Luke 23:27-43 (26th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 21, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text today is the Gospel lesson from Luke 23:
And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “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.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
In recent years a head coach divorced his wife of 26 years when he left coaching a college team to become head coach in the National Football League. He said he needed a wife while coaching on the college level for social functions and to show families that he would be looking out for their sons. In pro football, however, she was an unnecessary accessory and a distraction to winning. He said winning football was his number one priority and his two sons second. In contrast to this, Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys said, “The thrill of knowing Jesus is the greatest thing that ever happened to me . . . I think God has put me in a very special place, and He expects me to use it to His glory in everything I do . . . whether coaching football or talking to the press. I’m always a Christian… Christ is first, family second, and football third.”
Now that’s a man that has his priorities straight! How do you compare with Tom Landry when it comes to your priorities? What takes first place, priority number one, in your life? Is it Christ? Is it someone or something other than Christ? What’s most important to you?
We can’t escape answering that question. The answer lies at the very heart of who we are, even to the point of defining our identity and existence in this world. Your priorities tell others all about you—what you value, what is important to you, what you care about, the things that drive you, the things that don’t. If a priority is wearing the latest designer fashions, your style of dress sends a message to others saying, “I don’t shop at Wal-Mart. I have to be up-to-date. I have to look this way. Wearing these clothes is very important to me and I value my appearance in them and what people think of me when I wear them.”
Let’s take a moment and examine our own priorities, individually, in our hearts. Think about the five things, people, or events that you value most. Use a pencil or a pen and write them in any order on the back of your Introit Bookmark. What are five priorities in your life? Be honest. They may not all be positive. Sometime we have priorities and things we value in life that do not fit God’s will for us. But we’re being honest, so if it is a top five priority for you, write it down. Write down what is most important—job, family, health, beer, smoking, sex, friends, sports, prayer, God, love, peace, alone time, washing the car, cleaning the house, reading. I know there are a lot of people and things, but just put down five for this activity.
After you have your five, number them, honestly. Just because you are in church, if God or Christ is on your list and He has truly not been your number one priority, please don’t mark it that way. You can fool yourself, or anyone who you share this with, but you can’t fool God. Be honest with Him because He already knows where on your list of priorities He falls.
This exercise shows us a couple things. First it puts, in black and white, in front of us what we really value and what our priorities are. If I called on you to give your number one answer, which I am not going to do, in this setting we would all want to say, “Christ is first in my life. Living for and serving Him with all that I am and have is always my number one priority.” But that always isn’t true, is it? It’s not for me. Oh there are moments and days and even weeks where Christ is truly a priority. But it’s not as consistent as it should be. Other “priorities” float to the top more often than Christ does. Don’t you find that to be true in your life too or am I the worst sinner in the congregation? I, like you, often give lip service to the priority of Christ, faith, church, Christian living, Christian stewardship, and Christian service. “Oh yeah, it’s a top priority,” our mouths say, especially on a Sunday morning. But are our actions always consistent with what the lips and tongue announce? Not always.
Do I demonstrate that Christ is my priority when I drop $1 in the offering plate each week when I can legitimately afford $70? Do I demonstrate that Christ is my priority when I go along with the gossip around the water cooler or in the break room at work? Do I show that Christ is my priority when I don’t pray regularly, when I show up to church once every month or so, when I don’t share my faith in Jesus because I’m ashamed, or when I fill my life with all kinds of wants and desires that distract from the Lord?
There has only been one person in all history who kept the Lord as His number one priority all the time. That person was God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He put His Father’s will and desires first always. God’s priorities were His priorities, because He is true God, eternally one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. When tempted by the devil to give up His priorities, Jesus resisted and overcame the temptation, standing firm on God’s Word. When the Apostle Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about going to die and rise again, trying to persuade Him not to go to Jerusalem, Jesus “turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” (Matthew 16:23)
And that is precisely why Jesus doesn’t always remain our number one priority in life. We fall short of God’s glory and are so easily persuaded by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh that the things of man, the stuff in this world, the pleasures of this life, are what take precedence. We do not always set our minds on the things of God—but Jesus did!
Miracle of all miracles, grace of all grace, joy of all joy, Jesus set His mind on the things of God and you and I are those “things.” Sinners separated from God; sinners standing under God’s right punishment; people lost forever to everlasting death and condemnation—we were God’s priority. Our salvation, our rescue from sin and death, our forgiveness and restoration to the image of God in which we were created, this is God’s priority. And at the right time God the Father sent His one and only Son to make that priority reality!
That’s why on this Last Sunday in the Church Year we have the Good Friday reading about the Crucifixion of our Lord. It is at the cross where Jesus fulfilled God’s priority of redeeming us. It was on the cross that Jesus won our complete forgiveness for the times when the Lord and living as Christians are far less than a priority in our lives. We are forgiven for the times when we don’t put God first. We are forgiven for all those moments when the things of this world—possessions, other people, emotions, pleasures—have been priority one.
Because Jesus kept ours and all people’s forgiveness and salvation as His first priority, the Holy Spirit has brought about a change in our hearts. Washed in the blood of Jesus, we stand before God holy and righteous. We stand before God with hearts made new—hearts that can’t help but respond in faith to what the Lord has done for us in Christ. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
The Lord has begun a good work in you and me, and He will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6) By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are new creations in Jesus Christ with a new set of priorities, who are being fashioned and shaped by the Spirit for service and work in the world using those priorities. Look at your top five list again. Where was God or Christ in your list of priorities? Did He score a 4? Perhaps a 3? Maybe He wasn’t in your top five. That’s the Holy Spirit showing you where you are at today in your life of faith. We are all works in progress, waiting to be completed when Jesus, our Crucified and Risen Savior, comes again. We read in Isaiah 64, “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
In Christ, as God molds us and shapes us through His Word and Sacrament by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are being remade in the image of Christ so that His priorities are becoming our priorities. This is what we read in Colossians 3, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you [,get rid of earthly, sinful priorities]: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. . . . Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, [the new priorities of God in Christ,] compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:1-17)
This is our new set of priorities. And you will be amazed at how the Lord enables you to keep them as true priorities. In this world, until Christ comes, we will lapse. We will let God’s priorities slip. But He will not give up on His new creation. He will continue to call you and me to repentance and faith, as He has done in His Word today. He will continue to forgive us for the sake of Jesus Christ, who kept God’s priorities for us so that we might be saved from our sins of misplaced priorities. The Lord will continue to create new hearts in us, filled with love toward God and toward our neighbor. By power and grace of His Holy Spirit, we will keep our Lord and Savior as priority number one in our words and in our actions. Amen.