us but in relation to God we are powerless to make ourselves spiritually alive, to make friends with God and so Jesus died for us – and that is why we’re not budging from that cross – he died for the ungodly, for me and for you, world!

Listen, we know sacrifice in this world. We prize it in our soldiers, our warriors. But people don’t just die for just anyone, even if they are good – rather they might die for those who are their benefactors, who have been good to them – whether individuals or nations. This sort of sacrifice we know and we honour. But listen, world, God demonstrates his love in that while we weren’t righteous, good, or a benefactor to God in any way; no, we were enemies of God, sinners, Christ died for us – for us all.

This is the gospel Paul proclaimed throughout the letter to the Christians at Rome. This gospel can be found throughout the New Testament. Having met Jesus and refusing to budge from the cross, we can find it in the Old Testament. And because Jesus isn’t dead anymore – we can find this Gospel active today in our weak, frail congregations; among us sinners who keep failing in our discipleship and who also can’t go for a week without damaging or hurting in some way those around us – as many of them hurt us – and so we search for the means of grace, the tools of the Holy Spirit, to meet Jesus and receive his help through words, water, bread and wine.

Yep, it doesn’t look grand but it is the most powerful moment of our week. We are in the presence of the living God and we live to tell the story!

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Bible References

  • Romans 5:1 - 8