Sermon Series: What Happened on the Cross?
“For the Sake of Joy”
Years ago young people preparing for their confirmations studied catechisms. Catechisms normally consist of questions asked by teachers and answers to be memorized and repeated word-for-word by students. The most famous Roman Catholic catechism in America was the Baltimore Catechism, written in Baltimore in 1885.
The most famous Protestant catechism was the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It was written by theologians of the Church of England meeting in Westminster Abbey, London, between 1642 and 1647. It took them 5 years to write the Westminster Confession, the Longer Catechism and the Shorter Catechism. The catechisms were actually ordered and passed by Parliament.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism consists of 107 questions and 107 answers to be memorized in order to be confirmed as a member of Christ’s church. This is the way Mark Schol, our youth minister, wanted to do confirmation class this year but I talked him out of it.
The very first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is: “What is the chief end of man?”
What is the chief end of man, the chief end of woman? What is your chief end? What is mine?
What is our purpose? For what reason were we created? Why are we here? Why do we exist?
What is the chief end of man and woman.
The answer the Westminster Shorter Catechism gives to this question is: “The chief end of man [and woman] is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.”
The reason you exist and the reason I exist is to glorify God—to make our Creator proud—and (this is what I want us to think about this morning) to enjoy God forever.”
One of the primary reasons we exist is to enjoy God forever.
We normally don’t come to church and expect to hear that we are supposed to enjoy. When I go to church, I do not expect to hear somebody tell me, “Enjoy!”
I might expect to be told to be good. I might expect to be told to do good. I might expect, if I came to Foundry, to be told to end homelessness and to end discrimination and to end hunger.
But I do not think I would come to church and expect to be told to enjoy.
But the old, rigid, stuffy, over-educated, male Anglican divines who wrote the Westminster Shorter Catechism 350 years ago in Westminster Abbey in London after they’d thought about it for five years came to the conclusion—amazingly—that the chief reason we exist is to enjoy God.
What they said is that we are created for joy! We are doing what we are supposed to be doing when we are living lives of joy. Joy is what existence is for.
It is very hard to understand the cross. I spent most of Lent thinking and talking about the cross.
The cross would seem to be primarily about suffering, primarily about death, primarily about oppression. On the cross God in Christ becomes one of the world’s slaves, one of the world’s tortured, one of the world’s prisoners, one of the discriminated against, one of the oppressed. The cross can seem to communicate that we are most acceptable to God when we are suffering or oppressed.
I once asked a group of teenagers if they could sum up Christianity in one sentence and, almost without thinking, one of the teenagers answered, “Don’t do anything that feels good.”
But the chief end of man and the chief end of woman is joy. God created us for joy.
My imagination has been captured this Easter by some words written about the cross in the Book of Hebrews.
The over-riding message of the Book of Hebrews is that life can be hard but we should not give up.
Hebrews uses the analogy of a race and encourages Christians to persevere in the race of life.
All of those who have gone before us are like a great cheering section watching the race and cheering us on. And the prime example of a strong runner is Jesus himself.
This is what Hebrews says about Jesus and the cross:
“[Jesus] for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus did not want the cross, Jesus did not relish the cross, Jesus did not savor the cross. Jesus endured the cross. Why? For the sake of the joy that was set before him.
Jesus was not about suffering. Jesus was not about sacrifice. Jesus was not about surrender. Jesus was about joy. The chief end of Jesus was to enjoy God forever. The cross was the way to joy; it was not the end in and of itself.
I understand the analogy of a race better than I used to. I’ve been doing an exercise program called Couch to 5K. In Couch to 5K you start out as a couch potato. The first week you run 1 minute and walk a minute and keep doing that for half-an-hour and you can hardly manage it the first week. You can hardly manage to run a minute at a time. You add a little time every week and at the end of nine weeks you’re supposed to be able to run a 5K.
I’ve just finished week 5 which ends with a continuous 20-minute run. I did it yesterday.
I understand better now the analogy of the cross being like a race. I huff and I puff on the treadmill or the Mall. It is hard and it is humiliating. Sometimes the work crews on the Mall in their pickup trucks stop and ask me if they can give me a ride somewhere. I say, “No, I’m running.” And they say, “Really?!”
So why do Couch to 5K? Because after you’ve done it, you feel more alive. You feel something like joy.
Herb Cohen, my psychiatrist friend, has a mantra. His mantra is “The only way out of hell is through the middle.”
I asked Herb for an hour a couple of years ago. I was stuck. I had agreed to do a project and I wasn’t doing it. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and worry about it, but the next day I wouldn’t do anything about it. I’d do lots of other things but not this project that worried me the most.
So I asked Herb for an hour of his time and asked him to help me understand why I was so stuck on this project. He said, it doesn’t matter why. Just go do it now. Before you do anything else, just go do it now. Do not apologize. Do not put yourself down. Just go do it.
So I did. It was humiliating. I should have been doing it weeks earlier. It was very hard not to apologize, not to put myself down. It was humiliating, but I did it and afterwards I strangely actually felt something like joy. I’d failed but then I had done what I needed to do and persevered. I felt no pleasure in it, but I actually felt something like joy.
There is a difference between pleasure and joy. Nothing wrong with pleasure, but it is not joy.
The Book of Hebrews says joy comes from discipline. Discipline is doing what you don’t want to do but what you know you have to do.
Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross. He prayed in the garden not to have to go to the cross, but in the end said, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”
Discipline is putting on your running shoes and getting yourself out the door when you absolutely don’t feel like it. Discipline is going back to work after you’ve failed. Discipline is getting back on Match.com after a heartbreak. Discipline is gong back to chemotherapy after the last session made you so sick you’d rather die. Discipline is taking your Welbutrin when what you really want to do is bury yourself in a bottle of Grey Goose.
Hebrews says, “Now discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet…” (Hebrews 12:12).
“[Jesus] for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame…” The cross was a grave discipline but it wasn’t about the discipline; it was about the joy. We are not about discipline. We are about joy. Discipline is merely the path to joy, the price of joy. We are meant for joy.
An ambulance took Vivian to the hospital Wednesday night. It was soon clear there was nothing the doctors could do. Her family gathered around her. Bill. Bill, Jr. The women— her daughter-in-law, the granddaughters who were in town.
After a time, when the doctors were done with what they could do, the women washed her. They dressed her in her sorority colors. They put a purple headdress on her head. One of her granddaughters said, “Grandmom would never go anywhere without her hair done.” The family gathered around her, and she eventually breathed her last breath.
It was a hard discipline. It was sad, so sad, so hard.
But Vivian lay there in a purple head dress, and you suddenly realized she looked like a queen. She was a queen. And with the sadness there was also a joy.
This happens more often at deathbeds than you might guess. Not always, but more often than you might think. There is great sadness but also a joy. A harsh discipline but also a joy. A cross but also a joy. It is hard to explain. Great sadness but also joy.
It is what I am counting on.
“[Jesus] for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross.”
What is the chief end of woman and man? What is your chief end and mine? To enjoy God forever.