Saturday, September 20, 2014

Exaltation of the Cross: Concrete Challenges

I spent last weekend with our candidates for the Permanent Diaconate, so didn't post my Sunday homily for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.  But during the weekend I heard a model homily on the reading at Evening Prayer I, which was First Corinthians, 1:23-24. So with thanks to Henk Luyten, here it is.

The homily applied the scripture text to real life in a very practical way--one of the hardest things in preaching. Henk challenged us to pick up our cross by very specific actions.
“We preach Christ crucified – a stumbling block to Jews, and an absurdity to Gentiles; but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

This short passage provides us with a rich introduction to tomorrow’s great Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Saint Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus after a less than positive experience in Athens where he managed to convince only a small number of Greeks about Jesus’ message and resurrection. Now back in Ephesus, a number of individuals from Corinth approached him about growing divisions in the fledgling Christian community and requests for instructions to safeguard the disciples from the vice and sexuality rampant in that city. It all sounds distressingly contemporary, doesn’t it?

The Jews were looking for an earthly messiah, a new King who would re-establish Israel and drive out the Romans. The Greeks were looking for wisdom, knowledge, and worldly answers. In the Cross, most of them saw only the shameful failure of a man put to death on an instrument of torture. And they were being asked to follow this man? Nonsense. 

Paul, in what almost seems like exasperation, turns and points to the Cross of Christ. “This” he says, “is what we preach”.

Those who believed saw in Jesus’ death on the Cross not failure but rather his great unrestrained love for all humankind. They saw God’s great power change that instrument of suffering and death into an instrument of salvation, unity and forgiveness. Through the Cross Jesus broke down the old enmity between man and God and remade us as God’s sons and daughters breaking down the gates which barred us from the Kingdom of Heaven.

And for all those who believe, both those to whom Paul wrote in Corinth and us today, this great gift imposes a great responsibility. Jesus himself makes this is clear when he says “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27), “And he said to all, ‘if any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). But how can we do this?

We can join ourselves to Jesus tonight and let go of one resentment or hatred.

We can resolve to be constantly merciful and forgiving towards one person who has harmed us.

We can commit ourselves to never being a source of disunity at home, at work or in the Church. 

And we can see our challenges and temptations as opportunities to courageously lift the Cross on our shoulders and move confidently with Christ towards the salvation he gained for us. 

In these ways the power and wisdom of God that comes through the Cross will be actively at work in us. Amen.

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