Sermon for Sunday November 21st, 2010
"Accept that You are Accepted" by Kenneth Sauer
“Accept that You are Accepted”
“I just want to be accepted and loved. That is what I want more than anything in the world,” confides the honest teenager who has been left on the margins, rejected by the so-called ‘popular’ people, lives in a household rife with drug and alcohol abuse, and thus seeks attention…
…any kind of attention…
…by acting out and getting into trouble.
“I just want someone to love me,” admits the young pregnant woman who has two other children by men she does not know, no money and no job.
“I just want to be ‘SOMEBODY’,” cries out the starving actor who has packed up everything and headed to Hollywood to be a ‘star’.
“I just want to be liked,” screams the person who has turned their back on everything they know to be good and right and true, and instead have caved into every kind of peer pressure which has come along.
“We just want to be accepted…to fit in,” thinks the young couple who have found themselves deep in debt, and on the brink of home foreclosure with little hope of escape.
“I just want some kind of feeling of ‘self-worth’” admits the workaholic father who has little time for his wife and children, but provides them with every material amenity…
…when all they really want is his time.
These are some of the cries of our world.
“I want the assurance that I am loved, accepted and important.”
“I want to know that there is meaning to this often, very difficult life.”
Are these cries and questions left unheard and unanswered?
Are we screaming into a chasm?
“No you are not,” answers our Christian faith.
“No you are not,” answers the Bible.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”
“God so loved the world…”
That means “Us” and that means “Them.”
We are all somebody because God loves us, and God proved the full extent of God’s love for us by dying a shameful death of execution on the Cross!!!
One of the most amazing and wonderful things about Jesus’ life on earth was that He turned no one away.
Sure, there were plenty who didn’t want to have anything to do with Him, but He sought them and loved them no matter.
And it should come as no surprise that at the Cross of Christ, some 2,000 years ago, there was a true motley crew of folks from every walk of life who descended on the scene.
The common people were there.
We are told that “they stood watching.”
What was going on in their minds?
Did they cringe at the horror of it all, wondering, “Why is this man Who loved so deeply being treated with such hate?”
Were they waiting to see if something “spectacular” would happen?
Many of them, had, no doubt heard about Christ’s miracles.
Some of them may have even been fed by Him on a hillside, amazingly, as He blessed two small fish and a couple loaves of bread.
“Maybe He’s going to come off that Cross and plunge all these murderous oppressors into a fiery pit.”
“How will He escape before the credits roll?”
“What is this all about?”
“Will we find ultimate meaning in this bloody scene?”
“Surely this is not the end.”
We are told that “the rulers…sneered,” and taunted Him saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”
Jesus had scared and intimidated them with His healings, His teachings and the crowds that had followed Him.
They had been afraid that they would lose only their place of importance in the world if they allowed Jesus to go on as He was.
They were “covering themselves,” protecting themselves.
In crucifying Christ and in thumbing their noses at Him they were trying to justify their own existence and feelings of importance.
We are told that the “soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar,” a joke for a dying king, “and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
One scholar says that the Greek word for “mocked” suggests that the soldiers “acted like little boys.”
They were being bullies.
They fed on the mob mentality of the scene.
They too, wanted to “fit in.”
And in this particular instance, it seemed to them that the way to “fit in” was to ride the wave of “pushing Jesus around.”
They wanted to be “one of the pack.”
In essence, they were insecure…
…just like the rest of us.
And Jesus saw through all of this.
Throughout the Gospels, we are told over and over again that Jesus “had compassion on the crowds.”
In one place we are told that He had compassion because people “were like sheep without a shepherd.”
And so they were.
From the blood-thirsty rulers to the common folks who “watched” to the soldiers who “mocked,” they were all lost people…
…people who didn’t know their right hand from their left.
And despite the pain in His own body, despite the taunts, the cruelty, the hatred and everything else…
…maybe even because of this…
…Jesus had compassion on them, Jesus loved them, Jesus understood them, and Jesus forgave them!!!
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Is that not the reason that Christ came into this world?
We are a lost and broken people.
We are in this place, and yet, we don’t know why nor do we know what to do about it.
We are all prodigals in the wilderness, we are all lost at sea, we are all afraid.
If we were not, Christ would not have had to come and die!
We would have already known how much we are loved.
We would already have been saved, and the separation between God and humankind would not have needed to be bridged by the Cross.
We would already be living in Eden, or Paradise where our home is with God.
Given what we know about Jesus’ life and the kind of folks with whom He spent the most time, it should come as no surprise that the last “company” shall we say, that Christ had was with two criminals.
Jesus began His ministry proclaiming “good news to the poor” and “release of the captives,” and He ends it by giving an assurance of salvation to a criminal hanging shamefully on a tree; a man who has been humbled to the dust…
…a man who is the farthest down on the food chain of humanity than anyone can go.
The Crucifixion of Christ is quite a paradox: through the violent suffering of Jesus, the world is offered salvation and peace.
The Cross is where God’s love and understanding intersects with our brokenness and sin.
One of the criminals said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’”
And before dying, the criminal heard the words of triumphant acceptance and love: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
And this is our opportunity to enter the Scripture.
These are the words we are all aching to hear.
We are accepted, life does have meaning, we are important, we are recognized and remembered, and we can begin to accept God’s Love!!!
Are we not all, everyone of us, part of those for whom Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”?
That is our neighbor next door, and our enemies across the sea.
God’s love is always nearby!!!
And it becomes a fact—an experience—when we are ready to accept it!!!
Right where we are…
…no matter who we are, or what our past…
…no matter whether we are rich or poor, outcast and marginalized…
…we can “accept that we are accepted,” as Paul Tillich said in a famous sermon.
This is the power of the Cross.
It has the power to be real and personal for us.
It has the power to change our lives.
It has the power to change the world.
For it symbolizes the greatness of God’s love!!!
And I can think of no better reason to be thankful this coming Thanksgiving!!!