Saturday, August 29, 2009

B, Pentcost 13 Proper 17 - James 1:17-18, 21-25 "Which Crucifix?"

The king enters! He's the groom at the wedding. Women's hearts flutter to see his beauty and strength as he parades in his flowing attire. After the wedding his bride sits at his right hand glistening in gold, yet still she doesn't outshine the brilliance of her husband king. This is the picture painted in Psalm 45, a wedding psalm.

We can also hear Solomon's Song of Songs where he interacts with his beloved. Solomon was given wisdom by God, but also received the greatest splendour and majesty of any king ever to walk the earth. Even greater than his much loved father, King David! We can easily warm to this picture of a woman, wonderfully wooed by her lover, the much loved king Solomon.

But these images of groom and bride, husband and wife, king and queen point to a relationship much greater and better than these. Christ is the King in all his majesty, and his radiant wife, the one he loves, is us his church.

It's a wonderful relationship which fills the heart with affection and enjoyable emotion, as we worship Jesus Christ our King knowing he has chosen us to be his church, the one he loves. Why wouldn't we want to honour he who honours us? Or be faithful to he from whom all faithfulness comes?

Jesus stands as the church's husband in victory, and in glory. Such images of a glorious Christ the King can be seen enthroned on the cross, robed in his righteousness, wearing the royal crown, and holding up nail-marked hands to bless those he loves.

On the other hand, the Christ the King crucifix is not as common as the crucifix which bears the broken body of Jesus from Good Friday. This image is far from royal beauty. We find it difficult to picture Jesus this way. Wedding faithfulness and love are not inspired by the thorns, the lash marks on his flesh, the sunken stomach and exposed ribs, and the wretched bloodiness of a man completely cut off from all blessing and honour, and life.

Isaiah 53 paints the brokenness of Christ on the cross for us… He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:2-4 TNIV)

You would have to agree that these two pictures are worlds apart. Tender conversation between a lover and a beloved, between a glorious king and his bride, between a glorified Son of God and his holy church; Christ the King standing in victory over his cross! These have nothing in common with the bloodied cross which appeared to have triumphed over the son of Mary, the Son of Man, mocked and hanging by flesh ripping nails. However, they are both relevant to us. In this life we can never discard one or the other. Both must be held in tension together as the twofold reality in which we live.

We Christians live in two worlds. We are sinners condemned and stricken, broken and rejected under the Holy Law of God. But also, we're saints honoured in majesty, by the bridegroom who was raised and glorified, and in whom the one church lives in the hope of being eternally raised as the holy bride God has promised through his Holy Gospel of love.

We view these two crucifixes and we're called to see ourselves guilty of sin. Sin that condemns and separates us from God! Sin that casts our flesh aside as completely useless in saving ourselves from the holy Law and God's righteousness! There's nothing that we can do to save ourselves from our guilt. Your wages for your sin is death! Even death on a cross!

But on this very cross, we're called to believe and stand in glory with Christ. The cross of death has not been taken away, but the blood our King once shed now robes us with his righteousness. We have been crowned with his victorious crown of life; our scars of perseverant suffering will be glorified in eternity. Today we're called to hang our pain on the nails of Christ. In hope, we're called to hang on every word from the Word made flesh so the Holy Spirit might continue to give life to our broken bodies of flesh.

As we keep both of these perspectives in view, something else comes into view. Two themes emerge in God's Word which are necessary to expose our sin and give the needed balm of forgiveness and hope that comes through the resurrection and glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ. These two themes are the Law and the Gospel, both holy in nature because they are born of God, but exist and cause two very different effects in the lives of people.

We hear from James… Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Those who listen to the word but do not do what it says are like people who look at their faces in a mirror and, after looking at themselves, go away and immediately forget what they look like. But those who look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continue in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:17-18, 21-25)

God chooses to give us birth. He works through human means. For most of us that means the Spirit has worked though our parents who have brought us to baptism, compelled by God to do so. But there in baptism we the church are the firstfruits of his creation, new Adams in his garden of grace. But the reality is we also live in the old Adam too, bound to the cross of death, which we walk towards in this earthly life.

James goes on to say we must get rid of all moral filth and evil and humbly accept the word planted in us. Perhaps the greatest moral filth and evil is not filthy language or immoral lives, but rather a piety that leads one to believe if we don't do these things we will be right with God. If you want other to believe you're a good Christian by having others focus on your external act rather than the deeds of perseverance in Jesus, then your piety is more perverse than the acts of a rapist, a paedophile, or a prostitute. Why? Because you glorify yourself greater than he who deserves all glory alone!

Don't get me wrong. Bad language and immoral lives, rapists, paedophiles, and prostitutes are immersed in evil! But so too are those who think Christianity is something we do to earn God's favour, and thereby treat God as a liar and the Christ's broken body as useless and nothing.

So we're called to look into the mirror! This is the mirror of God's Law and Gospel! True Christian piety looks from ourselves to God for salvation and gives glory to God alone! It leads us to see the two crucifixes are relevant in our lives; to not let go of one or the other. We are called to hear the Word, the Word that condemns our flesh as useless, and the Word that fills our flesh with Spirit and life (John 6:63).

Persevere in these good gifts from God! The Law causes pain, that's for sure! But let that suffering send you to the cross of suffering, so Christ can lift you up in hope of a glorious resurrection and life thereafter!

So what does the Word tell us to do? It tells us to remain in it, to keep looking into the mirror of our twofold reality! See your sin, send it to the cross, hang it on the suffering broken body of Jesus! See in the suffering of Christ your sin has been dealt with! But know that every day you need to allow God to persistently deal with your sin the same way. Persevere, look into the mirror, and see salvation is real and is forthcoming.

Live like you're in love; engaged to be married. After all we are engaged to God, we have been won, but we are being won! So live like a faithful fiancĂ©e who looks in the mirror of love. Come to Christ robed in his holiness on his cross of glory. Persevere until the last day – the first day when we enter eternity and join in the wedding feast, glorified with our glorious King, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.