Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sermon (with video) - Last Sunday of Church Year - Luke 23:27-43

It's good to be back from my recent visit to Israel, and I thank you all for your kinds thoughts and prayers for the safe journey of our group from Grace that went along with me. We had a wonderful time, learned a lot, took many pictures, and have many stories to tell. Sometime in January, in fact, I plan to make a presentation of our trip for any who are interested.

Among the sites we saw was the “Via Dolorossa”, or the way of the cross. As Jesus carried his cross from his condemnation before Pilate to the hill where he would be crucified, Christians have marked out the supposed path and the various events along the way. Whether the Via Dolorossa is accurate or not, we will likely never know for sure. But scripture does tell us some of what happened along that road. We read some of it today from Luke's Gospel.... (text)

As you probably know, our church calendar begins in December, and closes this last Sunday in November. And as the calendar draws to a close, the readings highlight the theme of the end times. Judgment day. The final harvest, the resurrection of the dead and the fulfillment of all things.

But here in Luke's Gospel, we find ourselves not on the last day, but on the day of Christ's crucifixion. A dark day in which the forces of evil are seeming to triumph. A day in which a guilty man is freed and an innocent man is condemned. A day of much weeping and moaning and grieving and mourning. A bitter day for the man of sorrows, the suffering servant.
But on his way to the ultimate suffering for our sake, Jesus makes this strange comment about weeping not for him, but for Jerusalem. What?

You've probably all heard someone talk about their own funeral like this, “When I go, I don't want anybody crying. I want it to be a party! No funeral dirges. It should be a celebration!” Such sentiments are usually a statement of the person's faith and trust that their death will not be the end of them, and thus, with the Lord, a happy ending.

Don't cry for me... but how can we not? How can our love for Christ not make us weep at the sight of his execution. Who wants to see Jesus suffer? We certainly view the cross of Christ with a sober and solemn eye. But for Christians, it is also a cause for joy. We know the meaning of the cross, and that the blood shed there is for our life. The sorrow there sets us free from sorrow. His suffering brings us eternal comfort and rest with God. And this cross would not be the end of him, as his resurrection would bring the victory. So don't weep for Jesus. He doesn't want your tears of pity.

But he also isn't simply telling us to think happy thoughts and turn our frown upside down. There will be plenty of weeping to do.

Weep for Jerusalem. Jesus, Son of God but also the ultimate prophet, knew that Jerusalem would soon be destroyed. And history tells us that some 40 years after Good Friday, the Romans did just that. They laid siege to the city, slaughtered her inhabitants, and destroyed the Temple itself. Jesus knew it was coming. He told his disciples as much: “not one stone here will be left upon another”.

But more than that, it was the Jewish rejection of the Messiah that was true cause for weeping. For though some did receive Jesus as the Christ, many did not. And for them, physical destruction such as happened to Jerusalem is really a small concern. Jesus wept for a city and a people who should have welcomed him as the promised one, the long-awaited savior, but instead who rejected him, mocked him, and put him to death. The earthly destruction on their horizon was merely a taste of the eternal destruction faced by all who reject Christ.

Today the church weeps for all the lost. We call out with the Gospel to the nations Jew and Gentile, who do not know Christ and don't even want to. We cry out with words of law, calling for repentance. We are decried as legalists and hypocrites and worse for simply pointing to God's written words of law. No one likes to hear they are wrong, much less the unbeliever.
But we also cry out with the good news of Christ's forgiveness. Like the voice of John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness, “repent, for the kingdom is near!” The church offers hope to the sinner, the same hope we have received in Christ. And when sinners repent and receive the kingdom, we cry tears of joy, along with the angels in heaven.

And if we weep, it should also be over our own sin, which sent Jesus to the cross. It should be over our continuing failure to do God's will and our ongoing love affair with evil. What wretched, miserable sinners we are. Tears of repentance and sorrow are appropriate. But they are followed by the joy of forgiveness, the blessed peace that passes understanding, the comfort of a holy and certain hope in Christ who takes our weeping and mourning away. And the promise that God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Today, the New Jerusalem, that is, the Church, also undergoes suffering and trouble. Whether it is persecution for the sake of Christ, or simply the troubles and woes of a life lived in a sinful world, there is always some cause for weeping. We are living in the end times, after all, and creation's birth pangs come and go as the day of fulfillment draws near.

There are days, when we look around us and see the wretched state of the world, we may wish we never had children. Why bring them into a world like this? There are days, when things get bad, we may wish that we were never born, or that we could hide under a rock.

But as bad as things get, even in our text, with Christ there is always hope. Look at what happens here. How hopeless it seems. Jesus is condemned, he is hung on a cross. The final sentence is passed. And yet there is hope.

The crowds mock him. The Jewish leaders mock him. Pilate mocks him with the sign above him. He has no friends left. Just his mother and a few others who stand by helplessly watching him die. We know that even God the Father would soon forsake him. And yet there is hope.

The soldiers even divide his clothes – his only remaining earthly possessions. He truly has nothing, and it would seem, has nothing to look forward to but a shameful and despicable death. And yet there is hope.

As the thief on the next cross – himself in hopeless – turns to Christ, faith makes a request – remember me. Remember me when you come into your kingdom.

How could a man in the midst of dying for his crimes, a man who was just as bad off as Jesus, a man with no hope – turn to another man with no hope and speak of the future? A kingdom? Does he look like a king to this thief, or to anyone else? Does he look like he has a future?

But faith sees it. Faith believes and trusts in the King of the Jews who came to save Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the world. Faith looks to Christ on the cross, and amidst the blood and sweat and tears, sees life and forgiveness and hope. And faith is not disappointed.

There is hope. Jesus promises paradise to the thief, and to you and me. Not someday afar off. Not only at the last day, or even only at the day of our death. But today. We are in his kingdom. We are citizens of heaven. We enjoy the blessings of his grace, by the gift of faith. And we have paradise.

We have paradise when we hear his word of forgiveness, when we remember our baptism, and when we receive his body and blood. We are then with Jesus, today, even here and now. And with Jesus there is always hope, even amidst weeping. Even for Jerusalem.

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