By Pastor Sean Esterline, Messiah Lutheran Church, Evansville
Sermon based on John 13:31-35.
Dear friends in Christ, it’s often difficult for Christians to get past the idea that those who have given themselves to the Lord should be treated a little better than the average woman or man who doesn’t possess a living faith. In other words, there ought to be some kind of return for what you’ve done for God, for what you’ve given in time, energy and money. That doesn’t sound outrageous, does it? In this ‘you get what you deserve’ world, you really ought to be rewarded. As harmless as that sounds, it is the first step toward a theology of glory. The theology of glory is a big thing on the religious scene today. But it sounds better than it is. The theology of glory suggests that if you are really a Christian (and you ought to be able to dig up some kind of ‘proof’ that you are), then things are almost certain to go better for you in nearly every area of your life. You will go from one success to another, because God will pamper you, providing one goody after another, rewarding you for being a disciple. That’s the way it will be, in our individual lives and for the church in this world. In other words, it pays to be a Christian. But what happens when things don’t work out that way? When the pay-off doesn’t come? What happens when health or wealth or success are always outside our reach? What happens when things go the other way, giving us pain and trouble and weakness? What a terrible turn our faith-life can take. How can you rectify misfortune and suffering with being a Christian?
The first century Christians were often confronted with that same problem. Instead of living vital, sun-tanned lives brimming over with prosperity, they experienced persecution. Deadly and daily persecution. Not only did that mean hardship and suffering, but it really surprised them. They thought God should treat them better than that. And they’re not the only ones. We still think that way too. After we’ve committed our new life to God and used our gift of faith, we think that what we’ve done ought to be worth something. But then life suddenly takes a turn for the worse, and we begin to wonder about this whole business. Obviously something’s not right. Maybe we’ve attached ourselves to the wrong religion. Maybe none of it is true. It sure doesn’t look like it, not the way things are going. Often when something goes wrong, we say, “This just isn’t my day.” The assumption seems to be that everything ought to go our way, and if it doesn’t, we feel victimized. When life doesn’t seem to be working out the way we want it to, when we are foiled and frustrated and don’t get the recognition we think we deserve, or when illness or hardship comes, then we start saying things like “maybe we don’t understand what the Bible means.” Maybe we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Maybe our church hasn’t taught us the right stuff, or maybe we don’t believe enough, or aren’t sincere enough. Maybe we’re not good enough. Maybe all that biblical stuff about Jesus Christ and His love isn’t true. So we’re tempted to dump the whole business. Isn’t it supposed to pay to be religious, to be a Christian? Let’s go to our gospel for this morning and take a look at it.
The setting is the upper room just before Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas has just left to finalize plans for his betrayal of Christ. Our Lord turns to the disciples and says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.” And from there he goes out to be arrested like a common criminal, to be publicly flogged and ridiculed, and finally to be subjected to utter humiliation, as they hang him stark naked on a cross. That’s some kind of glory. That’s more than enough to blow our minds because to our way of thinking, what Jesus experienced is about as far from glory as you can get. In fact, the whole thing begins to sound pretty scary. Scary, because according to the Bible, our way of being in the world is supposed to be like Christ’s. We are also called to serve under the sign of the cross. But, to ask the good biblical and Lutheran question, What does that mean?
To answer, there’s a story about a young farm boy who came out of his house and heard a commotion by the chicken coop. He ran quickly and found a hen being savagely attacked by a large hawk. He stopped, picked up a stick, and ran to the hen’s defense, but he was too late; as the hawk flew off, the hen collapsed. The boy looked sadly at the dying hen wondering why the hen hadn’t flown to the safety of the chicken coop that was only a few feet away. Then he saw, from under the wings of the dead hen came four little chicks and on each one of them was a mark of blood, the blood of a loving mother who sacrificed herself for their salvation. The sacrifice was one of suffering love for her children. God’s sacrifice was the same, because Jesus gave his life for his children—He died so that we could live.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we see that we, too, are a marked people, marked by the blood of the Lamb of God who was crucified for us and gave himself in suffering love that we might be saved. On our Spiritual birthday, we were marked in baptism as the pastor made the sign of the cross upon our forehead. So we are sealed by the Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. What do you think the cross is a sign of? The cross is the sign of suffering love. That is the power we have. Christians who are Christ’s body in this world have the power of suffering love—the glory of Christ’s death and resurrection. There are easier routes to travel in our world. The easiest way is just to hang on, to hang on to what is ours, to hang on to privilege, to hang on to life, and to protect ourselves: from involvement, from caring, from suffering, from crosses. It’s not hard to understand why so many are tempted to buy in to the theology of glory these days because it’s the same old success story; if you are good, God will bless you with health and wealth, the whole ball of wax, everything your heart desires. But we are the baptized. We are marked by the glory of the cross. That is where we received our identity. That is where we were called to be God’s children in this world.
Of course if God bowed to our whims and rewarded the religious in terms of the depth of their faith, it would make it much easier to stand in judgment of one another. We could preach to the sick, like Job’s friends, that if only they would repent of their sins, they would be made well. We could pounce on the poor with self-righteous indignation and inform them that success follows commitment to Jesus Christ; the better you are, the better God likes you, and the more you are given. This is a horrible heresy. Imagine reducing God’s steadfast love to a merited favor, a favor which the Lord trickles into our lives in proportion to our faithfulness or how well we are behaving ourselves. It’s like accusing a Mother of being selfish, or playing favorites, or only loving her children when they’re ‘good’ or when they ‘obey’ her. That wouldn’t be love at all. That would be a perversion of everything a Mother stands for.
