Friday, November 25

Hope is a Crucified God; Sermon for Reign of Christ Sunday

As Christians, this is our hope, Christ crucified. Our hope is that Christ has been exalted over all things through his death on the Cross.
There are dangers in this statement of faith and hope. There are interpretations that ask us to accept injustice for the sake of a deferred hope. In seeking to find hope in the crucifixion many focus on the final sentence of the Gospel passage just read. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The interpretation that focus on this says that our hope is only one found in what happens after our death.
But such an interpretation misses the identification with oppressed, poor, suffering, sinful humanity.  A “faith” that focus only on “Today you will be with me in Paradise” is more like the lack of faith of the first insurgent criminal than the second. It fails to connect the afterlife with this life. This complete focus on the afterlife fails refuses to be overcome and encompassed by the full ministry of the incarnation, it is a rejection of God joined with matter and our humanity in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. God’s union with humanity and the outcast is the essence of Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Holy one of God, and this union effect the now or it doesn’t affect the afterlife.
The Cross, Christ Crucified, is the politics of the Church, the body of Christ. This crucified one is God come to be the shepherd of God’s people, who is consistent when other shepherds lead the sheep astray or abandon the flock altogether
This is our hope, the Cross.
In this moment though it is not enough to just say hope in Christ crucified. For this statement of hope and faith has been used by the powerful to say that the oppressed must accept the oppression the lot given to them.
St Paul in the letter to the Colossians gives us the antidote to the missuses of the Cross:
1:11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully1:12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
If we don’t anticipate the end of this passage, if we don’t remember that for Paul, Jesus Crucifixion is the power and glory of God we can misunderstand what Paul is encouraging us to embrace.  The Cross is our strength, God’s solidarity with the oppressed with our divided ruthless humanity and God’s willingness to suffer its consequences. This is the glorious power of God.  If you don’t believe me wait till we get to the end you will see that this is Paul’s point of this opening encouragement to us, the church.
1:13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,1:14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
So we are strengthened by the glorious power of God (the Cross) by which we have been moved from one realm into another,  We have redemption and forgiveness. Do we act like we live in the Kingdom of Christ, or under the power of Darkness?
1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;1:16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. 1:17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 1:18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
So the Crucified one, the suffering servant is the image of God, is united with all creation, as the firstborn.  Are you seeing in whom we hope, who was crucified, who is in solidarity with oppressed humanity?
1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,1:20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Not only image as we human beings are intended to be, but in this crucified one, in Jesus of Nazareth the fullness of God dwelled. This identification with us was not to subdue us, not to punish us, but to reconcile us, bring an end to our violence, but suffering our violence and our tendency to oppress seeking power over others. God in his glorious power in Jesus of Nazareth, and in the crucifixion, acts contrary to these impulses and suffers as one who could have inflicted suffering.  God fully in a human being faces destruction when God could have come and destroyed. Through solidarity with the marginalized the oppressed, with the condemned (justly or unjustly), with the tortured and the rejected, god in this act by the shedding of God’s blood, by undergoing death, reconciles and makes peace and shows us the way to overcome death and oppression as a path of reconciliation and peace.  But it is only in solidarity, in being with, in willingness to walk the way of Christ, which is the way of the cross that there is hope.
Questions for discussion:
In facing our fears for ourselves for our friends for our families, for the marginalized and the vulnerable, what hope can you see in these passages in the Cross and in the Crucified One, in God in solidarity with us in our suffering and with the oppressed?
What does Reconciliation mean in our context and how is this ministry of reconciliation hopeful?

In the coming months and years, we can act out of fear or out of hope.  What does it look like and mean for you in your context and in your circles to act upon the hope of the Cross and God’s ministry of reconciliation?