September 11, 2022

September 11, 2022
The Feast of the Holy Cross
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Isaiah 45:21-25; Psalm 98:1-4 ; Philippians 2:5-11; John 12:31-36a
From the Gospel according to John, “(Jesus said) And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will
draw all people unto myself.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This morning we gather to celebrate The Feast of the Holy Cross: our Feast Day of Title; a day
when we celebrate who we are as a community of faith in Christ our crucified and resurrected Lord.
Today also marks the beginning of our “fall program”: a program that offers a myriad of activities
and opportunities for learning about, shaping and renewing, our commitment to Christ, and serving
our neighbor.
So, this is a big day in our life as a parish. And as I pondered today’s scripture lessons, in light of
this celebration, I thought it providential, that in many ways, today’s scripture readings sound very
much like a pep-talk – a pep-talk offered just in time as we plan to enter this next phase of our life
Pep-talks! I think it safe to say that most, if not all, of us have heard them at some point in our
lives. Someone takes us aside (someone like a coach, a teacher, a parent, even a priest) takes us
aside and usually does so in a moment of crisis, when the time is about expire in a game or
activity, to affirm and remind us of who and whose we are, remind us of our abilities saying, “You
can do it.” And I think most will agree that the pep-talks we remember most are those that
preceded something truly important, something that mattered and made a difference in our lives.
And so it with today’s scripture lessons and our celebration together as a community of faith.
Now, The Feast of the Holy Cross affirms that God’s promises of salvation, promises of
redemption and atonement that began with the incarnation of Christ at Bethlehem, were fulfilled
through a cross: an instrument of Roman oppression, torture and shame that for Christians,
became a symbol of liberty, forgiveness and hope in and through the Word of God made flesh,
Jesus, God’s own Son. And while there are those in the Church today who bristle at the thought of
God requiring the death of Christ, who question how a loving God would demand any form of
substitutionary atonement, (and I understand where they are coming from even if I do disagree
with them), I think that sometimes we can get so wrapped up debating theological theories that we
miss what is most important about the cross and the observance of this Feast Day; we can miss
the depths of meaning in Jesus’ final pep-talk to his followers, as well as that of Isaiah and Paul.
The Prophet Isaiah declares that salvation rests in God alone. No one can save themselves.
Salvation comes from God and beginning with the 25 th verse of today’s Old Testament lesson,
Isaiah says to take heart because when God saves – it happens forever. He says, “In the Lord, in
God, all descendants of Israel” – that is all who believe – “will be found righteous” (or blameless –
or saved) and in thanksgiving for that saving grace and mercy of God, every knee will bow at the
very mention of God’s Name. God alone saves and it is God alone who is to be praised, thanked,
bowed down to, and adored.
St. Paul was a Shamaite Pharisee – the most learned, religious and orthodox leaders in Israel.
He understood that the only name to be highly exalted is, as Isaiah said, the Name of God. And he
also understood the hope of the Jewish peoples – as stated by the Prophet Isaiah - that a time will
come when the whole earth will turn to the God of Israel and bow at the very mention of God’s
Name. Yet, in today’s reading from his letter to the Philippians, Paul says it is at the Name of Jesus
that every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Paul was convinced
that Jesus was God – God incarnate, that Jesus Christ having been lifted up on a cross, as foretold
in today’s reading from the Gospel according to John, would and will continue to draw all people to
himself, draw them into God’s saving mercy and life-transforming grace. The Psalmist says this
incredible saving act, this cross, is “the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Throughout the Gospel according to John, Jesus proclaimed to his followers that he is the door,
the truth, the life. He said, “I am the bread of Life. I am the way. I am the Shepherd. I am the
gate. I am the gatekeeper.” And in today’s gospel reading he foretells his own death. He says he
will be lifted up and in being lifted up, God’s marvelous work of mercy and salvation will be
accomplished just like God promised. The prince of this world – Satan and death itself – will be
forever judged and vanquished. Jesus, lifted up, will draw everyone into one people of God with
one hope and salvation in Christ alone.
As I pondered Jesus’ words spoken so close to his time of death, I decided to look at the other
gospel accounts of Jesus’ final teachings before carrying that cross. And I discovered something
rather amazing: In the gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke, just before the Last Supper
and his arrest, Jesus spoke about loving our neighbor as ourselves, of loving God with all that we
are and have, of feeding sheep, of offering water to the thirsty, visiting the prisoners, of caring for
one another. And today’s reading from John is followed by Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and
urging them to, “love one another as I have loved you”, “feed my sheep,” and then he is taken
away and killed.
It seems to me, as clearly recorded in all the gospels, that Jesus offered what he believed to be
his most important teaching just before he was arrested, tried, and crucified; just before he was
lifted up on that cross. Just like one of those final pep-talks before the end of a game, a pep-talk
that gets to what matters most, the one teaching Jesus believes is above all others, Jesus tells his
disciples (and us) that the heart of salvation, the core of everything we do, how we choose to act
and think and live, even when it means going to the cross, must come from love. What did St. Paul
say in 1 st Corinthians 13? “I can have enough faith to move mountains and do all manner of things
but without love I am nothing” (I Cor.13:2).
Jesus says in every gospel account that what matters most is that we, his followers, love God and
neighbor - love with that same selfless love of God, and give all that we are and have out of love
for God and others. This isn’t about loving in order to get saved. True love, God’s love, Jesus says,
never seeks a reward. It acts and thinks and speaks only because it cares, because God’s love
really can transform our very soul, and bring liberty, freedom, forgiveness and hope to every
person on earth. God’s love is an invitation to a entirely new way of living that points us to what
truly matters: Jesus Christ, who, because of and infused with God’s love, was lifted high upon this
cross and continues to draw all people to God, even people like me and you. Why? Because as the
cross affirms God loves me, loves you today and always.
For Christians, the cross signifies many things: forgiveness, mercy, salvation. And yet, above
all, it stands as the ultimate example of where all Jesus’ teachings bring us: they bring us to a
cross where Jesus demonstrates the exact same selfless, genuine, and authentic love that he
demands of us. And therein, beloved, lies our challenge this morning for unless we love as God in
Christ has loved and continues to love us, our mission and ministries here mean nothing.
As we gather to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross, as we prepare to enter this glorious fall
season of ministry and service, our scripture lessons this morning urge us to remember that the
cross signifies much more than atonement. It signifies our very way of life: a life immersed in love
for God and neighbor. To that end, may God fill us with a passion for not just proclaiming the
merits – the atonement offered by the cross, but more importantly, a passion for thinking, acting,
speaking, and living that same selfless love of God shown in this symbol of our salvation, our hope
and our life together: the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, at whose Name someday
every knee shall gratefully, and lovingly bow, indeed! Amen.