Each year at Trinity Christian College, Chaplain Bill Van Groningen enters into an extensive discernment process with student leaders to determine the theme that will guide campus worship in its many forms over the coming year. For 2018-2019, the theme is “Take up your cross. Live into your resurrection,” growing out of Jesus’s words in Mark 8:34: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
As I am in Indonesia this semester, obviously I am not able to participate in worship in Trinity. Our church home in Indonesia, however, is the Malang English Service, which meets on Sunday afternoons at the nearby Wesley International School. And it’s the kind of place where someone may get up and say, as someone did on February 18, “A lot of people will be out of town next week, and we don’t yet have someone to preach next Sunday. If you can, please let us know after the service.” Which is how I found myself preaching on February 25.
My first step in planning was to go to the assigned readings for the day in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Second Sunday in Lent (Year B) to know what the Bible readings for the sermon would be. (Malang English Service does not use the Revised Common Lectionary, but our home church, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Oak Lawn, IL, does.) And I found that the Gospel reading was Mark 8:31-38 and that my sermon would focus on Trinity’s worship theme, “Take up your cross. Live into your resurrection.”
Because one theme of this blog is connections between Trinity and Indonesia, I have decided to share the sermon here. Different than a usual blog post, but I hope worth reading.
Second Sunday in Lent, Year B, February 25, 2018
Malang English Service
Mark 8:31-38 (all Bible passages from the English Standard Version)
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Thanks be to God.
Today’s Gospel reading is the well-known passage in which Jesus explains to the disciples his coming rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection. Peter, in typical Peter fashion, thinks he knows better and tells Jesus so. But Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God.” Jesus then tells more people about the way of the cross: notice how he gathers the crowd to him along with his disciples. And Jesus’s message to them is the message of the cross: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Martin Luther identified what he called a theology of the cross as central to the true Gospel message. Not only the fact that Jesus’s death and resurrection are the very heart of the Gospel, which of course they always are, but also that it is only on the cross that we find Jesus. If we are looking for Jesus, if we are looking for salvation, we must look to the cross. Robert Kolb explains Luther’s theology of the cross in this way:
“God at his most glorious, in his display of the extent of his mercy and love for his human creatures, appears, Luther believed, in the depth of the shame of the cross. There he is to be seen as he really is, in his true righteousness, which is mercy and love. There human beings are to be seen as those who deserve to die eternally but who now through baptismal death have the life Christ gives through his resurrection.” (Robert Kolb, “Luther on the Theology of the Cross,” Lutheran Quarterly 16 (2002): 452.)
So on this Second Sunday in Lent, as we look ahead to Holy Week and Good Friday, we see Jesus going to the cross. And he is going for us, for our salvation. And he invites likewise to this life of death that leads to resurrection, to likewise take up our crosses and follow him from death to new life: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
In our church’s communion liturgy, we proclaim: “Great is the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” This is a great mystery: Jesus Christ, the very Son of God and Lord of all creation, became a man so that he could suffer and die in our place to save us from our sins. To put it in Luther’s terms, salvation is through Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. To God alone be the Glory. This simple reminder is the heart of our Gospel message for today: we are saved through the cross of Jesus Christ, by taking up our cross and dying with him and being raised with him.
So how should we respond? Our other readings today help us with that. I propose that these readings provide us with two responses: we should believe, and we should worship.
First, in light of the salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection, we believe.
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Thanks be to God.
So our first response is the response of faith. Like Abraham, we believe God’s promises. Listen again to this account of Abraham’s faith and of our faith, also:
20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Abraham believed that God could do what he promised. And Abraham believed that God would do what he promised. And this God in whom Abraham believed is the same God who says to us: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Who says to us: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Who says to us: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15). Who says to us: “[Righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25).
So how do we respond to God’s promise? How do we respond to a theology of the cross that promises salvation through the dying and rising of Jesus Christ? Believe it. Be fully convinced that God can do what he has promised. And be fully convinced that God will do what he has promised. And in so doing, we share the faith of Abraham. And it will be counted to us as righteousness.
