Is it a sin to be brutally honest?
Göttingen Sermons on the Internet ed. by U. Nembach
Died for us
Sermon on Hebrews 9: 15.26b-28, written by Peter Schuchardt
Dear sisters and brothers,
Good Friday is a dark day. Our altar is veiled in black today. The songs tell us about the suffering and agony that Jesus suffered. The Gospels speak impressively of his death on the cross. Darkness, agony, death: many do not want to deal with any of this. It sounds like another news item from the news. So often we hear of terror, of war, of human suffering. So often we see the pictures of what people do to each other. And the death of Jesus on the cross seems to be one of them. Another meaningless death, another dying that is meaningless. We hear so much about it. Some want to escape the darkness, agony and death of this day. You complain about the ban on dancing, which also applies in our state on this silent holiday. Only public dance events are prohibited. So if you want to celebrate in your apartment - go ahead! But the critics of this silent holiday feel restricted in their personal freedom and the desire to celebrate, to dance, to be happy. I think: It is good for our country and our society not to see every day off as a party day. It's good to stop and think about us humans.
Because that is what Good Friday does: it tells us how we humans are. The four Gospels in the New Testament speak of the cynicism of those in power, of the violence of the soldiers, and of how a crowd can brutally stand against a single weak. The Gospels do not tell of the wicked Romans and Jews, nor of the unscrupulous rulers. The gospels tell about us. Because they say, and this runs through the whole Bible: We humans try again and again to live without God. We don't listen to his word, we disregard his love, we lock him out of our lives. Because we think: we can do it well without him. We don't need God at all. We think: I am strong. I am smart. I can live well with my mistakes. _I have small flaws here and there, but who doesn't? The great theologian Paul Tillich calls this the alienation of man from God. Others of us, on the other hand, suffer greatly from our mistakes. You no longer have the strength to maintain the facade of strength and superiority. They are desperately looking for someone to help them out of their guilt and are often left alone. God, who created us and gave us life, who loves us as our Father, he has so often become a stranger to us and finds less and less space in our thinking. And that runs through the whole of life.
The program “Gott und die Welt” ran on ARD for 23 years. It has had a new title since the beginning of the year. It is now called: "Real Life". Because, said the editor in charge, “Unfortunately, the term God in the title is rather repulsive.” For me this is a sad symbol that many want to keep God out of our lives. If possible not to mention it at all, as if it no longer exists. The new title tells me: “Real life” is only possible for me if I deal with everything that belongs to life, with all joy, with all successes, but also with all abysses, defeats, darkness and death am held by God.
God takes on a real life in order to be very close to us, his people. He is born in poverty in the stable of Bethlehem, he has to flee from Herod, who sees his power threatened and walks over corpses in the process. Jesus then goes his way to the lost and marginalized, who have not been allowed to participate in the lives of others for a long time. And in the healings, in the consolation that his word gives, the shine of the life that God wants to give us always shines, although we so often push it out of our lives. In the end, Jesus walks the path through loneliness, betrayal, fear and agony. He goes into the darkness of death. Today, on Good Friday, we remember his death, his suffering, his torments, his fear.
We have just heard the evangelist John describing his death. Jesus is still dying as the sovereign, who oversees everything and determines the action, who then really dies like a king. Still hanging on the cross, he binds Mary, his mother, and his favorite disciple Johannes to one another. He does everything that the scriptures will be fulfilled, that everything will happen as God intended. Matthew, Mark and Luke describe death differently. Suffering and pain are the focus for them. This is not a contradiction in terms, dear sisters and brothers. Because they are not historical reports that we read. There is no news in the news. It is a theological interpretation: What happens here when Jesus dies? What shoud that? What's the point?
Of course, all gospels have historical facts in them. The differences between them show us: This is where Matthew puts special emphasis and where John puts special emphasis on it. That is important to him. This is how they interpret what happened on the cross on Golgotha. For it is very clear to all writers of the Gospels and letters in the New Testament: What is happening here is much more than the death of a normal person. God's Son dies here. Here he who wants to redeem and liberate the world goes voluntarily to death. What happens there always has to do with us humans. Your interpretations can help us to understand the death of Jesus today too, to understand what is happening there.
