- In Strength and Faith
- On Firm Foundation
- Our Fatherâ€™s World
- Knowing How, Knowing Why
- With Love and Hope Surrounded
- To Sacred Truth
- Play On Your Harp
- Coming Through Home
- Yesterday, Today, and Forever
- The One Thing Needful
- In the Face of the West Wind
- To Sacred Truth
- Not So Wild a Dream
- From Redemption to Renaissance
- Salty Days and Starry Nights
- A Holy Restlessness
- The Cross and the Glory
- Remarks - Chapel Dedication
Texts: I Corinthians 3:16-23, Mark 8:27-35
I hope that this weekend has been “a harvest of memories” for each of you. I have been overhearing and overseeing the events of the weekend with interest. You have been sharing wonderful stories, the joy of your vocational journey, the kid count or the grandkid count, the blessings of friendship, of material well being and spiritual health.
For some of you it has also been a time for deeper conversation. Conversations about loss of a spouse, a child, a marriage, or a career. There are stories of uncertainty over health or career or friendship. These are, in a real sense, “cross” stories, where human wisdom and ingenuity and connection and wealth and college degrees do not seem to make any difference.
I believe that, at its best, Homecoming is indeed a harvesting of memories and a time of celebration, but it is also a time to come to the cross, to listen, to clear our hearts, to experience the gift of God, and to be recommissioned. So today we will revisit the cross to receive both the gift and the commission that we claim there.
The cross stands at the heart of this campus symbolically, spiritually, and physically. You can’t miss it on the mall. You find it in our worship, it is the foundation of our academic life, and it is inescapably the wellspring of our mission. Going to the cross has become a countercultural event. We would rather celebrate. We would rather take the crosses down with our firepower, our willpower or our spiritual connections.
As we heard from the lesson of the day, the Corinthians had this problem. First, they heard Paul’s word about Christ, but after he left town, in short order they turned from the cross in order to embrace more congenial gods once again. We revisit the difficulties of Peter and the rest of the disciples with whom Jesus spoke in the text of the day. They had been going with the flow with Jesus. Parables and stories had been told, miracles had been observed and experienced. Blind men received sight, water was turned into wine, demon-possessed people were set free and thousands had been fed. Who wouldn’t go with this kind of flow? In the midst of all that glory, Jesus spoke about His future. It was the first of three predictions he would make. Up until then He had spoken about himself and his Kingdom through parables and stories and miracles. But this time, we are told, he “said it plain.” He spoke about his future, about being rejected by the establishment, being crucified, and then rising again. But the disciples still didn’t get it. And, as usual, Peter was the fall guy. The kind of sacrificial messiah Jesus described was not what Peter or the rest of the disciples had in mind. So he rebuked Jesus.
I think we can empathize with Peter. The disciples had been looking for a leader and for deliverance. Things had been going well -- lots of people, lots of miracles, let the good times roll! Then this abrupt, cold water word about sacrifice and death from their leader. There are still a lot of people like Peter and a lot of religions that cater to people like him. “Go with Jesus and all will be well.” “Think and pray positively and success will follow.” “I found Jesus and started making a lot of money.” “I was ill and I called to Jesus and I was made well.” We call this the theology of glory. But in the dialogue of our text, Jesus announced that he was a suffering servant, not a victorious messiah who would make everybody well, happy, and powerful. It was a message with an edge – but when you think about it, it is the message that we need most.
Jesus is the God who comes to us at our crosses, the God who by virtue of His suffering and death stands by us in our suffering and death. At the deathbed neither our power or our wealth or our popularity matter. When a relationship fails after you have done your best, your résumé doesn’t help. When you have sinned against God and your neighbor, no amount of rationalization will suffice. When the economy costs you your source of livelihood, even a Cobber degree fails to provide solace. As the eminent theologian Douglas John Hall put it, “Christ must suffer because suffering is a condition of those . . . to whom God would be Immanuel. A God who would achieve solidarity with us must become a suffering God.” Yes, there are crosses in each of our lives and Jesus comes
to us in those places. He comes to us in our weakness, in our trials, in our guilt, in our illness, in our uncertainty, in our grief and in our incapacity. He says, “Come
to me with your cross burden and weariness and I will give you rest. I will be with you always – everywhere – helping you to deal with that which you cannot understand. I am there in your weakness, at your cross!”
God’s promise in Christ rings loud and clear through the scripture. It is a word we all long to hear and claim. This is at the heart of what we call the theology of the cross, the cross in which we find the glory of God revealed amidst the most intractable human experiences. I have heard you tell these stories at times of grief and incomprehension. I have watched you come away from such encounters in strength and faith, in hope and confidence.
- I have heard a mother tell of a child’s death, a child too young and full of life to lose. And Jesus met you at your cross.
- I have heard a husband tell of the loss of his wife in a senseless, inexplicable accident. I saw the grief, and Jesus met you there.
