Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What does it mean that the world is crucified to me and I to the world?


But as for me, God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world stands as crucified in connection to me, and I in connection to the world  Galatians 6:14

In today's epistle lesson St. Paul goes for the jugular!  He takes on the dirtiest sin of all, the sin of self-righteousness.  The Christians in Galatia suffered from it and so do we.  Rather than glory in the cross of Christ, the Galatians exalted themselves, and did so in the usual fashion:  they raised themselves up by putting other people down.  That's how it always works, but that is not the Christian way.

St. Paul was not addressing a theoretical situation, but the sinful pride that resulted from opposing religious factions.   That still happens today.  Not that religious opposition is a bad thing, because it is not.   It is in fact, a good and necessary thing lest error ruin the church and destroy those for whom Christ died, but the defense of the faith must always be pursued with great care, with humility and thanksgiving for gifts given and for knowledge received; and it must never stem from self-righteousness, or sinful pride, but that is easier said than done.

Self-righteousness, however, does not only occur in the church, but is an ever present danger in the family and in the world at large, so we should hear Paul's words carefully today because vices such as envy, conceit and strife are serious transgressions that incur the wrath of God, and the displeasure of your  neighbor as well.  So be careful, because self-righteousness is not religion, but Christ-righteousness is, meaning the righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus Christ; the righteousness that boasts in, glories in, relies upon, clings to and stubbornly refuses to let go of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!  The Galatian Christians had it, but lost it, so St. Paul  rides to the rescue with this most excellent word of God, this most admirable rule of faith:  "But as for me, God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world stands as crucified in connection to me, and I in connection to the world."

The full meaning of this verse is not easily conveyed in English, but what it says in the original language is that the world, with all of its passing pleasures, uncertain riches, lethal temptations, and never-ending struggle to lionize ourselves by demonizing others; all of that and whatever else this sin-sodden world represents, stands as crucified, dead and buried as regarding me.  Or said another way, all that the world holds sacred, all that the world holds dear, all that this world expends its life, energy and resources pursuing, is nailed to the cross of our Lord and is dead to me;  and just to make sure there is no doubt, not only does the world stand crucified, dead and buried in its connection to me, but I, by the same cross, and crucified, dead, and buried to it, and to all that it holds sacred and dear.

All of that is what St. Paul  means, and what he prescribes for the church in the strongest possible language available to him.  When he says, "God forbid," he means, "may it never happen, or be the case, not now not ever that we should boast in anything except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The word "except" is likewise the most dynamic form of negation available to him in the Greek language in which he wrote.  "Except" in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The same is for the words "stands as crucified."  There is no simple way to express this in English except to say that what the cross of Christ accomplishes and represents is not a past event now over, but quite the contrary, it is the ongoing basis of salvation and the foundation of our victory over evil, sin and death now and in eternity as well.

To those who are perishing, the cross is foolish and offensive.  It bespeaks judgment for sins committed, and calls them to repentance, the end of self-righteousness and trust for true righteousness in Jesus dead on the cross.  To the new man, however, who is begotten from above by water and the Spirit, it is our only boast, and our only glory, our only hope, our only confidence, our only peace, and our only comfort, for you see, Jesus on the cross was never Plan B, but always Plan A.  It stood for salvation from the foundation of the world.  The cross, if you recall, was the central feature in the Garden of Eden, even as the altar is the focal point of the Christian sanctuary.  It was called The Tree of Life and it stood in the very center of Eden representing, preaching, promising and predicting the Tree on which our Lord died, to give life to the world.

We find it again in today's Old Testament lesson, an event that took place 850 years before the birth of Christ.  The widow was gathering a  "few sticks" in hopes of saving her life and that of her son, but those "sticks" foretold, predicted and promised the cross which preserves our lives and changes our status from widow and orphan to Bride of Christ, and adopted children of the true God and Father of us all.

Today the same cross is accessible to us in the church.  It's benefits are imparted as we hear the Gospel preached and worship at the Lord's altar where we become one flesh with Him who left His Father, came to earth, assumed human flesh, human soul and human mind in order that He might die for us, and die He did, and live we do!  It is for this reason that we are not ashamed to join St. Paul in declaring:  God forbid that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world stands crucified as concerning me and I concerning the world.  Amen

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras

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