Prayer of the Day
O Lord God, enliven and preserve your church with your perpetual mercy. Without your help, we mortals will fail; remove far from us everything that is harmful, and lead us toward all that gives life and salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Ezekiel 33:7-11 The prophet’s responsibility to warn the people
Romans 13:8-14 Live honorably as in the day
Matthew 18:15-20 Reconciliation in the community of faith
Title: The Cross: God’s Work, Our Hands
Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia. Such a line up. Unprecedented march of hurricanes across our corner of the globe. Things like this just don’t happen on their own. There must be some explanation.
Wise analysis of the facts suggests that perhaps climate change has something to do with it. Hysterical fear suggests that this is God’s work and someone is to blame. Have you had the privilege of seeing any of the lists floating around out there on the flood waters? Some play the blame game with all seriousness: God is punishing our country for continued liberal policies towards folks we should be punishing and rejecting – abortionists and LGBTQ + folks are always at the top of that list. Houston got hit for electing a lesbian mayor. Others (those at the other end of the political and religious spectrum) are joining in, not so much because they believe it, more because their frustration wishes it were true: the states being hit are red states, estates belonging to a certain elected official have been hit or are being threatened.
And that’s just the water and the wind. We haven’t even talked about the fires to the west or the earthquake to our south. So much blame to assign. We could be here all day.
Oh, to live in an ancient mindset world where an angry God is at work, standing before the map of the world with a handful of darts tossing bulls-eye after bulls-eye on the places and peoples that deserve punishment, annihilation, hell-fire and brimstone. Always fun to imagine especially when those being hit are the ones you disagree with, that you dislike, hate even.
Before that sounds like too much fun to pass up, go back up on the mountain to which Elijah ran a few weeks back. Remember, God wasn’t in the great wind, or the fire, or even the earthquake. God was in the still small voice that came after them all. The voice that offered new hope and a new mission for poor beleaguered Elijah.
But don’t be fooled – that still small voice has a lot to say to a world broken with sin, a world filled with wounded ones seeking healing in all the wrong places, a world drunk with rejoicing at the suffering of enemies. A world that God is calling to retract our blame-pointing fingers and use them instead to clean out our ears for the hearing of that still small voice that is calling to us, calling us to speak the truth of this God of love and use our hands for the true work of God.
Last week, we heard that still small voice speaking through Jesus and talking of suffering and dying, only to be shouted down by Peter’s bombastic “That ain’t gonna happen, Lord.” Vicar John encouraged us to stay focused on Jesus and prepare for the crosses we are called to carry in this life.
This week one of those crosses is placed in our midst. It is the cross of the church. The church that has striven for nearly two thousand years, the church that has survived persecution and heresy, revelations and reformations, the church that is alive in this place in the West Village at this time in the still early years of the third millennium.
This cross is the one that is beyond the cross of “I and you” that calls us to die to self so that we might rise with Christ through the promises made in baptism. The cross of the church is the cross of “us and we”. We, the church, are called to live on the cross, at the cross, and before the cross. We are called to live with the cross at our center and, like the one we follow, die for the sake of the world. Our inner Peters are saying – “No, we don’t have to do that. That sounds painful and messy.”
And yet we are called, called to speak with the prophet’s voice like Ezekiel. Like him we are called to set our own concerns aside and to be God’s sentinels. We have been given the redeeming word that God has not forsaken us, regardless the storms, and that through Jesus we are more than conquers. We have nothing to fear.
This living with the cross as our center is accomplished when we follow Paul’s direction and love one another. Our life together is not about following laws, he writes, because when we are loving one another, we are following all the commandments God has given us. Love is the fulfillment of the law.
The life of love is lived in the blessed community of faith when communication is truthful and merciful. Open and honest. Jesus talks of a community in which healing is desired, not division. Gospel is spoken, not gossip. When we speak love to the world and do not practice that love in our life as community, the world does not hear our proclamation. Just as God proclaimed his love for us through the cross of Jesus Christ, so we must proclaim our love by living on, at and before the cross. Forgiving as Jesus did, even from that cross.
Curious that there is no cross in the worship space of Joel Osteen’s mega church. And when suffering came to his door in the midst of Harvey’s floods, he did not know what to do, how to answer, how to embrace it.
Today, as we have done on this Sunday in past years, and with ELCA congregations around the country, we mark God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday. Our readings remind us this cross that we live on, at and before is God’s work and the work of our hands is to cling to it, the work of our hands is to carry it, the work of our hands is to reach out from it living the example of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
God’s work on the cross tells us God does not seek our destruction but rather mercifully restores us to hope and life. As the church, we place that cross in our center and it informs our hands for the work of mission. Hands that do not point in judgement or blame, but rather reach out to offer hope in the face of despair, merciful forgiveness in the face of error, unity in the face of diversity, love in the face of fear.
Dear sentinels, it’s a tall order, but be comforted in remembering, we follow and proclaim the one who did exactly all this for us. And be further encouraged that we do not do this alone. Together – even if it’s just two or three, together we live on, at and before the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that the kingdom of God might come to us and through the witness of our life together by the power of the Holy Spirit. A life anchored in the truth of God, tuned by the love revealed in Jesus, and powered by the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. Commit again that through our hands, the world will see God’s work.
The Rev. Mark Erson,