Proper 17A September 3, 2017
A Palm Sunday prayer sums up today’s Scripture lessons: “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Jesus tells his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” He asks, “what will they give in return for their life?” St. Paul says in the Epistle, “1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Since the 16th century we have prayed, “here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee . . .”
The only way of true life and peace is the way of the cross, the way of self-offering in union with Jesus’ self-offering on the cross. Our final goal in life is God, and God’s way of life, his way of final peace is the way of the cross. God gives us life, and God makes it possible for us to give that life back to him. The more we give, the more we receive. We don’t have to fear that we will “give out.” God loves us and gives us the gift of love. God wants what is best for us. God is all-powerful and all wise, and God gives us what is best for us.
I remember a painted clay ash tray I made in 3rd grade and gave my mother. We were living in Philadelphia and on a school trip to the science museum I had been fascinated by the stegosaurus dinosaur – the one with the small head, big body, long tail, and the plates that stick up along the back. The ash tray was more or less shaped like a stegosaurus, painted red and blue, and so ugly only a mother could love it. But I remember how proud I was when I gave it to her, and I remember how she said she appreciated it. The ash tray was really ugly, but she received it in love. We give God our lives, all our lives, ugly and misshapen as they may be. And God receives our gift in love, and God makes us beautiful, and holy, and acceptable. We have all fallen short; we have all made a mess of least parts of the lives God gave us. But God receives our self-offering, and God makes us beautiful, and holy, and acceptable.
God makes us worthy by the cross, by the complete self-offering Jesus made on the cross. Jesus died on the cross to defeat the power of sin and death and Jesus rose from the dead to offer new life to all who will receive him.
Try as we might, we can do nothing to make ourselves acceptable, holy, worthy to God. God has done it all in Jesus Christ. We receive the new life God in Jesus offers us, and offer ourselves in thanksgiving and service. The cross we are called to carry is this gospel, the good news of God’s perfect love in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose to give us new life.
The cross and the gospel are not acceptable by the standards of this world. By the world’s standards, we are measured by the acceptability of the things we have. By the standards of the world, we don’t give; we buy and sell. The world is basically me-centered, not God-centered. When we conform to the standards of the world, we think of ourselves - first, and last.
But St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect.” St. John learned in his exile on Patmos that Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of the alphabet, the first and the last. When we are made new people in Christ Jesus, we think of God first, and last.
As new people in Christ we learn a new way of life. We learn to put God first, to live the good news of God’s perfect love in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose to give us new life. It takes regular practice. It takes daily self-offering in prayer and worship and thanksgiving. And God makes us worthy to bear that cross.
“Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”