Monday, September 11, 2006

A guest post

Last Sunday, Mike gave the sermon in church. Some people who heard it thought that it should be distributed to a wider audience. Since a sermon might be difficult to publish in the paper, we thought it might be nice to post it here. It's still in rough form, as these are Mike's notes. I hope you like it.

September 10, 2006

John 3.13-17 and Galatians 6.11-18

Tomorrow, we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the WTC and Pentagon attacks

I am sure most of us can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news

As Americans, we rightly mourn the loss of life on September 11 in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC

But, as Christians, we are called to something far beyond only mourning the loss of life on American soil

As Christians, we are called to mourn the losses of our enemies as well, and the harm brought upon their families and properties

As Americans, our loss may be greater, but as Christians, the loss of every life is the same

“For God so loved the world….” And we must do the same.

As Americans, or any other nationality, we tend to root for the home team, so to speak—we rejoice in our national victories, and we are sad for our losses

And rightly so

But both the Gospel and the Epistle today call us to something more, something far beyond our identities as American citizens

Both readings remind us of our identity as Christians:

The Gospel reading and the words of St. Paul today set up an image by which Christians must now live their lives—it is the image at the front of every Orthodox Church on the other side of the altar: it is the image of the Jesus on the Cross

It is the image of one who forgives rather than rebuke

Of one who accepts what he does not deserve

Of one who chooses self-sacrifice instead of anger and retaliation

Both St. Paul and the Gospel set up this image of the Crucified Jesus as the image we must imitate as Christians, but more than that, Paul even tells us that we have nothing to boast of except the Cross of Christ

As citizens of the world, we are usually inclined to boast of our achievements, and of our victory and strength—two things which the Cross does not seem to offer

For example,

We have seen terrorist groups and the enemies of this country boast of the victory of September 11

We have seen our commanders boast of victory in Afghanistan: the Taliban was quickly routed and free elections soon followed

We have seen our president boast of victory in Iraq: “Mission Accomplished”

We have seen Israel boast of its victories over the Palestinians and the Lebanese

We have seen Hamas and Hezbollah boast of their victories against Israel

In all of this, we see people boasting of victory, of military might, of destruction, of conquering of enemies

But Paul offers us strong words today, the day before our five-year anniversary:

In his words,

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

For us, as Christians, because this image of Christ Crucified is our paradigm, is our concise picture of God and his work for this world,

We must redefine the things of which we boast

Like Paul, we must boast of victory, yes, but our victory has been wrought through Christ giving himself up for us and for the life of the world

Victory has been brought through peaceful self-sacrifice

Yes, we must boast in power, but specifically the power of God, the power of God that has been most fully revealed in his ability to be crucified

Yes, we must boast in the destruction and conquering of our enemies, but our enemy is death and the consequences of sin

Most prefer to boast of strength, whether it be military or political strength

But we ourselves must boast—as odd as it sounds—we must boast of our weaknesses, as St. Paul says

But why should we boast of our weakness when everyone around us boasts of strength?

Where is it that we pray the most to God? In times of certainty in which we are in control, or in times of uncertainty in which we are not in control?

I would guess we usually pray to God the most when we feel lost and do not know what to do

And that is why Paul says we must boast in our weaknesses, in our weakest moments—because it is in our weakest moments that we tend to leave the most room for God to work

And for Paul, that is worth boasting of

This is how Paul puts it at the end of his Second Letter to the Corinthians,

“So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

So as Christians, our standard of conduct is the Cross and nothing else

The model set up for us at the front of the church is a model of forgiveness, mercy, and a God who “so loved the world,” that the world may “have life”

For he came to “save the world and not to condemn the world,” as the Gospel today says

And as such—as people whose standard is the Cross and everything that it entails—we are to define ourselves as Christians, disciples of the Crucified Jesus, before we define ourselves as Americans or any other nationality

Thus, as our God “so loved the world,” so we must also mourn the loss of life everywhere, and then, perhaps, as Americans, we may rejoice in our own national victories

As Christians, we have the chance to be the best and most faithful of American citizens, but as Christians, we must be something so much more

There is an early Christian document, a letter written to the Roman Emperor Diognetus not more than 100 years after Jesus, that makes this last point very clear

The author of this letter is on the defensive, answering the charge that Christians were bad citizens, and therefore bad for the Roman Empire

Describing Christians everywhere, this is what he says:

“Christians live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their homeland, and yet, for them, every homeland is a foreign land…. They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men they are persecuted…. They are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich… They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor they are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless.” (Diognetus 5.5-15)

As these words described Christians of the ancient world, I hope they will continue to describe Christians of the modern world as well.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

AMEN! that is awesome!!! i wish every single christian in the country could hear that!