2017/07/30/Pentecost 8-A/Marks of Church-Cross/Community Lutheran/Pr. Joe Vought
Today is the last Sunday of our sermon series, “Marks of the Church.” Martin Luther taught us to see the church through seven marks: where the Word of God is proclaimed and taught, where new Christians are Baptized and strengthened by the Lord’s Supper. It is where we Worship, Confess Sins and Receive Forgiveness. Last week Pr. Annabelle and I sang and preached about Ordained Ministry, which insures the Gospel is proclaimed, sacraments are done and all of you, are strengthened for your ministries. The last mark of the church Luther said is the Cross and Suffering.
Now maybe you are thinking, “Do we really have to go there? Bring back the singing pastors and the Jen Quinones musical revue.” But we have already begun by making the sign of the cross and recalling our Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Confession we asked God to forgive us and make us new people by the Holy Spirit. When we sing the first hymn the cross goes before us and we listen to the cross-shaped story of Jesus in the Word and see Christ at the Table. When worship ends the cross leads us into the world as we go in peace to serve. Reading Scripture always call us into the life of God that is different from the world. Solomon confesses he is only a child and prays for wisdom to discern between good and evil, God responds, “Because you have not asked for yourself, for long life or riches or the life of your enemies, I give you a wise and discerning mind.” This is what we expect from our leaders, wisdom, humility and discernment. The Psalmist prays, “Order my footsteps in your word.” St. Paul ponders life’s changes: hardship, distress, persecution, peril or sword, yet confidently declares, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” The parables of Jesus proclaim the mystery of God’s kingdom like a seed that dies yet God’s kingdom comes.
You and I know we live in a world that would have us believe another story. “Take care of number #1, Get all you can while you can. Whoever has the most toys at the end wins. Play to win, How to become a Millionaire.” It is fine to enjoy life but we do not live for ourselves at the expense of others. The Bible calls that sin. St. Augustine described our sin-filled habits “incurvatus in se,” “lives turned-in on themselves.” Before he became a Christian he lived a wild life. He once said, “Dear Lord, make me chaste but not yet.”
Martin Luther was urged to become a successful lawyer. But in the Middle Ages where reminders of sin, death and devil were constant, he was in mortal peril for his life and eternal life. He entered a monastery where the Church prescribed spiritual exercises, a kind of do-it-yourself program to please God. Luther tried but could never experience God’s grace. Each of us will strive for fulfillment. But the fact is each of us will confront our own way of sorrows. We are all interim and the death rate is still 100%. Those we love pass-on and we all will bear some suffering and the cross. “When life is meaningless and one is drowning in despair, do-it-yourself faith will not work. The God of the Bible is a lover who offers ‘good news’ in Christ. Luther rediscovered this and called it the ‘theology of the cross’ because Jesus is the only true source of knowledge about God we have. God enters the world as a baby, born of a refugee named Mary, lives an ordinary life as the man Jesus of Nazareth and dies on a cross, a sign of God’s never-ending love.” Luther said, “A Christian lives, eats, works, does what he has been commanded to do. He also suffers whatever comes. For his ears hang on the voice of the Good Shepherd, and he trains himself not to judge by what he experiences but by what the voice and Word says. Our theology is certain, because it is not about us, it about the promises of God who cannot deceive.”
We are human beings invited by God to experience joy with others and to discover within the limits of our lives compassion for others and our true humanity. We are asked to say “yes” to this amazing journey from birth to death and find in each stage some new depth and wonder. We are asked to savor life, not hoard it, to pray “give us this day our daily bread…” and trust God for the final outcome. I love the story of the boy whose dog died. He asked his father, “Why do things die?” The father answered, “To teach us compassion and that life is precious.”
We are a Community of the Cross after Christ who showed us how to be human and Godly. We rejoice with one another in triumphs and we know what it is to comfort each other in our sorrows. We know what it is to be a community of prayer and love: we commune our home-bound, visit the sick and send Stephen Ministers. We baptize people into Christ for a lifetime of dying and rising. We teach/form our children and youth in the way of Jesus. We bless and send college students and support young people in their life’s vocations. We sanctify marriages, support families and single people and pray with each other through all the changes of a lifetime. We bless and send those who move away. We grieve with those whose loved ones die. We believe God made us, God loves us and as we take up our crosses we believe that Christ is walking beside us. This is our faith and nothing will separate us from his love. Why? Because Christ goes before us to make all things new. Thanks be to God. Amen.