Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Sweet Swap

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Moorhead, MN
Good Friday—April 18, 2014
II Cor. 5:16-21

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 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. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

“Every day do one thing that scares you.”

Eleanor Roosevelt said that, and I think it’s good advice—maybe especially for preachers. 

Preachers should preach so recklessly, ladle out God’s grace so dangerously, that periodically they ask themselves (as they prepare a sermon), “Can I really say that?  Did I just swerve over the center line, say more than I’m authorized to say?”

I wonder if, after writing these words here in his second letter to the Corinthians…I wonder if Paul stopped, in momentary terror, to ask himself:  “Have I finally gone too far?”

I wonder that especially about the last sentence in this text:   “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Did Paul realize what he was saying when he penned those words?   Did he make a mental note that perhaps he should come back and edit that sentence a bit, dial it back a notch or two?

No apparently Paul did not hesitate. 

He just put his head down and barreled ahead.  “’That’s my story and I’m sticking with it:’  for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Paul had other options here.  He could have talked about Jesus carrying sin, bearing sin, or (as we like to say) identifying himself with us in our sin.   Paul could have toned it down.

But instead Paul just came out and proclaimed it:  “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin…”

God made Jesus the sinless one into sin itself.   Jesus became my pride, your waywardness, our rebellion..   God fashioned Jesus into my apathy, your addiction, our stubborn determination to do it our own way—to give selfishness full reign.

Jesus actually became all of that. 

And it wasn’t some sort of sleight-of hand magic trick, either.  This “becoming sin” didn’t happen in one instant in time.

No, from the moment Jesus showed up among us he started taking on sin, becoming sin, every step of his journey.

When Jesus got in line with all those sinners who came out to the wilderness to hear John the Baptist preach, he was becoming sin.

When Jesus went down under the muddy water of the Jordan River, he was becoming sin.

When Jesus sought out and hung around all the wrong people, he was becoming sin.

When Jesus healed lepers, fashioned mudpacks for blind eyes, touched the dead, he was becoming sin.

When Jesus brazenly forgave sinner, he was becoming sin.

When Jesus got under people’s skin—especially good, upright folks who said they hated sin—when Jesus went after them, he was becoming sin.

Whenever Jesus seemed to be going soft on sinners, too willing to sit with them, too eager to extend mercy to them, too reckless about inviting them to follow him, he was becoming sin.

And it just kept happening until, on the Cross--for all the world to see--it became fully apparent that Jesus had become sin.

God made the sinless one to be full of sin, to be sin itself.

Which is why Jesus had to die, because we good folks who say we hate sin, could not allow sin to live any longer.  We killed Jesus, this one who had become sin before our eyes.  We proclaimed and we acted on the assumption that sin could not continue, sin had to go!

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin….”   Somebody went too far here in II Cor. 5:21.  

But it wasn’t the author of these words, Paul.   No, the One who went too far was God himself.

But that’s just the first shocking thing here in this verse.  

It gets worse:  “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus became sin—and as a result of that we became the righteousness of God.  

We didn’t just get a little better.  Our condition didn’t merely improve a notch or two.   We didn’t just put on some nice new clothing to cover up our shame, guilt and grief.

No, in this strange economy of God, we beneficiaries of the Cross became the righteousness of God.   We became the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness that God has always been looking for.   We became the change, God’s startling change, worked out on Calvary for us and our salvation.

This incredible transaction that plays out before our faces, reaches its culmination, its destination on the Cross:   Jesus becomes our sin, and we become God’s righteousness, we become all that God created us to be.

Martin Luther called this the “happy exchange.”   A latter day follower of Luther has called it “the sweet swap!”   Jesus tells us, “Here, I’m going to become your sin, and you’re going to become my righteousness, and that will be that!”

We’re never, ever going to receive another proposition as sweet as that!  This is a game-changer, a life-changer for us and all people.

Have you ever been asked for the date and the hour you were saved?  Whatever you do, please never, never say that it happened when you hit bottom in a seedy motel, a bottle of pills in one hand and a Gideon Bible in the other.

No one was ever saved in a Super 8 motel.

But the whole world was saved around the middle of a Friday afternoon, just outside Jerusalem, two thousand years ago.   The happy exchange reached its climax when Jesus, the sinless one, fully and completely became sin….so that we who’re caught up in Jesus’ story might become what we now in fact are: the righteousness of God.

There’s nothing we can add to that.  Jesus bit the bullet, Jesus did all the lifting here, for us and for our salvation..

We can’t improve upon any of that!

All we can do is to bask in the light of it, live the rest of our lives in that light and—please, God!—reflect that light as we walk with others toward God’s future.

Along that path we will take our cues from Jesus, who always walks ahead of us.  Pope Francis, whose little book I’ve been reading this Lenten season, talks about being a “dirty church.”  Some think Francis is going too far, but I think he’s getting it just right.

“I prefer a Church,” writes Francis, “…I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security….More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us:  ‘Give them something to eat’ (Mk 6:37).”   (The Joy of the Gospel, par. 49).

A Church, a people of God who are bruised, hurting and dirty….doesn’t that sound like the church of One who became sin?  Doesn’t that sound like the embassy of the One who has worked his “happy exchange” in our lives?   Doesn’t that sound like the kind of “sweet swap” that’s the game-changer for us and all people who have, in the mercy of Christ, become the righteousness of God?

Doesn’t that sound exactly like the way to move from Good Friday to Easter?

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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