Holy Cross Day 14 September 2014
(Numbers 21:4b-9 Psalm 98 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 John 3:13-17)
“Lift High the Cross!”
A few months ago when I was away, one Sunday morning I went to church and the sermon was all about the cross—“take up your cross and follow me.” I thought was a good sermon. On my way out of church, I heard two people behind me say to each other, “Boy, wasn’t that the most depressing sermon you ever heard? All he talked about was the cross.”
So, I guess I’m setting myself up this weekend, on this Festival of the Holy Cross, because guess what I’m going to talk about in this sermon!
This is a sermon with three themes.
1.) The cross as the center of our work as a Church.
2.) The cross as the source of our mission.
3.) The cross in one word: grace.
The work of the church is always grounded in the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.
What I mean by that is that, just as on Calvary, Jesus holds firm to his understanding of who he is as Messiah, despite the loneliness and desolation that are exerting tremendous pressure against his self-awareness as Beloved Son of God, thus, in the life of the Church, especially in the midst of things we cannot understand—sickness, tragedy, suffering—we seek to remain rooted in our commitment made at Baptism—that we are beloved children of God. The temptation is very real to renounce our trust and faith in Christ.
We begin our life in the Church by being marked with the cross of Christ forever at Baptism, and so daily the cross reminds us that there is no such thing as cheap discipleship.
There is a no more powerful, radical, turn-the-world-upside-down symbol than the Cross. Like the bronze snake in the desert, a symbol of death becomes the means of life. In the cross we are reminded that there is a new agenda, a unique set of priorities, and a revolutionary hierarchy of values for the Church.
“By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Second, the mission of the church flows not from a command but from a love—and not from our love for God, but from God’s love for us. The cross was the goal of Jesus’ mission. “God so loved the world that he gave His only Son” (John 3:16).
If we believe that Jesus entered the world to go to the cross, and the mission he sends us on takes its characteristics from Him, then it comes as no surprise that Christian mission is never easy, not always glorious, and there are no magic wands. Instead there is sacrifice, hard work, suffering, and faith in God.
So the church goes into the world, with the authority and power of Word and Sacrament, to bring those separated from God to the healing Cross of Christ. Jesus goes with us and shapes us into the commitment required for mission.
I think there is always a tension we Christians live when it comes to the Cross—joy and hope coupled with the realization that outreach requires hard work and sacrifice; and too often disappointment and tears.
If the Cross is the center of our work as a church, then the joy of being saved must spill over, will spill over, into the lives of people everywhere. That is what Pope Francis is saying so boldly in his Encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel. The foolishness of the Cross is that this instrument of torture becomes for us the power of unconditional love. Mission flows from the cross because we are shaped by a commitment, those oftentimes seemingly foolish, to love!
Martin Luther tells us that Jesus on the cross most explicitly shows us the heart of God—compassionate, loving, and forgiving. The Cross shows us the lengths to which God was willing to go to bring broken humanity back to himself. It is that simple and clear—the cross shows that God is love. The Cross gives us the reason, the message, and the urgency for mission.
Finally, I will say that today’s entire Festival is summed up in one word: grace. Grace is the undeserved love God has shown sinful humanity. This love comes through Jesus and Jesus alone. We live confidently—most especially, during difficulties as well as in the face of death—knowing that God is with us and that eternal life awaits us because of what Christ has already accomplished for us. “God so loved the world,” we hear in John, calling forth our faith in this love. Those who believe will have eternal life; that is, those who believe will know God and be known by God.
As we celebrate and exalt the cross of Jesus today, our faith and our love compel us to be more acutely aware of the body of Christ still being crucified.
There are horrors being perpetuated in our world every day. More than 100,000 are dead in Syria, and a despot continues his reign of terror. Yet another brazen torture by ISIS. Children in Brazil sleep under bridges and beg on the streets; they get high so they can endure the torture of hunger, homelessness, and need.
In the developing countries, famine continues to decimate populations, and curable diseases claim lives because people lack the vaccinations they need. Even in opulent countries, there are hungry and homeless….right here I beg you to stay involved with initiatives such as Ruth’s Harvest and Gettysburg C.A.R.E.S.
If we exalt the cross of Christ today, but do not tend to these who are his body, then our celebration is in vain and our prayers are hallow. With God’s grace, let us make our worship honest and true.
With great joy, Christians lift high the cross, sharing the love of the crucified and Risen Christ. It is our work. It is our mission. It is God’s gift in Christ Jesus for the life of the world. Amen.
Holy Cross Day 14 September 2014