Sermon – September 9, 2001 – The Power of the Cross

September 9, 2001

Luke 14:25-33

The Power of the Cross

Media mogul Ted Turner is probably one of the most powerful men in the
country. He is the owner of CNN, ESPN, Turner Broadcasting, TNT, and host
of other interests. He has billions and he has pull. He has power. Ted
Turner was once quoted as saying he had no respect for Christianity because
it was a religion for the weak. Christianity is a religion for the weak.

By that I suppose he means that the followers of Jesus are the ones who
would follow a man who was dragged bound, as a prisoner before the powers of
the time and was then nailed to a cross and put to death without a fight.
By that I suppose he means that the followers of Jesus are called upon to
turn the other cheek. By that I suppose he meant that the followers of
Jesus are called upon to identify with the poor and the broken, to seek to
serve rather than to be served. To take, as we heard last week, the lowest
place at the the table. By that I suppose he meant that the followers of
Jesus are those whose calculations are that the goals of power and wealth
and status are of a far lower priority than the goal of faithful service to
humankind, thankful service to God.

I suppose these are among the things that lead him to conclude that
Christianity is a religion for the weak.

In some sense, Ted Turner was right. In some sense he is correct that
Christianity is a religion of the weak, if by what he measures such things
is that the goal is always to win, no matter what the cost, if the goal is
to elevate oneself to the highest point on the horizon, if the goal of life
is to acquire and accumulate more than the next, then, in that sense, he is
right on about Christianity being a religion of the weak.

We have our references to that biblically. For through the weakness of the
cross, the sacrifice of the cross, the giving up of all things for others of
the cross, our faith is born. In that sense he is right. Our faith is
borne out of the one who humbled himself, took on our lives, suffered for us
so that we might be reconciled to God. In the sense that believers don’t
claim all power to themselves, he is right.

Nothing profound about that statement of Ted Turner’s. It’s easy. As
William Willimon, dean of the of the Duke Theological Seminary, says, it is
one of the two forms of disbelief he’s encountered. The first is disbelief
caused by wounds too deep to heal, or a logic unmoved. The second, and this
is where Turner’s disbelief falls, is a disbelief that comes from a failure
of intellectual nerve, the slothful unwillingness to investigate, to risk.”
He says it’s “not so much atheism as a kind of limp agnosticism.” It’s
intellectually lazy. But mostly, it’s self-centered in that it locates
power in the individual, locates all solutions in the individual and
declares that that which the individual can accomplish or gain is the only
real measure of power or success and the only way that life can be lived is
to have all the power. It’s myopic, which means, narrow visioned.

This is an issue of power. St. Paul bids us to consider such things, “for
the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but
to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . we proclaim Christ
crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.

Power, from the Christian point of view, is recognized through faith, and in
the recognition we know To take up the cross means to shoulder the
challenge of faith is to confess that true power exists outside ourselves.
Faith takes commitment. Faith takes discipline. Faith takes some struggle.
Faith takes humility.

In some sense, the coming together of people in a community, to ask
forgiveness, to expect it and to live their lives as if that mattered takes
courage. It takes courage to put that which we have failed at into the
hands of God. It takes courage to admit that we don’t have complete power.

It takes commitment to live a faithful life. It takes commitment to make
decisions that may benefit others more than it may benefit us.

It takes strength of character to struggle against that which would
undermine our faith. To struggle against that which would draw us to a
place more comfortable, more amenable to our human agenda. It takes
strength to struggle against that.

It takes humility not to raise ourselves up and lord it over others, but
rather to use it for true thankfulness to God, and in service to humanity,
for the other’s sake, not our own. That takes true humility. It takes true
humility to do on behalf of another without an expectation of payment or
reward.

This is the call that we answer in our weakness, that we struggle for
because Jesus calls us to give up all things for him, to give over power to
him. Today he says you must take up that cross, and that might mean
separation from family and possessions. Now, this does not mean we turn our
backs on our families, our relationships, even our possessions, but that
even these are given over, in faith, to God. Jesus is speaking, rather
dramatically, I admit, that he is over all things and that in faith, we can
put our trust in him for all things. That is something that ought not take
us aback, but give us great confidence and joy . . . because someone of
greater power and insight and love gathers them into his domain. As I said
a few weeks ago, God doesn’t call on us to love these less, but to love
Christ more. That is a powerful faith.

The Christian walk, the walk of faith is to understand and accept our own
weakness, and then to acknowledge, to honor the power of God. It takes
deeper understanding to know that true power exists outside ourselves. It
takes true faith to understand that power exists outside ourselves, and
exists for our sake, for our protection, for our benefit. Because when we
are finally unmasked, we have no real power.

Many people without faith seem to be at rest with their disbelief. There
is a rest in giving up the fight, turning away from the struggle,
acquiescing to the numbness of disengagement, content with the things and
the power we have accumulated. The great southern writer Evelyn Waugh
calls that sloth. And, she says this is finally not mere laziness, but
apathy toward the good, indifference toward that which makes life worth
living.

The coming of Christ in human form showed us the things that make life worth
living, and they have nothing to do with power, but rather with faithfulness
and forgiveness and fellowship and commitment to the good. . . . and love .
. . and hope.

One thing I don’t understand is that when a person without faith who
believes that things all power and all solutions are under ones control,
who do you turn to when you fail? Whose name to you call for comfort when
you are afraid? To whom to you confess when you have been broken? And from
whom do you expect forgiveness? And into whose hands do you place your
hands when your eyes close in death?

Only God has the power to meet those needs. And I rejoice with you that
we have heard the answers to those questions . . . “come to me you who are
heavy laden and I will give you rest.” “I am with you always, even unto the
end of the age.” “My peace I leave with the you. . . the peace which the
world cannot give.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “this cup is
the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the
forgiveness of sins.” Those words, that power, that promise . . .must
always be heard with the command to take up the cross. . . words difficult
sometimes to heed . . . we don’t always get it right, but we do know where
to turn when we fail, whose name to call for comfort when we are afraid, to
whom we can confess, and into whose hands we place our lives at the moment
of our deaths.

That’s where the power lies, in the hands of a loving and ever-present God,
given us through Christ and confirmed each day of faithful living. The
followers of Christ, those called to bear the cross, practice a religion of
the weak and I thank God for that, because that very statement proclaims
that God, through Christ, through that power of love ever claims and upholds
us as His children. Amen.

Copyright (c) 2001 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus