Blog Space of Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D, pastor at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD

Monday, March 25, 2019

The New Radical Cross

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were offered “Traveling Instructions” to guide our journey through Lent. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This week we are considering the central Christian message of the Cross and taking a look at 2 Corinthians5:16-21.

A favorite hymn for many folk is “The Old Rugged Cross.” It is a wonderful hymn, but can lead us to forget that, though always rugged, there is nothing old, ancient or “outdated” about the message that the Cross represents. The love offered to us at Calvary is always new and always radical. It is at the Cross that all barriers are broken down.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) “Confession of 1967” speaks about how Christ's reconciling death on the cross is pictured in different ways. “It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd's life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of a debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over powers of evil. These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory, in the depths of God's love for man. They reveal the gravity, cost, and sure achievement of God's reconciling work.

In a world where people conflicting opinions appear to be sufficient cause to tear each other apart; this message of reconciliation is one that we do well to pay attention to. Jesus tells us that when we apply ourselves to the making of peace we shall be blessed and known as “Children of God” (Matthew 5:9.)

In 2 Corinthians 18 and 19 Paul talks about how the call to reconciliation addresses our lives through the Cross. ”All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

Theologian Henri Nouwen writes “What is our task in this world as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus? Our task is reconciliation. Wherever we go we see divisions among people – in families, communities, cities, countries, and continents. All these divisions are tragic reflections of our separation from God. The truth that all people belong together as members of one family under God is seldom visible. Our sacred task is to reveal that truth in the reality of everyday life.

Why is that our task? Because God sent Christ to reconcile us with God and to give us the task of reconciling people with one another. As people reconcile with God through Christ we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. So whatever we do the main question is, Does it lead to reconciliation among people?”

The ministry of reconciliation is rooted in what God has done for us, in Christ, at the Cross. Because Jesus died for us, to forever remove our separation from God, we are to work at removing all the barriers that separate people from experiencing the love of God.

Such a task is always new, because it brings the renewing life of God's Holy Spirit to bear in situations that are old and tired. Such a task is always radical, because our world so often chooses the way of confrontation over the way of reconciliation.

Another favorite hymn speaks of “The Wondrous Cross.” The second verse reminds us of our call to put self aside, and be reconcilers.

“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.”

For some music here is Fernando Ortega singing that majestic hymn “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross.” Take some time to find a quiet place and meditate upon these timeless words of Isaac Watts,. They were first published in 1707, but like the Cross itself, their message remains fresh and radical and these words have spoken to many hearts across the centuries. Allow them to speak to you today.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

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