The sermon text for today is in the letter to the Hebrews. This letter, dear sisters and brothers, is special. Because it's basically a sermon. A sermon that tries to make the life, suffering and death of Jesus understandable. That may comfort us, dear sisters and brothers: Because the death of Jesus on the cross was never as insightful, as understandable as we sometimes think. It was and always is a challenge, a questioning of our lives. The author of the letter writes in Chapter 9:
That is why Christ is also the mediator of the new covenant, so that through his death, which took place for redemption from the transgressions under the first covenant, those called may receive the promised eternal inheritance. But now, at the end of time, he has appeared once and for all to lift sin through his own sacrifice. And just as men are destined to die once, but then judgment: so Christ was also once sacrificed to take away the sins of many; the second time he appears not for sin, but for the salvation of those who await him. (Heb 9:15, 26b-28)
Dear sisters and brothers, the Letter to the Hebrews of Christ is as sovereign as John the Evangelist. Christ is the one who mediates the New Covenant with God, who brings it about. God made the old covenant with the people of Israel. Every year, on the Day of Atonement, the chief priest, the high priest, went into the holy of holies of the temple. Only he, no one else, is allowed to enter this special place. He took with him the blood of the sacrificial animals for the sins that were unknowingly committed, by himself and by all the people. For the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, Christ is now the perfect, the divine high priest who sacrifices himself and thus takes away sins once and for all.
You must know, dear sisters and brothers, that blood always means in the language of the Bible Life. Actually, we should be responsible for our guilt and our mistakes. God sees them, and He has the right to hold us accountable for them. Every sacrifice that is made on the altar is in our place. Actually, I should be lying on the altar table. Each sacrificial animal is only a substitute for my own guilt. For the letter to the Hebrews it is now clear: the sacrifices of the old covenant were not enough. Because they had to be offered again every year. But in Jesus Christ God himself came to us. He offered himself as a sacrifice to take away once and for all that which separates us from God.
I suspect, dear sisters and brothers, that the thought of sacrifice is alien to some of you. What kind of god is that who demands a sacrifice? Isn't that brutal? That some of you think so has a lot to do with the fact that Christ sacrificed himself. We can think that way, dear sisters and brothers, because our faith no longer knows any sacrifices. In other religions, sacrifices are made as a matter of course, animals, food, fruit. Of course we still have an altar in our church. But animals are no longer sacrificed there.
We believe in a God who gives himself for ourselves and dies. His sacrifice has to do with the fact that he is truly and honestly looking at my life. And of course God has the right to claim my responsibility. I should stand by what I did wrong and what I neglected. But can I free myself from it? Can I, like Baron Munchausen, pull myself out of the swamp of mistakes, guilt and sin by my own head? No, I can not do that. All my attempts to justify myself fail miserably. I can try to throw God completely out of my life. The burden of debt, the fear and the darkness remain in me.
The anniversary of the Reformation last year once again highlighted this core of the Bible. "Because if you want to see what sin and injustice has been done, who can, Lord, stay in front of you?" (EG 299.1), so wrote Martin Luther, because he himself has repeatedly experienced this abyss of the soul. But he writes even further: "Whether there is much sin with us, with God there is much more grace." (EG 299, 5) Out of grace and love, God himself goes to death in Jesus Christ. Because he sees: we humans need his forgiveness in order to be able to live at all, in order to be able to live a real life. And now he gives us this forgiveness on the cross. He gives his life so that we can live. As alien to some this idea may be, it keeps popping up in popular culture. The noble chief Winnetou throws himself into the ball that is supposed to hit Old Shatterhand. Harry Potter's mother confronts the evil Voldemort. He kills her, but her son survives through this sacrifice. That is a deeply Christian motive. We like that with Karl May (a deeply devout Christian, by the way!) And Joanne Rowling.
But now, on Good Friday, it's about us. Now I have to endure not being able to save myself. And that God wants to save me. God does this for us because He loves us. He sees that we cannot do it on our own. We always want to be proud, strong and confident. But we are not. As soon as the depths of life open up, we are shaken and paralyzed. As soon as we see what people are capable of and what they are doing to one another, we desperately seek help. We don't find it in ourselves.
But we find it with God. We find them on the cross with Christ. For there all that was and will be in sin is taken into death with it. Good Friday wants to turn your gaze from yourself to Christ. Especially when you mean: You are lost. Your debt burden is pushing you to the ground. You are in danger of sinking into the quagmire of mistakes and failures. Do not despair. Christ has long been standing next to you. Look at his cross. He takes all mistakes and failures with him to the cross. His death sets us free. Because his death is not pointless. It is his death that gives our life meaning. His death gives hope. Only his death opens life to us. And his death already wants to take away our fear of the dark, the agony and the guilt. None of this can separate us from God's love (Ro 8: 38-39).
Despite everything, we can live full of hope. And that hope extends well beyond our lives now. Because with his death he opens the way for us into God's kingdom, into his new world, which promises us all a comforting future, into a world in which sacrifice will no longer play a role. He wants to bring us into this kingdom, to our God. And he will forever shelter and comfort us there, in spite of all our guilt. Because God loves us - even in our debt.
So let's look honestly and truthfully at our lives today. Let us see where we have failed, disappointed others, and let God. And let's look to Christ on the cross. Because there our hope shines in all darkness.
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