Disclaimer: I have written this quickly during a gut-wrenching week. I did some study of course as I prepared this, but at present, I cannot recall which words are mine and which may (or may not be) someone else's. So I must credit the good folks at Luther Seminary for an exceptional podcast this week. And thanks to all the staff and faculty and students there for as I wrote, I heard the voices of dozens who have taught me by word, by action, and by faith.
A sermon for the people of Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Happy Holy Cross Sunday! This is our day here at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. This is a day which is set aside by the church to celebrate our most visible symbol as a Christian community...especially here in this place where we have adopted this symbol as our name. Holy Cross. A symbol so central to our identity as Christians in the world that we have placed it all over our sanctuary, our books, some of us wear them as a statement of public proclamation…or maybe just as a personal reminder.
The cross itself has become a public symbol and because of its widespread reach and accessibility, it has actually lost its meaning. In this society where pop stars writhe on stage wearing crosses with the image of Jesus on them, where you are supposed to use it to help select your window washer (right? that’s how you pick? the guy who has a cross emblazoned on the tailgate of his pickup truck?) In today’s culture, the cross has NO meaning. Except that which we assign it.
So I wonder…what does the cross mean to you? Not what did they teach you in confirmation last year or sixty years ago…not what does it mean to Pastor Susan…not what does the church say, but what does it mean to YOU??
When you look at the cross how do you feel? sad? repentant? loved? victorious? right?
Take a minute or two. Turn to your neighbor and talk about that…what does the cross mean to YOU? Pretty sure there’s no right or wrong answer here. There is certainly no test as you exit the sanctuary…what does the cross mean to you?
The cross is a really weird symbol for a people who proclaim love, isn’t it? Because the cross is an instrument of torture. It involves death. It involves the very worst humanity has come up with to destroy one another in body and in spirit. In the time of Jesus of Nazareth, the cross was reserved for insurrectionists…traitors to Rome…and was set aside for the most despised criminals. The cross was a means of public execution. To modernize the imagery for you, if Jesus was executed within the last century, we might be wearing electric chairs or hypodermic needles on our gold chains or screen printed across the back of our tshirts. A grim and grotesque symbol indeed.
Our Savior was hung upon that cross. And as we look at it, we as Christians, continue to hang upon that symbol all of the things we do all of the time to Christ…all of the ways we continue to hurt God…not by failing to believe in God’s presence enough but by how we deal with our relationships...by how we deal with one another…especially in the name of Jesus Christ. By ignoring the needs of one another. Or by the words we choose…or by the words we choose not to speak.
The cross shows us what it is for God to be involved in the world. This is a counter-cultural thing really. In today’s world, we are told that if we believe hard enough, pray hard enough, study the Bible hard enough, we will be redeemed. In the culture which holds up the theology of Glory, we hear that God is with those who help themselves, who think positively, who bear the heartaches quietly understanding that the bad stuff is just “a test” that there will be great reward if we just keep going…believing hard enough…praying hard enough…working hard enough. But this theology of Glory says that God is present with those who are “worthy”, and so if you are poor, oppressed, marginalized, grief-stricken…you haven’t believed enough for God to be with you.
Here’s the Good News: God is with you. In your worry about paying the bills, in your worry over the injustices in the work place…in your worry over having a work place, in the ways society says you aren’t welcome because your grammar is less than perfect, because you don’t have a PhD, because your car is falling apart; God is with you in your heartbreaking realization that your parents are broken people and can’t love you in the ways you need to be loved, in the miserable space where you are so shattered over the death of a beloved that you can’t speak without breaking down…silenced by grief.
And rest assured, for all of the ways and times that you feel less than…there are dozens of other people who feel the same way…who are told by society and by Joel Osteen that if you pull yourself up, sprinkle yourself with fairy dust (“I believe Peter Pan! I believe I can fly!”), and just think the right way (Happy thoughts, right?)…God will bless you and things will be great.
Heh. God blesses you anyway. In the times you are unworthy, too poor, too sick, too tired, too heartbroken. God blesses all those other people anyway. God is with you, and God is with them, too. God wants to rescue those people…the marginalized, the homeless, the poor, the oppressed, the unloved and unlovable…and guess who does the doing…who does the rescuing? We do. By the grace and power of God, we rescue one another.
“Your heart, my hands, O God. Your words, my lips, O God.”
We are the hands and feet of Christ in this world, and the call to honor the cross is a call to participate in God’s mission in this world.
God is with those people. And God is with you.
God is in the dark and the scary and the suffering. And the promise of the cross is not the promise of glory. It is the promise of despair. That to wear the cross is to bear it…to resume the work of the kingdom of God right here, right now.
The promise of the cross is that this world and all of its misery is simply unavoidable. But also, the promise of the cross is that we do not dwell in it alone. That death does not have the final word. The cross points beyond itself to life with God both in this hard, hard world and in the world to come.
The promise of the cross is that we do not walk alone. We have God. And God gives us one another. That we do not shoulder the burdens of this world in solitude. The promise of the cross is that Jesus was and is and will be here on this earth. Indwelling with us in our suffering, in our joy, in our life, and in our death. In things past, in things present, and in things to come.