his week's suggested Scripture readings from the Revised Common Lectionary present a summarization of the history of salvation. They weave a thread of thought, a kind of "Cliffs Notes" digest of the bigger picture. These four texts, written independently of each other over a period of hundreds of years, form a helpful review of the promise, hope, and climactic event of the Cross. History swings on the Cross as the great "hinge of history," B.C. and A.D.
The first selection is from Jeremiah, which I shall preach from this evening at 7:00. Here we have one of the many Old Testament promises that God was going to create a New Covenant, a new agreement or means of salvation, in the future. "I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt-a covenant that they broke" (Jeremiah 31: 31-32, NRSV)
Psalm 51: 1-12, which I will preach from on Thursday noon, is a reminder that the scope of salvation is based upon God's steadfast love and mercy. It is a poetic pleading for a new relationship with God. It does not give information as to how God could accomplish this seemingly impossible transformation in the human soul, but is rather a confession of sin and a plea for redemption. It is an example of how the Jews experienced God by looking forward to the Cross, although they did not understand exactly how the blood of the Messiah would atone for humanity's sin. They certainly did not comprehend that eventually all people would be included in this new covenant. Indeed, they were not ready to hear that their exclusive relationship with Jehovah would in due time invite all people in. God acted deliberately in bringing about His purpose.
This week's gospel reading for this fifth Sunday in Lent is from John 12: 20-33. It alludes to Christ being lifted up on a Cross as the means of salvation, as did the John 3: 14-21 passage from last week. The Hebrew people did not see the eternal significance of the bronze serpent of healing on a pole in the desert, and how the Messiah would also be lifted up upon a Cross to die. These two passages from John are a part of the entire Lenten season's theme stressing the vicarious atonement as the core of doctrine. Without the Cross our uniqueness would be lost from all other attempts of humans to climb up to God, and we would have just another list of rules.
Looking back upon the Cross we then read the epistle lesson which frames its theological explanation as "The Source" of salvation. Writing to former Jews, the author of Hebrews 5: 5-10, reminds us that Jesus interceded on behalf of us, as did Moses for the desert wanderers. Jews would have understood that as "a priest of the order of Melchizedek," Christ, the Son of God and Messiah, would be able to mediate as a sacrifice for sins. Indeed, the Father submitted the Son, in order to develop this way of remedying, healing, repairing the human flaw of sin. The catch is that we have to cooperate with His grace by receiving it.
Most of the translations of Hebrews use the term, "the source of eternal salvation," in reference to Christ mediating salvation to us. As the eternal Great High Priest, Jesus the Son intercedes for us with the Father. His obedience unto death on the Cross made Him worthy to become our vicarious sacrifice and Savior.
One of the great benefits of the Gospel is that as recipients of Grace we are then given the privilege of becoming a conveyor, transmitter, or means of Grace, as a part of the Priesthood of Believers. However, it is not automatically forced on us; we are given an opportunity to become a "Little Christ," a friend who represents Christ to others. We can turn down our priesthood and remain in grace, but we are losing one of the great benefits.
Typically, laypersons are not aware of the many ways in which God uses them to reach others. The Little League baseball coach who is an example of high morality will not fail to draw inquiries from the team as to what makes their coach such a fine person. Soon you will notice the kids wanting to be like their coach, scoutmaster, teacher or community leader. This important person in the lives of children has thus become a reflection of Christ. This is usually such a natural part of life that we don't notice what is transpiring. However, when we think about it we realize that the wonderful life that Christ has given us has been the source of our ballground, campground or classroom ministry. Obviously, our volunteer mediation of Grace can be improved as we become more intentional about what we find so rewarding, and perhaps read books, attend seminars and take courses on lay ministry.
Methodism sees the ordained ministry as an extension of lay mentoring and mediation. Some are called by God for full time ministry which requires extensive education and training in the functional competencies of professional ministry. However, no matter how far we might grow in ministry we must always remember that the source is a constant flow of Grace and enabling power of the Cross. One cannot get by for long on just being cute and having a winsome personality. Serving as Pastor of a large and complicated local church has been often called by experts in the field, "The most difficult job." Indeed, it would be impossible without the source, the fountainhead of Grace.
I have participated in two minister's conferences in the past several months and in both the point was made that pastoral ministry has become harder in just the past five years. Causes were given as, "a loss of respect for leaders." Corporate executives, Presidents of the United States, politicians and pastors have had some hard knocks in recent years. Most agree that there has been a general "loss of religious faith." Our hope is that a positive outcome of the War in Iraq will be a reminder of how fragile life is and how much more we need to draw upon the Source of spiritual strength. And, perhaps pastors too have forgotten the source.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor