A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Mary, Mother of Our Lord – August 15, 2004
Text: Galatians 4:4-7
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The text for preaching this morning is from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, where we read: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”
What Paul is describing here is something Martin Luther liked to call the “happy exchange.” Most folks today know it as the “sweet swap.” Whatever you’d like to call it, there’s a cosmic trade being made here, and that trade is what the Christian life is all about. The heart and soul of the Gospel is Jesus’ sweet swap with us.
I know a little bit about trading. When I was twelve, my family bought its first VCR. It was 1987, and VCRs were still somewhat rare; they cost hundreds of dollars, and many families just checked out one of three big video decks from the library. But that summer my dad had gone through his old baseball cards and sold them off, making enough money for our family to buy its own VCR. And in that series of events, I learned that baseball cards could be worth real money.
But it took another series of events – a World Series – to launch me into the world of card collecting myself. That summer the Twins were in hot pursuit of the pennant, and as our new video machine recorded away, I transformed all in one summer into a baseball fan and a collector of cards. That year the Twins celebrated their first world championship, and I marked the occasion with my first complete set of Topps baseball cards.
But I said I knew something about trading. Ah, and it’s true – because 99% of the fun in being a card collector is sitting down with your friends, spreading your cards out on the table, and duking out a fair deal for the card you just haven’t been able to lay hands on yet. To collect baseball cards is to be a trader of baseball cards, and trading with my best friend Erika next door was one of the great joys of my twelve-year-old life.
But don’t you go thinking that it was all sweetness and innocence! When Erika and I got together to trade cards, it was cutthroat through and through. As I said, baseball cards had real value – they were worth real money – and we never traded without a current issue of Beckett Baseball Cards Monthly on the table as our guide. If I wanted that $2.50 Jose Canseco, I’d better be prepared to offer Erika a square deal. Ten nickel cards wasn’t going to cut it.
A square deal. That’s what makes a trade work. Both of the traders need to feel as though they’re getting a square deal, or the trade goes nowhere. Unless the pot is sweet enough on both sides, the swap never happens.
Which makes Jesus’ sweet swap with you pretty remarkable. For Jesus’ part, he offers up for trade everything he has: Freedom. Honor. Wisdom. Life. Even his own relationship with God – his birthright as Son. For your part, you offer up everything you have: Slavery. Shame. Ignorance. Death. Even your own relationship with God – your fear and loathing of him. All these cards are spread across the table between you and Jesus, and everyone can see how far short your cards come. It’s embarrassing, a trade like that; it’s so far from a square deal, it’s insulting. No one in their right mind would even want the junk you’ve got to offer, and yet there it is just the same, laid out alongside Jesus’ cards and looking all the more pitiful by the comparison. It’s not a fair deal – freedom, honor, wisdom, life and adoption in exchange for slavery, shame, ignorance, death and fear – and you know it.
And then, just when you’re about to pack up your sad little cards and call the whole thing off, Jesus says, “Yes. It’s done. Mine for yours.” He takes your hand in his, and the swap is made – the sweet swap. In this moment you are reborn a child of God, with all the honor and wisdom that go with it. Even so, Jesus now must enter into our history, a human child, born of a woman, with all of the shame and ignorance we feel. Through this trade, you are set free from the law that kills and punishes, while Jesus now places himself under that same merciless law, a slave. In the swapping of cards, you have received nothing short of eternal life in God’s house; in exchange, Jesus has taken on your pain and death.
The deal is done; the swap is made. Jesus’ warm hand around your trembling one is the sign that seals the deal. All he has for all you have. It’s the farthest thing from a fair deal the world will ever see, and it’s all for you. The sweet swap.
It makes no sense. The swap is sweet only for you – for Jesus it is nothing but suffering and loss. The cards he held were priceless; yours were worth less than the paper they were printed on. Surely he could see just as well as you could that he was being robbed. Why on earth would he agree to such a trade?
I remember a few times when Erika and I made bad trades, too. We’d look up the values again and again, but according to Beckett the cards just didn’t add up. “Are you sure?” we’d ask, hardly believing our luck that day. “Yep. This looks good. Let’s trade.” And then a smile. We made those lousy trades because we were friends. It was good every so often to offer each other more than we deserved, because it was in those unfair trades freely accepted that our friendship grew. There was a value beyond the cards on the table between us – our love for each other. We were worth more to each other than even the best cards.
That’s how it is between you and Jesus. None of the cards on the table between you is worth as much to him as you yourself are. He makes the sweet swap with you, knowing how much he is losing, because it fills him with joy to know how much you are gaining. And he knows that in the trade, your love for him will grow by leaps.
Jesus has given you everything he has, and he has taken on everything that you had. It’s the least fair trade ever, and – for you – the sweetest swap you could hope for. All this because he loves you. Jesus may not be much of a bargainer, but you’ll never have a better friend. Praise God – his happy exchange has saved us all! Amen.