Living Under the Cross

March 4, 2012 at 8:09 am Leave a comment

I remember reading an article once
about the large megachurches that were going up like shopping malls
around large cities in the 1980s and 1990s.
They had everything –
thousands of individual padded seats,
wide enough to fit even the Goliaths among God’s children,
coffee bars and food courts,
stages and screens and sound systems
which would be the envy of theatres anywhere.
Everything but the cross and the altar in central place.

In at least one rising megachurch,
it was asked where the cross was.
‘When people come here,
we don’t want them to feel like they’re in church,’
the answer came.
‘The cross is a depressing symbol.
We want people to feel good when they come here.’

It would be unfair to judge that person.
We all want to feel good.
It would also be unfair to judge all megachurches by that answer.
But it’s no wonder that some of those churches,
carefully packaged to the taste of the American consumer,
have a shelf-life like any other consumer product.
It may or may not interest you to know
that Salona and St Paul Lutheran Churches
will probably outlast the great and mighty Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.
Ownership of the building has passed to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange,
and in three years it will become the cathedral of the Diocese.

Well now.
I suppose that’s enough superiority for one day.
Lutherans of course, are proud (but not too proud!)
We historically have known that the point of church and life
was not to make you ‘feel good.’
Now some of us have interpreted that to mean that the point was to make us feel bad.
That’s not quite what Jesus meant.
Not at all.
Jesus’ cross, and the cross he enjoins upon all his followers,
is not simply a punishment laid upon us,
as if being told all our lives that Jesus took away the sin of the world
we were then told that we had to bear our punishment with a pious look.

The one who wants communion with God,
to live in covenant with God,
upon that one a cross will be laid
by a world still in thrall to the satanic promises
of a quick way, an easy way, one’s own way.

Last week, we heard that after his baptism
Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
In Mark, we are not told of the content of the Satanic temptation
until this point.
A life keeping covenant with God
will incur the wrath of the world.
Jesus has already accepted that,
but now he must show his disciples.

It is now that Peter has answered the question, “Who do you say that I am,”
with “You are the Messiah,”
that Jesus can tell his disciples the second part of the mystery;
that the life of the Messiah is suffering, death, and resurrection.
Real suffering, real death, real resurrection.
Peter can’t bear to hear it.
Neither can we.
We try and keep suffering and death as far away as possible.
Isn’t that obvious?

But in Christ,
God entered into our suffering and our death.
In Christ, God himself took our suffering and death
and made it his own,
so that we could have what is God’s own –
the life together of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
In Christ,
God kept covenant with us and with all humanity.
And he did so by walking the way to the cross,
by making his entire life a sharing in the suffering of humanity,
and in that suffering uncovering the joy of being in communion with God.

He calls us to take up our cross and follow him.
What can this mean?
It means that as Christ lived for his Father,
so we live for Christ.
And living for Christ means not living for ourselves anymore.
You are making a sacrifice,
however small,
to be here this day.

You could be doing something else with your time.
Something for you.
Wal-Mart is open.
Your bed, made or unmade, is at home.
The money that you give you could use for yourself.
But you are here, giving glory to God
and hearing his Word.
The cross is usually not splinters of wood,
a heavy beam across your back,
it is being where God calls you to be when he calls you to be there.
And sometimes we’d prefer to carry a beam
than to be where God calls us to be when he calls us to be there.
We have our ears full of the siren song of the world,
with its promises and possibilities and soothing sounds
saying “you can have your best life now”
and cannot hear the still small voice of God
calling us into community with him and with others.

The cross is often not splinters of wood,
a heavy beam across your back;
it is your nearest neighbor
whom you are called to carry;
that neighbor’s sins and sorrows,
that neighbor’s faults and foibles,
that neighbor’s life and death,
in all that person’s givenness.
And that is precisely what a megachurch is designed to avoid.
In a megachurch, you pays your money and you takes your choice,
and you need not encounter anyone whilst you are there.
Least of all God.

In community, Jesus dealt with all his disciples;
the headstrong ones like Peter and James and John,
the misunderstanding ones like Philip and Thomas,
the betraying ones like Judas.
He bore them and forgave them, daily.
We are called to live in community with each other
and with others,
bearing with who they are, forgiving them daily,
as we have been forgiven.
Forgiveness is a much-abused and much-misunderstood term,
but we have often not even tried the life of forgiveness
because we understand that it will involve giving up our natural rights –
to anger, to a life free from anxiety,
to our best life that we determine for ourselves.

By ourselves, we cannot lose our attachments to the world
and we cannot forgive others.
If we have failed to do so,
if with our first steps under the cross, we have fallen,
we join the great company of disciples, Peter first among them,
who have done so.
That is why Jesus’ command, ‘Follow me,’
is so important.
We are called to bear Jesus’ cross in community with him.
With our eyes on him and not on ourselves,
we see him with us,
we lay our burdens on him
who carries every burden,
not so that we can avoid discipleship,
but so that we can know that we are never disciples alone.
We cannot keep covenant with God
without believing that in Jesus Christ God kept covenant with us,
and that the suffering, death, and resurrection
we share with him
is worth more than all the world’s golden store.

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Entry filed under: Lent, Sermons. Tags: , , , , , , .

‘Living in the Covenant’ – audio The Eternal and That Which is Passing Away

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