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The Rev. Dr. Harold Skillrud The Rev. Dr. Harold Skillrud

The Rev. Dr. Harold Skillrud is a Bishop Emeritus in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and pastor emeritus of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Atlanta, GA.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Atlanta, GA

A Time to Boast

Galatians 6:14

July 06, 1997

This weekend we celebrate the two hundred and twenty-first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress declared the 13 British Colonies in America to be free and independent states. The lofty idealism expressed in this document must have seemed an idle boast to those in power across the waters, but to those like Patrick Henry, who declared that "there is a just God who presides over the destiny of nations," and Thomas Jefferson, who declared that their inalienable rights "are endowed by their Creator," it was a profession of faith. Who would have guessed that a small and fragile people could survive against the forces of one of the strongest nations on earth? But the Declaration concluded on a strong note of hope; "with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor." And so, in a spirit of confidence in God, in their cause, and in one another, they declared their independence. And our nation was born. What seemed an idle boast to those in power became a reality to those who believed. It was not as preposterous as it seemed.

Many centuries earlier, in a far off country, another group also made a preposterous claim. They were a small band of fisher folk and peasants, followers of a carpenter, teacher from Nazareth, named Jesus. Their claim, yes, their boast, was that this Jesus, crucified on a Jerusalem hill, had risen from the dead and was indeed the Son of God and Savior of the world. Nothing appeared more ludicrous to the power brokers and authorities of the day. But they stood by their claim valiantly, despite persecution and martyrdom. One of their spokesman, a man named Paul, wrote to a band of Christians in Galatia these immortal words, which are today's appointed text:

"May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14)

Strange, these words. Why boast of a cross? After all, the cross was a symbol of death and defeat. The One who was nailed to that cross had Himself been greeted with derision and ridicule. The One who was boasted to be the Son of God, the King of Kings, became the brunt of cruel jokes. "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," they wrote in mockery on a placard and nailed it to the cross. After all, it didn't make much sense. Kings sit on thrones, they're not nailed to crosses. Kings hold a scepter, not a reed. Kings drink precious wines from silver goblets lined with gold, not vinegar from a sponge. No wonder they taunted him, "he saved others; he cannot save himself." "He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now," they jeered.

Indeed, it seemed an idle boast when He said, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it up." But the victim became the victor. In a mighty burst of power, God raised His Son from the dead. One by one those who became his followers saw Him and believed. What had seemed impossible was now a reality. Jesus was alive!

From that point forward countless others came to faith, among them a real skeptic named Saul of Tarsus, who became the author of this text. He, too had a revelation of the Living Lord and found in the cross the power of God's love and forgiveness. It changed him completely, and he dedicated his life to the proclamation of that cross. When he met with opposition from those who saw it as an "idle boast" he declared, "I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith."

Evidence of the transforming power of the cross is seen chiefly in the changed lives of people who have met the Christ of the cross, and by His grace have submitted in repentance and faith. As Paul says in today's text, when "the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.... a new creation is everything." this is illustrated most clearly in the lives of the heroes of the faith. Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the church, became Paul, the servant of Jesus Christ, missionary to the world when he met the Christ of the cross. Augustine the intellectual skeptic, the pleasure seeker, became the devout theologian and leader of the Church when he met the Christ of the cross. Francis of Assisi, wealthy playboy, soldier and merchant, became a pious monk and reformer of the church when he met the Christ of the Cross. The same was true for Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley; and for the contemporary heroes of the faith, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All were transformed by the power of the cross.

But, I would like to focus today upon the power of the cross to change the lives of ordinary people. Let me tell you about one such transformed life, a person I shall never forget:

Her name was Lena - Lena Schultz. She lived in a tar paper shack, just outside the city limits, in my home town in Minnesota. Folks in the better houses down the street considered her homely and unattractive - her dresses hung on her gangly frame like clothing on a scarecrow. Several teeth were missing, and her face and arms often bore the marks of bruises when her husband returned home in a drunken stupor and beat her. It was not strange that she had no friends. Hers was a sad and lonely life.

I was 12 when I first met Lena. I was her paper boy and she was the last customer on my route. By the time I reached her home on those frigid winter afternoons, I was cold and tired. Slogging along through snow drifts with the heavy newspaper sack on my shoulders, I would look longingly at the front windows of my customers' homes, hoping that someone would invite me in for a few minutes to warm up. It never happened. That is, it never happened until I reached the tar paper shack. There I could see, through the tiny window, the frost freshly scraped away, the face of Lena Schultz, peering out into the distance, awaiting my arrival. The ritual was always the same. She would fling open the door, welcome me with a big smile, remove my heavy jacket, scarf, cap and gloves, and set me down at the kitchen table. There we would sit, a 12 year old shivering newspaper boy, soaking up the warmth of her pot bellied stove, and an elderly, lonely, somewhat eccentric woman, drinking hot chocolate and eating a cookie or a piece of freshly baked cake.

Years passed, and I confess that I had almost forgotten about my childhood friend. Then one day, I received in the mail, a strange package. My sister had been cleaning out our parental home following the death of our parents, and discovered a small book with my handwriting. It was a five-year diary, given to me as a Christmas present when I was 12 years old.

Eagerly I opened it and began to read. There were entries for a few days - references to skiing, weather and the like - but the repetition apparently proved too boring, and the records ceased after one week. As I continued to flip through the pages until I reached the back of the book, I was surprised to discover an interesting record - an itemized list of cash gifts I had received from my paper route customers that year.

As I read the names, the locale of my old paper route, Wilson Avenue, stretched out in my mind's eye before me. I could see the faces of customers from long ago and the houses they lived in. The cash gifts were usually small. After all, these were the depression years and money was scarce. Most gifts were a dime, a few were a quarter, and there were two entries for 50 cents. Then I turned the page to read the name of the last customer on my route, Lena Schultz. Her gift was one dollar.

How ironic. The largest gift from the poorest person. I recall that I wondered at the time how she could be so kind and generous to me in the midst of her own poverty and suffering. I was soon to find out.

My father, who was a barber, accepted the invitation of one of his customers, a new preacher in town, to attend an evening service in his store front church. Dad invited me along. It was my introduction to gospel songs, and I was impressed by the spirited singing of the small congregation in this poor neighborhood. At one point I looked around to see who might be in attendance, and there was Lena Schultz, Bible on her lap and hymnal in her hand, a bright smile on her face, singing her heart out.

Suddenly it all became clear. We had been singing the Gospel hymn, "There is power, power, wonder working power, in the blood of the lamb." Lena had met the Christ of the Cross, and her life was transformed. She loved Jesus, and sharing was a natural part of her life. In her own way, Lena was in league with the widow who gave her last penny, the woman who lavished her love upon Jesus with expensive perfume, and the Macedonian Christians who gave "beyond their means."

Lena is typical of the many dedicated Christians in our congregations today who have tasted fully of the love of Christ in the cross, and cannot help but pass that love on. In the spirit of the Lena Schultzes of this world, we seek no credit or adulation, for we say with Paul in the words of today's text, "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." The power to transform our lives is rooted in that cross and our experience of the Christ we meet there. Out of the reality of repentance and faith flows the love of Christ in forgiveness, compassion for others and the assurance of life eternal.

This is our claim - life flows out of death. The cross and the resurrection lie at the center of our life as Christians. With Paul we say, "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is no idle boasting. It is the truth by which we live, by which we serve, in which we die and in which we shall live again! Of this cross, it is a time to boast!

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