- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Marcia Cox at Augustana Lutheran Church in the District of Columbia.

In Sunday school today, we read the story about the death of Christ. Do you know how hard it is to sell the cross to little ones? People look at the cross and see death. We see the darkest part of humanity.
And yet we say the cross is the light of world. You can see why evangelism is so difficult. Evangelism is not difficult because we've had people on television with long eyelashes, or who asked for money. It's difficult because it means going out in the neighborhood and telling how great God is.
We usually market on the strengths. We say, "Come because we have the best preacher this side of the Mississippi," or "the best choir this side of the Pacific." We present strengths. We don't say, "Come to worship so you can write checks until your pen runs dry," or "It's going to make you block out months on your calendar with, 'For service to Jesus Christ.' " …
When we look at the cross, we see our sinfulness, whether we want to or not. We see "the night that Jesus was betrayed." Judas turned against Jesus because he wanted an activist, someone who would go out on the streets, sleep in shelters, call for dramatic social change. We have Peter, who for three years was convinced that following Jesus was the way to God. But that night he fled. When asked about Jesus, he said, "I don't even know Him." It was denial. And we think of James and John. They could not even stay awake.
There was betrayal and bickering around that table on Jesus' last night, and aren't we just like them? We say, "Sure, we are Christians, Lutheran Christians who believe in grace." Then we go out and make demands on people. We live on a part-time faith. But when we take God seriously, that is what the cross is all about.
In the cross we are reminded of our sinfulness, just as food reminds us of our hunger. I don't know how many of you looked at the cross for any length of time, but you start to think, "This salvation is judgment." This judgment is worse than the Old Testament's eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. It is worse than any fundamentalist judgment and fear of hell. The judgment of the cross is the judgment of grace.
On the night Jesus was betrayed, He said, "Take my body. Take my blood. I love you dearly." We are loved when we are at our most unlovable. Christ on the cross shows what sinners we are, but also how loved we are. When we gather around the [Communion] table, we become the cross to the world. Left to our own devices, we fall short every time. We turn love into libido. We turn our God-given talents into wanting to have more. "God I don't have enough."
We turn the church into a political organization with cliques. We open the Bible and draw chalk lines on Democrat or Republican, gay people, women, African-Americans, and then we say, "Maybe you're in, maybe you're out." The Bible is not a place to draw chalk lines, it is a library of God's incredible faithfulness to us.
We turn Christianity into morality. We focus on how we behave, when faith is more about what God is doing for us. Jesus died for you. At baptism, I put that cross on your forehead and called you by name. Christianity is God's call to us, and our morality is our response to God… . What do we do in relationships? Do we abuse people, or look at those with whom we live and worship and say, "You are a gift from God"? The cross calls us to respond to God in this way.
You've seen cartoons where Bugs Bunny eats something and the shape stuck out in his neck. We, the church, eat the cross, so we are in the shape of the cross. And it says to people that we want more of God's will done today than yesterday. More of God's earth, air and sea returned to how God created it. More that people love and forgive, and less that they judge and hate. That's what it is to be a cross-shaped people.
Next week: a sermon by Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Toward Tradition.

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