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St. Paul and the Cross

Fr. William C. Mills

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Sermon on Galatians 2:16-20.

Every week we a gospel reading from one of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We also hear from one of Paul's epistles. But what's the big deal? Why not read from two or three gospels instead? Well, the gospels present us with Jesus Christ himself the Word of God who is revealed in the gospel reading and then we hear from one of Paul's letters which teaches us what it means to have faith in Jesus. All of Paul's letters deal with some aspect of faith in Jesus, the many problems, divisions, discussions, debates, and arguments in the early Church were over the proper understanding of this person Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. And after hearing from Paul's letters each week we slowly begin to understand Paul's central message of Jesus Christ crucified. The cross is the foundation for Paul's preaching and teaching, as we heard in the epistle reading this morning, "it is not I who live but Christ who lives in me and who gave himself for me." The cross is God's sign of love for us.

Paul was also very annoying. He was like some of our young children who come home after a long day in school bringing home an "A" on a report card or perhaps winning a soccer game or maybe delivered a wonderful performance in the school play. They come home jumping up and down screaming and shouting and acting so happy wanting to tell you about their wonderful news. And what do you do? You listen for a while. But then your son or daughter goes on and on and on talking a mile a minute. After a while you say "okay already, okay, enough!" And you walk away. Well, Paul was very much like that excited child. When he realized that it was not just Jesus a miracle teacher, or Jesus a prophet, but Jesus the Son of God who was crucified on that gloomy Friday afternoon 2,000 years ago, he got excited and started telling people about this good news. Everywhere Paul went he talked about Jesus. He went around the whole world by foot, by horse, by ship, telling people of God's love for us in the cross of Christ. Paul didn't wait for a council or a group of people to give him a blessing, he realized in his heart of hearts that this gospel had to be proclaimed to the whole world and he did just that. He conquered the world with the gospel of the cross, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul lived in a world occupied by the Roman military, not all too different than what we see in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vast Roman army conquered the whole world, from England through Western Europe to North Africa and the entire Middle East. They conquered the world through by using swords, soldiers, and by their strong navy. For centuries the Romans controlled the entire area. Yet Paul conquered the same territory, not through swords, soldiers, or a navy, but world through words, through the words of the cross, through the word of love, through the word of the gospel. He started in Jerusalem and traveled the entire Roman Empire telling people about Jesus Christ crucified and he won peoples' hearts.

But why did Paul bother do all of this in the first place? Paul could have easily stayed in his hometown, making tents, and enjoying his life in Tarsus. Well, when Paul was knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus he realized that not only did his life change, but that he was also given the resources, gifts, and talents to preach this gospel. Paul was highly educated, he could read and write, he had the gift of speech, so he used these gifts for the building up of the body of Christ. He used his talents to spread the gospel. Isn't that our job as Christians, to use our God-given talents, abilities, resources, and experience to build up the body of Christ in the local parish, in the Church, and in our families? Aren't we supposed to use what the Lord has given us for his glory and not to sit on our backsides waiting for the Lord to come again?

At our baptism or at our chrismation we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Everyone has some God-given talent, resources, or abilities that can be used to build up and encourage one another. We all have something to offer. And the question is are we merely getting by in life, just surviving like the student at school who shoots for a C- because that is a passing grade and after all, why work hard when I can get by with doing the minimum? This is so common in our culture today, just doing enough to get by, no more and no less. But does God want us to merely get by? Is that what the cross says to us, just do the minimum? Did Paul just get by in life by doing the minimum? I don't think so. Perhaps the message today is to thrive and excel, using our God-given talents and abilities, even multiplying them, so that the preaching of the cross may be doubled in this world. The cross is the message of love, the message of Jesus. Jesus' death on Golgotha wasn't cheap, it cost a lot in order for the gospel to be preached to the entire world. His death on the cross has given us a new lease on life, are we going to sit back on our haunches and do nothing, or are we going to use our gifts for his glory and the glory of the Kingdom?

Fr. William C. Mills, Ph.D., is the rector of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC, as well as an adjunct professor of religious studies at Queens University in Charlotte, NC. He is married to Taisia Mills and has two daugthers, Hannah and Emma.

Latest book by Fr. Mills:

A Light to the Gentiles is a collection of pastoral reflections on the Scripture readings from the gospel of Luke that are read in the Orthodox Church from mid-September until the feast of the Nativity of our Lord. The gospel of Luke is also read during the preparatory Sundays before Great Lent as well as at the feast of the Ascension and at the commemoration of various saints. The gospel also contains many familiar parables and teachings: the Good Samaritan, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and Zachaeus. Luke reminds us that the gospel is to be proclaimed to the entire world in order to bring the gospel to all peoples and nations. Thus, the gospel of Luke serves as a beacon of light that shines brightly in the world. A Light to the Gentiles is an invitation for everyone to read, accept, and obey the Word of God in their lives. This book is a resource for personal and group Bible study, adult education classes, and sermon preparation.

See more books by Fr. Mills.

Posted: 21-Sep-07

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