- I knew a Cobber who endured the long nightmare of cancer and in the final days of Hospice, I heard victory declared over the life destroyer. Jesus was at that cross.
- I have heard the story of a job loss, of fruitless interviews, of the ensuing economic collapse and family stress that came with it. And I heard from your lips the remarkable story of Jesus’ presence on that cross.
- In recent days as one of our students grieved with her family over the loss of a brother in a senseless act of violence in a school near St. Cloud. Jesus was at that cross. He promises to be there with you on your cross, too. It is a promise you can believe, a word you can count on.
Our culture blesses the material and wonders why, increasingly, people behave so crudely. Small wonder that our definitions change and that faithfulness is now understood in the context of serial relationships. We live in the world’s wealthiest land but 20 percent of our children live in poverty, 40 million people lack health insurance, and we have the highest level of incarcerations of any developed nation. We are prone to isolate ourselves from such realities out of denial or discomfort, or hope the government that we want to spend less will somehow help more, or we may send a check once a month to ease our guilt all the while praying that someone else will do what our hearts tell us must be done.
Globally, we confuse virtue and power, military victory and peace. So there are wars and rumors of wars, and statesmen wring their hands or posture for position. Our churches are prone to confuse growth with evangelism, on the one hand, and structure with mission on the other. Maybe that explains in part our anemic levels of stewardship. Higher education must be added to this list for we often confuse education with technical competence, vocation with a job, and truth with what works.
These are all crosses, some of which we have helped construct and maintain, some of which have been thrust upon the world by the hatred of cruel people, but all of which threaten the welfare and justice of our communities. Jesus says, “Take up the cross and follow me.” This Jesus, we remember, was always at odds with the established, comfortable ones. He was always getting crosswise with political and religious leaders. Why? Because of the absence of justice and mercy; because of the presence of false gods. The price of such behavior was His crucifixion.
Well then, what a way to end a joyous Homecoming! Well maybe so, but then again maybe not so. I have seen you taking up crosses in public and private places, leading crusades large and small, and engaging in sometimes heroic acts of stewardship and friendship and justice. Most of you are members of faith communities, 85 percent of which, according to a study by the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, are engaged in a variety of public and social ministries. Many of you are Lutherans, the denomination that constitutes only three percent of the population in this country but sponsors 25 percent of the nursing homes and the largest social and human service enterprise in the nation. I witness regularly business leaders whose first question is not “will it work?” but “is it right?” You alumni Cobbers can claim company with your successors now in residence who contribute thousands of hours a month in public service, sponsor one of the largest Habitat for Humanity programs in the nation and, even this weekend, engage your participation in their harvest food drive. These are the responses of people to whom Christ has come at their crossroads and their gratitude has nourished a faith that leads inevitably to the crosses of others.
If Christ’s coming to your cross hasn’t led you to other crosses that is very unusual.
A decade ago Nicholas Wolterstorff, a preeminent philosopher and a guest on our campus on more than one occasion, lost his son in a mountaineering accident. He experienced a long night of grief. As he emerged from this experience of the cross, he wrote: “To believe in Christ’s rising and death’s dying is also to live with the power and the challenge to rise up now from all of our dark graves of suffering love…if love for those around us is not expanded, if gratitude for what is good does not flame up, if insight is not deepened, if aching for a new day is not intensified, if hope is weakened and faith diminished, if from the experience of death comes nothing good, then death has won. Then death, be proud.”
You can write the litany of a world of evil, human crises and crosses as well as me.
There are crosses and there is death all around. But God bids us, “Let not death win, let not death be proud! Take up the cross, follow me.”
- Take up the cross in your town where people are hungering for spiritual food.
- Take up the cross in your congregation where leaders and teachers and caregivers of many kinds are needed.
- Take up the cross in your community where we need people willing to get their hands into uncivil politics, their minds stirred by social complexity, and their lives caught up in important causes.
- Take up the cross in your place of business or service where people are looking for purpose and principle, for the authority of integrity.
We will do that by helping our students discover and navigate the imperfect and paradoxical nature of this world. We will do it by preparing students for crosses that they may not be expecting. We will do it by confronting students with the reality of their finitude – that is, the reality of the crosses in their lives and in the life of the world. We will do it by proclaiming that truth is more than we can smell or handle, weigh or count. That truth is ultimately found in the transcendent, in the Word who became flesh. We do it by introducing students to a worldview that makes sense of history and the cross.
We will bear all of these crosses in our homes, in our communities, at our college, in our world, for that is what God calls us to do. Let us all confess that we will not always do our cross bearing well. Like Peter and the Corinthians, we will get it wrong sometimes, but Jesus will find us in those places too, and help us along with his forgiving, renewing word.
We have been harvesting memories during these homecoming days. But pray God, in the process we have experienced the cross, there to be found again and there to be called again by Christ. And in such places we express again our Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.