“Chandler the Reverse Theologian” (September 14, 2016: Holy Cross Day)

The full text of the sermon below was preached at the Wednesday 6:00pm Healing Eucharist on September 14, 2016, being the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.  An abridged version was preached earlier that day at the bi-weekly campus Eucharist at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus of Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville, Louisiana.

Collect: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the Cross that He might draw the whole world to Himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow Him; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Reading: John 12.31-36a

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”—John 12.32[1]

 In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

One particular day a couple of weeks ago, after school had ended, I went out to catch a little bit of the football team’s practice, just wanting to see a little football and destress from all the doctoral papers, theology blog posts, and sermons that were still before me to complete.  While standing on the sidelines, some of the younger football players started asking me questions regarding what did and did not constitute a sin.  “Is this a sin?  Is that a sin?  If I did this, but not that, would that be a sin?”  And on, and on, and on, and on.  After about two minutes, Chandler Juneau, a current sophomore and one of the more theologically perceptive members of his class, chimed in, asking, “Father, did you sin before becoming a priest?”  Chandler’s question provided an excellent teaching opportunity.  “Yes,” I said.  “I did sin before becoming a priest.  I still am a sinner.  I am human, after all, just like everyone else and am not perfect.  But the Good News is that because of the Cross I am forgiven.  Because of Jesus, there is grace.  And thank God for grace!”

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, also known simply as Holy Cross Day.  It is one of the Church’s major feasts, its background being in the legend of the discovery of remnants of the True Cross, the very cross, according to Christian tradition, upon which Christ Himself was crucified, in 326 by Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, during her pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  The date for Holy Cross Day, September 14, marks the day in 335 that the True Cross was brought outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,[2] built over the discovery’s site and consecrated the day before, so that the Christian clergy and faithful could pray before and venerate it.  What we see in Holy Cross Day is the message of the Cross, the power of God to those being saved.[3]  What this day does is allow the Christian faithful an opportunity to commemorate Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross with a festal emphasis not appropriate for Good Friday.[4]

In asking about my sinful state before ordination, Chandler stepped into the role of what I would describe as a “reverse theologian,” in that he asked a spiritual question that could have been perceived as expecting an answer going totally against the norm, but, in actuality, was meant to bring out the actual truth.  That is because Chandler, I believe, accepts that same truth about himself as I do about my own self and all of us should, if we are totally honest.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[5]  And reflecting on Chandler’s question in the days since has brought me back to the Cross and to Jesus, whose death on that Cross allows me the grace to stand before you as a priest of His Church.  And in being brought back to Jesus and the Cross, I have been reminded what Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, once said: “Simul justus et peccator,” “I am a sinner, yet I am justified.”  But not only is that true for me, it is true for every single one of us.  All are justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”[6]  That is the message of the Cross.  That is the Good News for all of us.

So today, as we look to the Cross, we are being reminded that we are forgiven.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the Cross, we are truly free—free from the shackles of sin and death!  Through the Cross, we are truly ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people.  There is nothing that can or will ever “be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[7]  Today, Holy Cross Day, is a day of celebration of Christ’s victory on the Cross and of the new life that we have in Him because of it.

This brings us to our final point, one that I want to be sure that all of you know: there is nothing that you can ever do that will make God love you any less!  Nothing, absolutely nothing at all!  The Cross is the testament to how much God really loves you and to the outer limits He will go to be in relationship with you.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”   That “all” includes YOU.

It is my hope that you will have faith to trust God’s love and come to Him.  May all of us be open to experiencing the goodness and love of the Lord together.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.         

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from The Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV ®, copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™

[2] Known by Eastern Christians as the Church of the Resurrection.  This fourth century church contains within it, according to traditions dating from that time, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary and the Empty Tomb.

[3] I Corinthians 1.18

[4] Pfatteicher, Philip H.  New Book of Festivals and Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2008), 444.

[5] Romans 3.23

[6] Romans 3.24

[7] Romans 8.39

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