Summary: Preached at the 4th Triennial General Conference of ELCM 7/29/11 at Faith Lutheran Church, Hollidaysburg, PA I had a dual text, Acts 9:10-19 & Luke 23:32-43
In some high schools, each year, there are often polls conducted in which each person in the class is voted most likely to do something, and then that slogan would be put by your picture in the yearbook. Some of them are serious like “Most likely to become successful in business” because they were good in business courses or “Most likely to win a Heisman trophy” because they were awarded a football scholarship to a top Division I football program, while others are more light hearted like “most likely to get as far away from here as possible and never return” if you went to a small, rural high school like I did. My high school didn’t do those in our yearbook, but if they did, because I was more introverted at school in those days, you probably would not have seen “most likely to preach a sermon at a church convention worship service” next to my picture then, or even in my days as a pre seminary student several years ago at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Over the last few days as I have been pondering the lessons you just heard read in anticipation for stepping into this pulpit to proclaim the truth of God’s Word to you as a synod in convention, I have found that these are some readings that really suit us well, whether its for the pastors here, lay delegates from our member congregations, or guests and observers from other synods who are wondering “what is ELCM really all about?” because these are texts that have a LOT to say to us as we go about our work as a synod.
Let’s start with the preacher we meet in Luke’s gospel. It’s Good Friday. There are three men who are there, hanging on crosses, outside of the city on a hill locals call “Golgotha” meaning “Place of the Skull”. The physical eye simply sees an execution going on, three men who deserve to die because of crimes they have committed. Any cries of innocence by any of the men are going to fall on deaf ears at this point. But the thing is, one of the men is innocent. One of them is without sin, yet is accepting the punishment of the sin of the world. One of them is a King. He is God’s Son. Yet, no one is saying so. The religious leaders, the ones who claim to speak for God? They are the ones who set up this whole sham in the first place and if anything, they’re glad that soon, this Jesus will be out of their hair for good and people will eventually forget about Him. The crowds below instead of signing their praises, are mocking Him, demanding that He come down from the cross. It seems that no one will see Him for who He truly is, the sinless Son of God who is atoning for the sin of the world.
Except for one man. Unlike Jesus, he has spent his life breaking commandment after commandment. Instead of living a life in service to his fellow man, he has simply taken, without a second thought of the consequences. With him, there is no protest, he is guilty as charged. He hears the other criminal taunting Jesus, demanding that He save him. And it is at this point, God calls someone to proclaim His Word that day to the crowd assembled there. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (v.41) He then turns to Jesus and says “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”, to which Jesus responds “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (v.42-43)