“Lifting Up Jesus”
Holy Cross Sunday
Isaiah 45:21-25; Psalm 98; Philippians 2:5-11; John 12:31-36a
When this church was being formed as a congregation 47 years ago it chose Holy Cross as its name and Holy Cross Day, or the Sunday nearest it, became our special feast day. September 14th on the Church Liturgical Calendar is ‘Holy Cross Day’. It is one of the appointed feast days of the Church that honors a saint or a special event in Church history.
Holy Cross Day honors Christ’s offering of Himself on the cross for our salvation. September 14 was chosen as the feast day by Emperor Constantine in commemoration on September 14, 335 A.D. of what became the Church of The Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The liturgical color for the day is red. Thus, it has its own prayers and Scripture readings which we are using today.
So today is Holy Cross Sunday. It’s the celebration of our birthday and our sense of identification in Christendom.
Every Sunday morning, either at the communion rail before the service begins, or when washing my hands preparing to make Eucharist, I ask God to forgive me of my personal sin, wash me clean, fill me with His Holy Spirit, set me aside and work through me, and help me to Lift up Jesus so that He might draw others to himself.
The theology and imagery of Jesus being lifted up and drawing us to Himself comes from today’s Gospel lesson, verse 32, when Jesus says: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
So, How Do We Lift Up Jesus In Our Daily Lives?
Today’s lesson from Isaiah gives a couple of hints we can think about. From verse 21 & 22 we read: “Declare what is to be, present it – let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.” “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none other.”
Starting with verse 22 first we are instructed to “turn to” the Lord “and be saved”. When we repent of our own ways that are leading us away from the Lord and turn to Him, he can then enter our lives and save us. In that very action of turning to him we lift him up as special – the God above all the other gods of this world.
Verse 21 talks about “declaring” and “presenting”. How do we “declare and present” Jesus in our daily lives? Coming to worship God is one aspect of this. Attending a Bible Study or small group, or being involved in a ministry, or serving on the Vestry, or the Finance Committee are other aspects. These acts of service all speak, or declare our faith. However, religious duties – as good as they are – are not the same as a personal relationship with Jesus that lifts Him up in our daily lives which are lived apart from our religious lives.
As Christians, are we close enough in our relationship with Christ that we are no longer ashamed or embarrassed of Him? Are we thus willing to talk to others about this relationship? It would be like being embarrassed of a family member and not willing to tell anyone you are related. Our uncomfortableness in that personal relationship would say more through our actions (or lack of them) than any words we might utter.
Part of the uncomfortableness many people have with Jesus is the Cross. The Cross is obviously an important, and powerful symbol of our faith. Yet, the question is frequently asked, “Why did Jesus have to die on a Cross? Why is that awful, criminal’s death the symbol of the Christian faith?
On the surface it makes no sense since
The Cross Originally Was a Sign of Shame.
In Jesus’s time dying on a cross was like dying on the gallows, or by a guillotine, or in an electric chair. It was the method of state execution and was shameful. Imagine wearing a representation of a gallows, or guillotine, or the electric chair on a chain around your neck? That’s what wearing a cross was originally like.
Yet, Jesus’ Cross went from being a symbol of shame to one Christians gladly and devotionally wore because it was the instrument of reconciliation that God chose for our redemption. Jesus’ death on that instrument of state execution became the symbol of our reconciliation to our Creator through the shedding of Jesus’ blood and public humiliation. Thus, for Christians wearing a cross becomes a sign of our redeemed relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus, who has become our Lord and Savior.
It was no accident that early Christians began to make the sign of the Cross on their bodies, or paint a cross on their dwellings, or wear a cross around their neck as a piece of jewelry. They understood what the cross meant, the power of God that was present on it, and the redemption it brought for souls willing to invite the living Jesus into their lives. It fulfilled the thoughts of the Old Testament captured in these words from today’s lesson from Isaiah: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other…. Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ’In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength,’ …” (:22-24).
Paul, writing about the incarnation of Jesus out of his heavenly form into the form of a human being who came to serve everyone, wrote: “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, … “ (:8-9).
As two millennium of believers have testified: when they establish a personal relationship with Jesus the cross moves, in their heart, from an object of shame and embarrassment to a symbol of love and grace. Our Sequence Hymn captures that movement: “Upon the cross of Jesus Mine eyes at times can see the very dying form of one who suffered there for me; and from my smitten heart with tears two wonders I confess: the wonders of redeeming love, and my unworthiness.”
That last phrase, “my unworthiness”, reminds us that God chose a lawbreaker’s death for Jesus precisely because All Of Us Are Lawbreakers.
None of us have lived up to the perfect law of God. Paul wrote: “All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all broken, every one of us. We are broken in different ways and to different depths, but none of us is perfect in every thought, word, and action we have participated in. Yet, God loves us; and because God loves us God has chosen to treat us with mercy and be graceful towards us. And now, God is requiring that we do the same for each other. It is the way of the Cross and why Jesus said we are to pick up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, 14:27).
In the world, every week, Christians are being murdered for the crime of believing in Jesus Christ, and not being ashamed of the Cross. However, in America
We Have Become Passive About “Declaring” And “Presenting” God.
Either out of misguided politeness or fear of being ridiculed by an increasingly strident and aggressive segment of unbelievers, those who believe have become afraid to “declare” that there is an Almighty God whom we will all have to give an accounting to of how we lived our lives. And we are not confident in “presenting” our own lives as testimonies that living with and for God makes a difference in the quality of our daily lives. And we let go unchallenged the assertion God cannot possibly be a ‘good God’ or there would be no evil in the world nor would bad things possibly happen to good people. We who believe are being beaten down by the philosophy of political correctness carried to excessive extremes. It is right and a good thing to be kind and gentle; to be our ‘brother’s keeper’; to love our neighbor as ourselves; to do everything we can to present lives modeled after Jesus Christ. It is another to be afraid to be honest, or to stand up against efforts to undermine established truth or common sense.
In today’s letter to the Philippians St. Paul describes the advent of Jesus into this world as coming from Heaven to earth through his “appearance as a man” (:3). That meant he grew inside Mary’s womb and was birthed out of that womb into this material world where he “grew in stature and favor” into adulthood “being tempted as we are, yet having never sinned”. He took on the limitations of a human body to pioneer a path for us from here to heaven. As verse three from today’s Psalm says: “The Lord has made known his victory; his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.” More than ever
Our World Needs The Church To Speak The Truth and Stand Against Spiritual Darkness.
There is great evil in our world as witnessed by recent headlines. There is the incredible destructive force of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. There is the terrorist bombing of the metro system in England. There are people destroying their lives through addictions and promiscuity, contracting diseases that cannot be cured.
We do not live in a world that is morally neutral. It is morally dangerous and that is why our ministry to children, youth, and their families is essential. These children will have to be strong enough in their relationship with Jesus Christ to contend for the soul of this nation during their lifetimes.
In today’s Gospel Jesus said in verse 31 – “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” That was certainly true in the context of his impending crucifixion and resurrection. However, it is also true now in the 21st century. So is verse 36 – “Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When God’s children become afraid of the darkness and hide their lights under the bushel basket of appeasement and political correctness then the Devil wins.
But that is not going to happen because God will continue to raise up people like you who want our children to make a difference for what is good, and holy, and right in a world that is drifting into spiritual darkness.
In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time; all the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.
At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away; it was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day.
“Heavenly Father, forgive me of my sin; wash me clean and fill me with your Holy Spirit so I can lift up Jesus through my life that he might draw others to himself. Amen!”