One of Us

Sermon preached Easter 2019

Parents, you have probably seen the bumper sticker that says, “Insanity is Hereditary: You Get It from Your Children.” Kids. What can we say about them? They have this ability to drag us through the spectrum of human emotions from one day to the next, and sometimes from one minute to the next.

But what wouldn’t you do for your kids? What haven’t you done for them?

I think back to a day nearly 30 years ago. It was early on the morning of June 1, nearly two months before Andrew was supposed to be born. Joy woke up at 2 am. “Something’s wrong,” she said. “Call the doctor.” She thought her water had broken. In fact, it was blood. The placenta had torn loose.

We rushed to the hospital and Andrew was born after an emergency c-section. He was three pounds, 8 oz. He was in the hospital for two months. Two days after he was born I was called to my first church. Ten days after his birth, with him still in the hospital, I was ordained as a Lutheran pastor. And for the next two months I traveled back and forth between the church and our home and the hospital. What a start!

And then there was Aimee. She was born in 1992 with a dislocated hip—but it wasn’t diagnosed until she was over a year old. We got her into the Shriners’ Hospital in Massachusetts. She was in traction for two months, and then in and out of various body casts and braces.

And all of this before they were talking. Long before they ever talked back. Before other struggles came, and headaches and heartaches that have not ended and are not likely ever to end, as you parents of young adults know full well.

Parents can well understand the frustration expressed by God in Hosea 11. God speaks of Israel as a father speaks of a child, and the passage swings between emotions. He remembers taking Israel by his arms, and teaching him to walk. Then he expresses anger over Israel’s idolatry, and threatens judgment. Then he cries out, “How can I give you up?”

And the story of the Gospel is that God didn’t give up, despite our sins. In love he did something amazing. He sent his only Son to became one of us.

A song by that name, “One of Us,” by Joan Osborne, was on the radio back in 1995.

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

The message of Scripture is, he was. As we read in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, 2:5-8

Christ Jesus, … being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

That’s the story remembered this weekend by Christians all around the world. We are here on the day that sits in the middle between Good Friday and Easter. The day that Jesus, the Son of God, lay lifeless in a cold, stone tomb.

What a thought — amazing, shocking, unbelievable. How could the author of life lose his life? How could God die?

Back in the 1960s TIME shocked the world by asking, “Is God Dead?” They were reporting on the teachings of theologian Thomas Altizer. He died this past November at the age of 91. I met him a couple years ago at a religion conference. I spoke with him for a few minutes in the hall. He was tired. But when I identified myself as a Seventh-day Adventist, I was startled by his reaction. His eyes lit up. His frowning face broke into a big grin. He said, “You Seventh-day Adventists are the only ones who still get what Jesus’ message was about. You still hold to his eschatology—his teaching on the coming kingdom.”

That’s not what I expected.

But back to the question–how could the one who gave us life succumb and die? Because he took flesh and blood. Our flesh and blood.

Hebrews 2:14-15

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

And why? Because of love—Romans 5:6-8

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The penalty for sin is death—eternal separation from God. But God sent his Son, who took the penalty upon himself. He humbled himself, and bore the shame and degradation of the cross.

What a horrific spectacle. We don’t want to think of it. We cannot imagine it.
Yet at the same time we long to imagine it. We can’t help ourselves. We are drawn to movies dramatizing the events, and to passion plays.

Back in 1994 I went to Guatemala during Holy Week. There, as in many other Latin American countries and the Philippines, the Passion is dramatized each Good Friday. I was in the town of San Andres Itzapa, up in the mountains, a little village surrounded by volcanoes.

People get up early in the morning to decorate the streets with alfombras, or carpets, stenciled with colored sawdust, pine needles, and flowers. Then the andas is prepared, a great heavy wooden platform that takes a couple dozen men to carry. On it, a representation of Jesus carrying the cross. The resurrection is not forgotten—butterflies, symbolizing the resurrection, adorn his robe. But today the focus is on his Passion. The andas is carried through the streets, stopping at the fourteen Stations of the Cross: Jesus is condemned to death; Jesus takes up the cross. Jesus falls. Jesus comforts the women of Jerusalem. Simon carries the cross. And so on. Incense went before. A band followed afterward—some old men carrying old instruments with dents and dings and the finish worn off, and young boys who couldn’t quite carry the tune–following along, playing Chopin’s “Funeral March.”

These dramatizations remind us of something: forgiveness has a price.

We forget that.

We talk about God as a God of love. A God who always forgives. And that is true. 

But forgiveness has a price. Our relationship with God has been ruptured. His law has been broken. Death is the penalty we owe. But Christ paid it through his own suffering and death. He paid the debt for our sin. He died our death.

Romans 3:23ff “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

If we forget the costly price paid by Christ, we are likely to fall into the trap of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. … Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. …

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. …

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Forgiveness has a price. Grace is not cheap—it is costly. Said Bonhoeffer, “… [I]t cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price.’”

We can’t just watch this transaction from a distance. It isn’t enough to stand by the sidelines as a spectator. Jesus calls us to enter the scene. To be a participant in the drama. To take up the cross and follow him.

I did that literally that day in Guatemala. I was invited to help carry the andas. And what a way to enter into the story. A mile above sea level, gasping in the thin air, stumbling along the cobblestone streets with a heavy burden on my shoulder.

But Christ doesn’t call us to engage in mere playacting. He says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Bonhoeffer put it this way: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” He calls us to crucify our old self. He calls us to die to sin—and live in him.

That’s what baptism is all about. That’s how we enter the story. As Paul says in Romans 6:

“… As many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death[.] Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection ….”

And that’s the most important part of the story. 

The resurrection.

 He didn’t stay dead.

 The stone was rolled away. The guards fell back as dead. The angels descended and greeted the apostles and pointed to the stone and the empty bench and the wrappings tossed aside.

“He is not here, for he is risen.”

He has risen and taken his place at the Father’s right hand, from whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

And this is the hope he holds out you this day. He died your death – that you might rise in his life.

That you might be freed from the tomb when he comes again, and calls you forth – but also that you should walk in newness of life today. This day.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts …” Accept that invitation.

Today … He lives — for you.