Every morning, we can look in that mirror and play the judge and throw ourselves into a lake of fire, just so that no one else can beat us to it. And then we can spend the rest of the day putting other people there, too. It's a sick twist on the Golden Rule: If we really try, we can treat others just as badly as we treat ourselves! But when we live in that place of hurt and anger and fear, and we start judging, the violence we do to ourselves and others starts spreading. From our neighborhoods to foreign nations, much of the violence we see in the world today started out with ordinary people playing judge and kicking Jesus out of a job. So it's high time we learned a different way. We need a new understanding of Judgment Day.
I believe we can do a lot better if we spend less time telling people and more time showing them who Jesus is and what he can do. Being seated at the right hand of the Father is just another way of saying that Jesus is as God is and Jesus does as God does. And if we don't use up all our energy arguing about exactly what that means, we can do a much better job of showing the rest of the world that Jesus loves as God loves. And that's the answer the world is ready for.
What Paul wants is for all of us to be free for life. Let all the death die in you: the old self that serves nothing but the self; the old sins that just keep causing new sickness; the old fears that are never going to face new realities; the old blindness that sees the violence but keeps silent. You can't let any of this death have dominion over you, if you want to be with Christ. Resurrection means that whatever bad has happened to you, whatever awful choices you have made, however many horrible people have hurt you, none of it has any power over you. Because he defeated death, because he rose on the third day, you are dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. [6:11]
The early Christians figured that if there were no salvation outside the church, then they were going to have to bring more folks inside the church. And that's what the Creed does. It includes all those poor souls who just happened to miss out on the Messiah. By including this line in the Creed about Jesus descending into hell, ancient Christians extended the boundaries of the Church into the past. And that's important for us to know, because a lot of Christians today want to expand the Church in the present.
But Jesus knew that he could only live one life: his own. So, accepting those limits, he lived right up to them—"to the point of death, even death on a cross." Irenaeus, one of the early leaders of the church, says “the glory of God is a human being fully alive." And that was Jesus. Even on the cross, he was fully alive, fully embracing every moment of his mortal life. He lived life to its fullest despite the limits that being in the flesh had put on him. And if we would be his followers, we must do the same.
So for those who can't quite buy into the story of the virgin birth, but want to hold onto the story of the Son of God, I suggest that you pay attention to the story of the Holy Spirit. The truth in all of these stories is the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's story begins with the very first verses of Genesis and continues on to the very last verses in Revelation. And we can't tell the story of Jesus without the story of the Spirit. So today, I'm going to ask the children to help me tell it.
If I asked an evangelical Christian what it meant to believe "in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord," she would probably ask me if I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. For many believers, having a "personal relationship" with our Savior is the very definition of being a Christian. What is odd about this is that evangelicals, who claim to get everything from the Bible, talk about being a Christian with language that never appears in the Bible.
And that really is the question, isn't it? Who is Jesus for us? The Apostles' Creed tries to help us answer that question, first by piling onto Jesus' name a bunch of divine titles: Christ, only Son, our Lord. Maybe if we understood something about this name and these titles, we would understand something about our savior.
Oh, if we could only be the image of God and live into the likeness of God! If we could only learn how to use our power to create and to care rather than to control; to bless rather than to boss, to realize our interdependence rather than exercise dominion. We might just rediscover our proper place in God's good Creation.
So the cross of Jesus Christ challenges all of our assumptions about how God's power works in the world. It works in weakness. Now, how does that work for you? How does the cross help us deal with something like cancer? I know that I'm not alone in wondering why an almighty God would create a world where cancer kills almost 8 million people a year. Cancer is so widespread it almost seems to be a built-in feature of life on this planet. And in fact it is, when you consider life from an evolutionary perspective. It's ironic that gene mutation, the cellular process that drives evolution and makes life on earth possible, is the same process that makes cancer inevitable. If God had somehow made our immune system so strong that it could kill off all mutant cells, we human beings would never have evolved in the first place. But understanding the science doesn't help us come to terms with the sickness.