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Summary: A sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, Series A

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16th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 17] August 31, 2008 “Series A”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you sent your Son, Jesus the Christ, into our world in order that we might be redeemed from sin and death, and become heirs of your heavenly kingdom. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to realize your enormous gift of grace and forgiveness that has been extended to us through Christ’s death and resurrection, and humble us to receive it with thanksgiving. This we ask, in Christ’s Holy name. Amen.

Pastor Bruce Burkness, whom many of you have come to know from his participation in our confirmation camp, his helping to cook chicken for our annual barbecue dinner, and preaching here that following Sunday, is one of my best friends. We have shared many hours at my camp, hunting, relaxing, and enjoying each other’s company. And many times during our visits, we have shared some interesting theological conversations. This morning, I would like to begin my message with an insight that I have thought about for several years, that Bruce had laid on my plate in one of our discussions.

Bruce said to me, “Ron, I really don’t think that God sent his Son into our world, in order to die on the cross for our sins. I think God sent his Son into our world in order to reveal God’s will for our life, to uplift us in the way that God would have us live in faithful relationship with him. I honestly believe that this was his primary purpose in the incarnation, and that because we could not come to embrace God’s incarnate Word for our lives, Jesus had to accept the cross for our redemption.

I have thought a lot about this conversation that I had with Bruce, even though, at the time, I first thought that he was wrong. We all know the passage from John that reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.” And when we hear that passage from John’s Gospel, don’t we automatically think that God gave, or sent his Son to die on the cross, out of his love for us, for our forgiveness, that we might live with God in his eternal kingdom?

To be sure, Bruce believes with his whole heart, that Christ’s acceptance of the cross, his agonizing death that he suffered, was endured for our redemption. There is no other way, that we, as Christians, can explain the redeeming grace of God, which saves us from our sins and restores us to a right relationship with God. Jesus suffering death on the cross on our behalf, is the basis of the Christian faith.

But it is one thing for us to think that God sent his Son into our world so that he might die for our sins, as if it were predetermined that this would be the outcome. And it is another thought to think that God did not send his Son into our world to be executed on a Roman cross, but that, as a result of our sinfulness, and our inability to hear and respond to the living Word of God in our midst, caused him to be crucified.

When we think of the purpose of the incarnation as Bruce has envisioned, three thoughts come to mind. First, it clarifies our understanding of God as our Heavenly Father. On more than one occasion, I have engaged in a conversation with someone who just could not understand why God the Father, would send his Son into the world in order to be so brutally treated and put to death. One person verbalized to me that God must be sadistic being, not a loving Father.

In addition, Bruce pointed out to me that a person once verbalized to him that if God would send his own Son into the world with the intention that he would be so harshly treated, that God might also be to blame for the brutality that this person had to endure. But if it was not God’s intention at the time of the incarnation to have Jesus die on a cross, but rather to reveal his will for our lives, and to call us to a right relationship with God, then the responsibility for Christ’s death falls solely on us.

Is this not the message that Jesus proclaims in his Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Here, Jesus tells the story of a landowner, who had planted a vineyard, fenced it in, and built a winepress, all that was needed for a prosperous life. Then he leased his vineyard to tenants, and went to a distant land. When harvest time came, he sent his servants to collect his just due of the produce. But the tenants refused, beating and killing his servants. He sent other servants, but they did the same to them.

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