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Monday, September 15, 2014


John 3:13-17 

          Anyone who has visited my office will see the many crosses that adorn the walls there. They come in an assortment of sizes and styles. Many of them have been given to me as gifts; I have picked others up in my travels. More of my collection are displayed in my home. While I acknowledge that they are decorative, these crosses also hold a particular meaning for me. They come from different places around the world and among other things, remind me of how God unites us through the cross of Christ, in faith, with people of many tongues and races and cultures.
          Most days when I lead worship, I wear a large cross around my neck. In fact, today I am wearing two crosses; this one that you see, and another, smaller one, that I am wearing over my blouse, under this alb. These crosses, too, hold meaning for me. They are a constant reminder of God’s love, poured out for the salvation of the world. In my mind, they mark me as a Christian. They remind me that I am called and claimed by God.
          I wonder how many of you are wearing a cross this morning? How many may not be wearing one now, but own such a cross? How many display this religious symbol somewhere in your homes?
          While many of us do in fact own, display, or wear the cross, we also acknowledge that the cross has become a fairly ubiquitous symbol in our culture. It is used by many in the public domain, where it may be in vogue but seemingly holds little meaning. How do we reconcile this dichotomy?
For those who believe in Christ, the heart of the Christian message is found in the cross…but as Paul points out, the message proclaimed in the cross makes no sense to those of this world.
          For Paul, “the world” refers to the power of sin and death; for Paul, “the world” hates and persecutes the followers of Jesus; “the world” is unable to receive the Spirit of truth; “the world” does not know the Father. “The world” can’t comprehend how this symbol of torture and death could possibly announce victory for our God.
           Yet, God chose this instrument, that which is seen as foolish, to shame those who think they are wise. God chose weakness displayed by a body beaten and broken and left to die on this instrument of torture, to shame the strong. God uses the cross to undermine the powers that be; the powers that enslave the poor, the lowly, the disenfranchised, and the voiceless. God uses this symbol, this cross, to illustrate that human power, riches, wisdom, strength, and glory are not how God reveals himself to the world. Through this cross, God reminds us that life with God is not a story of promised triumphs and victories but a story instead of failure and sin and God’s compassionate forgiveness of our iniquity. This cross is God’s indictment of the world but also God’s ultimate word of redemption, where Christ meets us in our suffering. We, my friends, are people of the cross.
          Why so much talk today about the cross? Why is it important to note that we are people of the cross? Because today, September 14th, is the date on which the Christian church has, since the year 335, celebrated the “Triumph of the Cross.” For it was on this day in 335 that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was dedicated where tradition holds that Christ actually died. Today is the festival day on which the church exalts, venerates, and celebrates the life-giving cross of Christ through which God defeated the powers of evil and death. It is a day on which we acknowledge the complex combination of darkness and light, violence and peace, death and life that are held in tension on this cross, and we proclaim that in the end, it is Christ’s triumph over sin and death, and his glorious resurrection and ascension that has the last word.
Ultimately, what gives the cross special meaning is not what I think, or what you think or what the church has to say about the cross. What gives the cross meaning, what gives it power as a symbol of our faith, is that God speaks loudly and clearly from the cross, and moves in solidarity with those who suffer, by meeting us on the crossed wooden beams that bore the body of Our Lord, Jesus Christ on Good Friday, giving life to the lifeless, and hope to the hopeless.        
          In our gospel text this morning, we heard words that are usually reserved for Lent, when we are in the midst of our contemplation of the passion of Christ. Yet on this festive day, these words undergird our celebration that the powers of death and the grave give way to life; and not just life, but eternal life. Unending life, given by God at our baptism that beckons to us to live a certain way - the way of the cross, having the same mind as Christ, drawn to God through a love so powerful that its effect is everlasting.
          Verse 16 of the gospel passage is one that many of us know. Perhaps in Sunday school you were even made to memorize it. Perhaps you even learned it in the beautiful language of the King James translation: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
          The love described here is not simply an emotional feeling, a quirk of the heart as we often co-opt that word, “love.” Rather, God’s love is a pouring out of compassion. It finds its completeness in the forgiveness of sin. It bestows unending life that has begun through the incarnational love of God; it calls us to living water, it shines with the light of the world, it is demonstrated through the merciful shepherd who tends his sheep, and it is based in the most trusting of covenantal relationships. Remember, my friends that God is all about relationship. We hear those words all of the time. And in the text this morning, we hear that belief is tied to this relationship with God.
In John’s gospel, there is a lot of talk about belief and believing. In fact, some form of that word is repeated 84 times throughout the gospel written by John. For the evangelist, it is paramount that we understand that belief is not only significant, but essential in the life of a follower of Jesus. Belief is not simply an intellectual exercise or way of knowing Christ... it’s a way of being that colors everything we do, a way of being that is relational at its core.
Believing in Christ means being attentive to the fact that God’s will and agency are not made known primarily through glory or success or “blessedness” as the world defines it; God’s will and solidarity in human life is not revealed primarily in the high moments of life. Rather, God’s will and union with all of creation are made known in suffering.
We live true to God’s will when we, in response to God’s compassion and mercy don’t simply “have” love for one another, but “do” love to one another in the same way God has “done” love to us.
God’s active love to us results in unending life, begun in belief and leading to deep, abiding, meaningful relationship with God built on the foundation of the cross. God actively pursues us in love when, in the push and pull of daily life and in our suffering, Christ meets us, lifts us up and holds us close. This is how and why believing in Christ makes a difference in our lives.
Many of us have known the brokenness of failed relationship, addiction, and the reality of all kinds of failure. Many of us have lost or are in the process of losing loved ones. We have known pain, illness and disappointment. We have concerns about our survival, our finances, our mortality. Through the media, we have observed human suffering on a scale that is truly horrifying.
The cross of Christ makes a difference for all of us who, through the challenges of human existence are assured that eternal life as known through the unending presence of God is real. To have eternal life is to be given life as a child of God, as people of the cross, as those who have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.
It is my hope that when you see or contemplate the cross, you will be reminded of God’s will and agency for a world in need of God’s unending love and mercy. I hope you will endeavor, as Martin Luther advocated, to regularly make the sign of the cross upon your body as a reminder of the one who has claimed and blessed you for a life of faith and love. I hope that when we gather around the table today, you will remember that the body and blood of our Lord, broken and poured out for the forgiveness of sin unites us in relationship with God, with one another, and with the whole world. And I pray that today you remember that such a love transforms us for life defined by God through the victorious cross of Christ. Amen.


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