Sunday after the Elevation of the Cross 2008

The context for my comments on this the Sunday after the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, 2008:   The remnant of Hurricane Ike ripped through the Dayton area causing massive damage and power outages.  One week after the storm passed through numerous people are still without power.  This past week another type of hurricane swept across America – a banking/financial crisis whose long term impact is probably going to be greater than that of Hurricane Ike.

(Galatians 2:16-20)    We know that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

Though this text is usually used in the Protestant-Catholic debate about works vs. faith, Americans should think about this text in terms of how they understand themselves.  Americans often feel we are a righteous country and our deeds prove our righteousness.   St. Paul says it is not our works that will save us.   We are not made righteous by the works we do, nor do we earn God’s favor in this way – not even as Americans.  God sends sunshine and rain to the good and to the evil, and all benefit from His generous goodness.  We don’t earn His favor.  God so loved the world, not just the United States, that His sent His Son to save the world.  Americans are often tempted to think that because we are righteous God sends His grace on us – but God’s grace, His favor, is unearned.  It is a free gift.   The question is not how good and righteous we are, but whether our faith in God is such that He justifies us.  We are not justified by our logic, we are justified by God’s saving action which He has offered to the world.    If God has shed His grace on us – this is a cause for humble thanksgiving, not for arrogant self congratulations!

(Mark 8:34-9:1)    [34] He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. [35] For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

The very teaching of Christ which distinguishes Christians from others is the willingness to practice self denial in order to follow Christ.  We do not need electricity to be Christian.  We do not need economic prosperity to be a Christian.    We can do everything we need to do as Christians and to be Christians without electric power and without a strong economy.  With St. Paul we know how to live in times of great abundance and in times of need.  We are to be people of gracious thanksgiving, faith and prayer, not just when things are going well, but at all times.  No storm of any kind – whether natural or manmade – should be able to drive away our faith in God.  For if we value prosperity and electricity more than we value God, if we cannot practice self denial, then we cannot be Christian.

 [36] For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? [37] Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

This verse really speaks to our current banking/financial crisis in America.  People have thought they can gain the world, greed abounds everywhere, but they lose their souls and do not realize they have lost something infinitely more valuable than the millions they pocketed.  Insatiable greed gets euphemized as “profit” which we see as always a good.  But it is not what Christ who spoke about denying one’s self would have emphasized.   The rich young man went away from Christ saddened when Christ told him to give away his prized positions to the poor.

[38] Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Jesus spoke against unbridled greed, and some are embarrassed by his words to love our enemies and to give expecting nothing in return.  Some are embarrassed to take up the cross and follow Him.   We are embarrassed that it is not wealth and prosperity which make us Christians, and that we can give thanks to God even in times of need.   Embarrassed because we love our prosperity, and think it is what is truly important and what we should be defending at all costs.  But it is not prosperity which makes us godly, god protected, or loved by God.   It is our faithfulness to God in any and every condition which reveals our hearts.

The Feast of the Cross: Transfiguring Death Itself

Meditation on the Feast of the Cross  2008

One of the mysteries of God is that God Himself sees something so valuable in this world, perhaps a goodness that must not be lost, that He finds allowing suffering and even death to be worthwhile and worthy.   So much so that to save the world, He doesn’t just “will” or wish salvation by His Word alone, but by His Word becoming flesh and then suffering the pain of death.   He doesn’t accomplish salvation in heaven, but on earth.  He doesn’t achieve salvation by an imaginary or mythical battle between good and evil, but does it on the Cross.  He sees in the death of His Son some good, that often escapes our eyes or our wisdom.   We do all we can to avoid even thinking about death, let alone going through it.  God however does not avoid thinking about death, nor does He avoid the very consequences for sin which He imposed on humanity in Genesis 3.   He knew when He imposed death as a consequence for sin, that His son would have to die to save the world.  God redeems the world, including the process of death and makes it the passage way to eternal life.  He destroys the pain of death, but also turns it into a blessing for He doesn’t prevent any of us from having to die, but transforms death into the means of our salvation.  And in the Church we willingly and joyfully enter into this death in our own baptisms where we die with Christ and are raised with Him, and in Holy Communion where we proclaim His death and resurrection until He comes again.  In embracing Christ, we embrace His death in order to transfigure and to overcome our own deaths.  God sent His Son into the world in order to die and to transfigure death.  God sees in death something worth saving, redeeming, transfiguring and transforming.  He destroys the evil that death represents, but doesn’t prevent us from dying.    He changes something we fear and dread into the means of our salvation and the the path to the Kingdom of Heaven.  He sees some good in what we so fear, and he triumphs over our fear and over death itself.