Given the difficult and poverty stricken lives of the early Christians, it was soon clear to them that the world’s theology of glory stood in stark contrast to the glory of the cross. As Paul discovered: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Consider your call, not many of you were wise, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are (1 Corinthians 1:18, 26-28).”
Obviously the glory to which we are called is a strange kind of glory, rooted not in our goodness but in God’s faithfulness, and characterized not by success but by servant-hood, not by golden health but by ready helpfulness. The desire for the things that mark privilege and success in this world and the quest for health are all dangerous temptations that threaten our ability to see the kind of life in Christ God really has in mind for us. Again, we ask the good question, what does this mean? And again, a short story illustrates the point:
This concept is illustrated very clearly in the story of Horville Sash. Horville had a very humble job in the offices of the largest corporation of the world. He worked as the go-fer in the lowest reaches of the building doing what he could to help other people do their jobs, but often he wondered and thought about the floor just above his. Then came a day when Horville saw a bug scurrying across the floor. As the mail room clerk, Horville had only bugs to command – to bully. He raised his foot to flatten the helpless speck. “Spare me.” The bug spoke. A speaking bug? Horville spared the bug. His reward: a wish. “I wish to be promoted to the second floor.” Granted. Horville’s boss told him that same day. Horville marched to the second floor like MacArthur and Patton rolled into one. Wait. Horville heard footsteps on the ceiling of floor number two. There was a third floor. A higher level meant higher wages, more power. He went back to the bug and asked to be promoted again. The next day, Horville rose to the third floor job of sales coordinator. But he wasn’t satisfied, he now knew there were other floors, many others and the promotions were like kerosene to a flame. He went to the 10th floor, then to the 20th, the 50th, the 70th. Horville sat by the indoor pool on floor 96. The next day Horville discovered, and it was only by chance, a stairway leading up – to another floor? He scrambled up the stairs. He was on the roof. He was now the highest, the most powerful. Content. Horville headed for the stairway. Just as he turned to go back down to his office he saw a boy near the edge of the building with his eyes closed. “What are you doing?” “Praying.” “To whom?” The boy answered, pointing a finger skyward, “To God.” Panic gripped Horville. Was there a floor above him? He couldn’t see it. Just clouds. He couldn’t hear the shuffling of feet. “Do you mean there’s an authority above me?” “Yes.” The bug was summoned, “Make me like God. Make me like the highest,” he said. “Put me in the type of position that only God would hold if he were on earth.” The very next day, Horville began work as a go-fer in the basement.
On this Mother’s Day we can also celebrate the glory of God: that he came to love us and serve us. His work was as a go-fer in the basement of this world. God came to identify with the lonely, the outcasts, the poor and the powerless. And it is our glory to live like him. But where, and how do we live like Him? Another story to illustrate: A father overheard his two sons playing church. One of them was explaining to the other what all the parts of the liturgy were about. “Do you know what it means at the end of the service when the pastor does this?” he asked, making the sign of the cross. The boy answered, “It means some of you go out this way, and some of you go out that way.” In a way, the boy was right. The cross sends us and scatters us out into the world. Someone has said that the really important thing for any church is not how many it seats but how many it sends. And it sends us with a strange-looking power, the greatest power the world has ever known, the power of suffering love. So we are sent, you and I, sent to live out our Lord’s kind and misunderstood grace and we are sent with the glory of being marked with the cross, a strange-looking glory sought by few, but the only true glory—God’s glory, shining in our lives, because we are forgiven of all our sins, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
By Pastor Sean Esterline, Messiah Lutheran Church, Evansville
- Debbie Koester Reed on Sixth River Days hits a home run
- dee on Hunter Education class announced
- jewels on A visit to the other New Harmony, Utah
- Alicer and Charles Christmas on J. Sue Wassmer
- Mark Lacey on Chief Deputy Buchanan retires from Posey Sheriff’s Department
- November 2013 (21)
- October 2013 (23)
- September 2013 (11)
- August 2013 (10)
- July 2013 (29)
- June 2013 (59)
- May 2013 (60)
- April 2013 (229)
- March 2013 (158)
- February 2013 (193)
- January 2013 (192)
- December 2012 (69)
- November 2012 (143)
- October 2012 (158)
- September 2012 (152)
- August 2012 (151)
- July 2012 (191)
- June 2012 (129)
- May 2012 (71)
Popular TopicsAlexandrian Public Library American Legion APL BBQ CDC Community Center Crafts Club Deaconess Hospital Evansville Gibson Southern Harmonie State Park Historic New Harmony Indiana INDOT Kiwanis Lady Vikings Lady Wildcats Main Street Maple Hill Cemetery Mater Dei Matthew Catholic Church Mount Vernon MSD MVHS New Harmony New York North Elementary North Posey Posey Posey County Posey County News Poseyville Purdue Extension Red Cross Reunion Southern Indiana Tell City United Methodist Church United Way University USI Viking Vikings Wadesville WMI