So first, we respond in faith. We believe. And second, we respond in worship. For this point we turn to our Psalm for today.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.
Thanks be to God.
This is the response of worship: You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! All the ends of the earth shall turn to the Lord, all the families of the nations shall worship. Worship is our response to who God is and to what God has done. And the primary thing we do in worship is to name those things. In our worship—which includes our singing and our speaking and our praying and our giving and our preaching—we proclaim who God is, and we proclaim what God has done.
Psalm 22 is an overflowing proclamation of worship in response to who God is and what God has done. And at its heart, this is a psalm that particularly praises God for his salvation: praise him, glorify him, stand in awe of him. Why? Because he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, but has heard, when he cried to him.
Praise God, for he has delivered the afflicted one, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God delivers us from sin and death and to abundant and eternal life. What could we do but praise him? What could we do but proclaim: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again? What could we do but proclaim: How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure? What could we do but proclaim, as we will for all eternity: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive blessing and honor and glory and power? We respond with worship.
To summarize, my message from today’s readings so far has been threefold:
- Our salvation is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- We respond in faith: we believe it.
- We respond in worship: we proclaim it.
I conclude with two final points about these responses to the death and resurrection of Jesus:
- Both our faith and our worship are gifts from God.
- Both our faith and our worship are communal actions.
First, our faith is a gift from God. Taking up our cross, having faith like Abraham: these sound like they’re up to our hard work, like they depend on us. But that’s not the case. We can only do these things, we can only believe, because God first gives us faith: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Both the disciples and the crowd in our Gospel reading were there because Jesus called them. Abraham was called by God first, then his faith grew. God has called us to be his children and saved us by his grace. Yes, we need to respond, we need to believe. But we believe because God has called us.
Our worship is also a gift from God. In our own selves, we are not capable of responding to God in faith or in worship. But God graciously grants us faith and enables us to worship him. I love how this is expressed in Psalm 22: “From you comes my praise” (repeat). We offer God our worship as a response to who he is and what he has done. And we can do so because God has created us to worship him, because God has revealed himself to us, because God has named us as his children and redeemed us, because God has called us to worship him.
So both our faith and our worship are gifts from God that we offer back to him in gratitude and love. And, finally, both our faith and our worship are communal actions. Yes, we need to believe for ourselves. Yes, we ourselves need to worship God. But we never do so by ourselves. We do so as the people of God of all times and places.
All three of our readings today are wonderfully communal. In Mark, Jesus taught his disciples about his coming death and resurrection. When they didn’t understand, he called more people into the conversation: “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said . . .”
And while the faith of Abraham may seem like an individual thing, it most certainly is not. First, we know that God called not only Abraham, but Abraham and Sarah and their family. And listen to the wonderful plurals in Romans 4, plurals of community:
the promise to Abraham and his offspring
to all his offspring . . . Abraham, the father of us all
not for his sake alone, but for our also . . . to us who believe . . . for our trespasses . . . for our justification.
And Psalm 22 expands this to the entire earth, to all peoples and nations, and even to future generations, to those who haven’t even been born yet:
You who fear the Lord . . . All you offspring of Jacob, all you offspring of Israel
the great congregation . . . those who fear him . . . those who seek him
All the ends of the earth . . . all the families of the nations.
All the prosperous . . . all who go down to the dust.
Posterity . . . the coming generation . . . to a people yet unborn.
So if you would take up your cross and follow Jesus, if you would identify with the dying and rising of Jesus Christ, God’s Word today reminds of us of two things this means: first, we live lives of faith, believing God’s promises; second, we live lives of worship, proclaiming who God is and what he has done for us. God’s Word also reassures us that we do not take up such cross bearing alone: God graciously grants us the gifts of faith and of worship, and in such faith and worship we join together with all of God’s people of all times and all places, all those heirs of Abraham “who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Thanks be to God.
Loving God, we love you because you first loved us.
Faithful God, we believe that you can and will keep your promises, for you have granted us the faith to believe.
Worthy God, we worship you, for from you comes our praise.
Generous God, grant us the grace to live our lives in response to the mercy and love that you have poured out upon us through the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.