Summary: A SERMON FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT 2009. We reflect upon the free gift of God, more precious and valuable than any other: the redeeming, atoning, justifying act of Jesus.
’Journeying with Jesus through Lent #2: ‘By the Way of the Cross’’
Sermon Series: Lent 2009
Those of us who like to watch quiz shows on TV may remember a show (in the UK running from 1965-88) from some years ago called ‘Call my Bluff’ (only running in the US from March 29 to September 24, 1965 on NBC*). Here, two teams of three people were given a little-used, very obscure and very LONG(!) word. Then one team would give the other team three different definitions of that word – all three definitions were very convincing – each seemed as though it could be the right definition, BUT ONLY ONE WAS RIGHT! It was for the other team to deliberate, then to decide (often guess!) which was the right answer. Would they get it right, or would they be fooled into choosing one of the two ‘bluffs’? That was the point of the show.
Long, complicated words, that only a few people know the true meaning of. We might call it ‘jargon’ these days. It’s like that entertainment show of even more years ago called (in the UK) ‘The Good Old Days’. This show (running from 1953-83) took place in a beautiful old theatre in Leeds, the audience all dressed-up in Victorian / Edwardian costume, and they came to take part in the singing of old, favourite songs and to laugh at the jokes of the comedians. It was a Victorian – Edwardian music-hall ‘variety’ show, with different singers and comedians having a few minute ‘slot’ to fill, one after the other. But no matter how good and popular the ‘artistes’ might have been, perhaps the real star of the show was Leonard Sachs – the compare! He introduced each of the acts in turn, and he would astound the audience with his use of very long, elaborate words. Each time he used one of these words the audience would respond “Ooooooooooo”!
But enough of nostalgia! Yet isn’t it true that we all come across long, complicated words, that only a few people seem to know the true meaning of. Jargon! Words that, when we see them written or hear them spoken, we either ignore them altogether, or we search our dictionaries to find out what they mean. And isn’t it just as true that sometimes, as we read our Bibles, or listen to the Word of the Bible (we pastors need to take note!), we meet with words that we really don’t know what they mean – or that we ASSUME people know the meaning of? Words we really ought not ignore though, for often our understanding of them are central to our ability to share with other people our Christian faith – our faith in the Crucified and Risen Christ – that we profess. How about some of those words we have just heard from that letter of Paul?
He writes: “… they are now JUSTIFIED by his grace as a gift, through the REDEMPTION that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of ATONEMENT by his blood, effective through faith.” (Rom 3:24-25a). Now, there are three words to conjure with! ‘justified’, ‘redemption’ and ‘atonement’. And yes, these are words it is important we know the meaning of because, yes, often our understanding of them are central to our ability to share with other people our Christian faith.
So, let’s take ‘redemption’ first. Any ideas? Basically ‘redeem’ means ‘save’. We meet with the word ‘redeemed’ quite often, don’t we (not just in church!), like when we get a voucher for ‘money off’ goods. In the ‘small-print’ on the reverse of these vouchers we might see words like, ‘The value of this voucher may be REDEEMED for goods at all participating stores … terms and conditions apply.’ Such a voucher saves us money, it represents something paid for and freely given without cost to us, the cost being born by the one giving to us. REDEMPTION, then, is the act of SAVING.
Now, what about the word ‘atonement’? Any ideas? A good way of understanding this word is by removing the last four letters (leaving ‘atone’), and then dividing what’s left into two – giving ‘at-one’. ‘Atonement’ is the act of bringing together, of making one person (say) and another ‘at-one’; it is an act of RECONCILIATION, of making right relationships between those that have been divided.
And the word ‘justified’. Any ideas? There are different usages of this word, but for us (theologically speaking) it is the act by which we are made RIGHTEOUS – the act by which we become ELIGIBLE or EARN those ‘right relations’ with God.
So now we can put this all together and return to what Paul is saying in his letter. In so many words, he is saying that faith in Jesus makes those who believe righteous, because of the saving act of Jesus on the cross, and this act has brought us together with God (in faith) and all who believe ‘as one’. Jesus has paid for all our sins, at absolutely no cost to ourselves, as a free gift to us, and this has brought us together with God in a new and special way – in a relationship of love. And it is through faith in Jesus that we gain this precious free gift – and this special relationship with God and one another. All through faith in Jesus – being the only ‘terms and conditions’ that apply.