The Cross Makes a Difference

A sermon preached to the congregation of All Saints Church, San Francisco, on April 2, Good Friday, 2021

They passed a law in Georgia last week that makes it a crime to be a Christian. Did you see that? They made it a criminal offense to give food or water to someone standing in line to vote. Seriously? They really did that? Yes, and I’ve been trying to think ever since how I can get to Georgia next time they have an election to give someone in line to vote a cup of cold water.

I hope I don’t need to. I hope the line of people bringing food and water to people waiting to vote is longer than the line of people waiting to vote. I hope they run out of cars to take people to jail for doing it and run out of police to arrest them.

Jesus said, “. . . if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” (Matthew 10:42)

Go to Georgia to claim your reward! Faith has consequences. It’s Christianity 101 – basic Christianity – that faith has consequences, but it’s now illegal in Georgia to do what Jesus taught us to do. But it may remind us of some simple and basic aspects of being a Christian. It doesn’t require deep thought; you don’t have to do anything complicated: spend hours on your knees or in the lotus position or recite ten Hail Mary’s before breakfast – no, do all that if you want and if you find it helps you, but Jesus said nothing about that; he only promised that you will not lose your reward if you just give someone a cup of cold water in his name.

I like the fact that here on Good Friday, while we read the awful story of how Jesus was crucified, we also read a passage from one of the least read but most important books of the Bible, the Epistle to the Hebrews, because while the Gospel reading confronts us with the crucifixion in excruciating detail, the Epistle reading reminds us that faith has consequences, faith has consequences, faith makes a difference, and there are simple, basic everyday things we ought to be thinking about, ought to be doing something about, because it changes lives; changes every day we live; changes every relationship; changes us. Here’s part of that same passage in a simple translation called “The Bible in Basic English:”

“. . . let us be moving one another at all times to love and good works; 25 Not giving up our meetings, as is the way of some, but keeping one another strong in faith; and all the more because you see the day coming near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

“Let us be moving one another to love and good works, not giving up our meetings as some do but keeping one another strong in faith.” That’s what’s essential, because the Crucifixion has consequences, it makes a difference. I have sometimes spent three hours on Good Friday preaching about the crucifixion, and there’s value in that: remembering how much God loves us. But then what? Then what? If we go away saying, “How awful” and no more, maybe it wasn’t awful enough, because we haven’t gotten the message. It’s a very simple message summed up in a familiar childhood hymn: “He died that we might be forgiven; he died to make us good.” “He died to make us good.” He died to make a difference. He died to change human lives. He died to change us.

There’s a kind of Christianity that centers almost exclusively on the cross. I had an evangelical friend in college who thought he hadn’t heard a sermon if he didn’t hear about the cross. Well, yes, but what about the consequences of the cross? I’m not sure we’ve really heard about the cross if we haven’t heard about the difference it makes, if we haven’t heard about its purpose and how it changes lives. It’s great to accept Jesus as your savior, but it needs to make a difference, it needs to change lives, it needs to motivate and strengthen us to go out and not just think about Jesus, but to be guided and motivated and directed and, yes, inspired, to be Jesus in our world, to ignore the selfish and even hostile forces around us, and just make sure we make a difference because Jesus makes a difference, because the cross makes a difference, and at the simplest, most every day level the cross requires us to make a difference ourselves.

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