LIFE UNDER THE CROSS
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer"
The title for my message this morning is "Life Under the Cross." I give it this title because today many churches around the world are giving special attention to the sanctity of human life. And so this morning, from Godís holy Word, we too, will recognize life for what it really and truly isÖ Life under the cross.
As Christians we stand for life Ö in a culture that is obsessed with death. We fear death and deny it. We live as though our lives will go on forever. We find in death solutions to our problems. We find in death a way of escaping from our responsibilities. It is a fact that our society continues to choose death as its alternative- death for the unborn; death for the old and sick; death for the suffering or the handicapped. And we disguise our obsession with death with innocent sounding words- Euphemisms provided by the devil himself. We speak of "freedom of choice", "death with dignity", "kind and merciful death." But behind all of the sweet and gentle talk lurks Satan, the Father of Lies.
The Hemlock Society of America calls death the compassionate relief of suffering. They are part of a growing movement that supports physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. This movement includes well-meaning Christians who might think, What is so wrong with sending Grandma to be with Jesus?
This kind of thinking is wrong not only because it lacks compassion for the dying, but also because it lacks a godly understanding of life. The Christian view of life is radically different from the worldís view. In the worldís view, life should be free from the crosses of affliction. Bit in the Christianís view, life is lived under the cross.
Our view of life is different from the world because our minds have been renewed by the message of the cross. We have been transformed by the Gospel. The apostle Paul beautifully articulates the message of the cross in the first 11 chapters of Romans. The message of the cross is that although we "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," we are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Because of our sin we all deserved hell, not the Glory of God. God, however, left his glory and, in the person of Jesus, suffered the hell we deserved. From the cross he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The message of the cross is that God reveals His great love for sinful human beings in the midst of suffering. And so it is through faith in this suffering Christ that we live in hope, and joy, and forgiveness. It is because of Him that we have a whole new outlook on life.
So what does it mean to "live under the cross"? A person who lives under the cross will admit that people have burdens, but people themselves are not burdens. There are an increasing number of people today who see suffering as a burden. Derek Humphrey, founder of the Hemlock Society, refers to the elderly as "greedy geezers" who are putting a strain on our health-care system. Under the cross, however, we do not see Grandmaís suffering as a burden and send her to be with Jesus. Instead, we carry Grandmaís burdens until Jesus sends His angels to take her home. When we bear each otherís burdens we assure that person of our love and care. We provide that person with whatever they need: drugs, oxygen, fluids, nutrient, personal contact, and most importantly the love of Jesus.
Life under the cross enables us to think differently, and to have an attitude about life that is foreign to the world. St. Paul shares three attitudes in v.12. And with those attitudes I would like to share with you three people who expressed those attitudes.
First, "Be joyful in hope." "Hope" is a word that we use rather vaguely in our everyday conversations. "I hope it doesnít rain today. I hope it doesnít snow today." But the Christianís view of hope is much deeper. It is the confident expectation that Godís Word will be fulfilled and Godís purpose will be accomplished. We sing the hymn: "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand." (TLH #370) That is something we can be joyful about. We can have joy even when the circumstances around us are not that happy. When we wrestle with difficult end of life decisions we often use the phrase "quality of life." Thatís a worldly way of describing how things appear. But the joy of the Christian is not based upon the circumstances of life but upon the loving promises of God.
This past week one of our dear members, Flora Schlatweiler, died and was taken home to be with her Lord. Her memorial service was on Thursday. We prayed for Flora for many years at Good Shepherd because for thirty years she battled several forms of cancer. She was homebound that whole time and she often had to go to the hospital for operations and treatments. It was by no means a happy life toward the end. It was very sad for us to see her suffer so much. But Flora looked at her life differently. She lived under the cross. She knew that God loved her so much that He gave His only Son to suffer and die for her. Thatís what gave her joy in hope. She often sang a hymn in her home called "Farther along."
Farther along, weíll know all about it
Farther along, weíll understand why
Cheer up my brother, living about us
Weíll understand it, all by and by
Flora didnít understand all of her suffering, of course. But now she does. She received the crown of life.
Second, Paul encourages us to be "Patient in Affliction." That, of course, doesnít mean that Christians should enjoy pain and suffering. But when life is lived under the cross, affliction can be good teacher. Martin Luther once said that "affliction is the best book in my library." Ask any pastor and youíll hear that they have seen blessings in affliction. Whenever sins are confessed, sins are forgiven, when old wounds are healed, when priorities are reestablished, when faith is renewed. Jesus never promised a life free from affliction. That is why He said, "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world."
Pastor Laurence White share a story about an elderly woman from his Lutheran congregation. Her name was Esther Parsons and she was stricken with emphysema. As the disease progressed, Esther found herself in the hospital intensive care unit, struggling for every breath. Her hospital stay lengthened from weeks into months. The struggle became more and more intense. She had been a widow for many years. She was one of those dear pillars of the church who are always there for every activity. And now she was eager and ready to depart and be with Christ. She was patient in her affliction, but she wondered why God had not yet called her home. She would ask her pastor, "Why am I still here, Pastor?" "Why hasnít the Lord taken me to heaven?" The best answer the pastor could give her was the message of the cross. God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you upon the cross. Trust in Godís purpose, even though we cannot perceive that purpose now. Look to the cross and believe in His love. Finally, Esther's long struggle ended, and she went home to be with Jesus. A few weeks after her death, Pastor White was back in the same ICU visiting another member. And as he left the unit, a young Asian nurseís aide stopped him in the hallway. She asked him if he was Estherís pastor. He said "Yes I am." The young lady continued: "I want you to know that I am a Christian today because of her. I never have the chance to talk to her, but I saw her faith. I saw the way that Jesus loved her and the strength that He gave her, and now I am a believer too. I just wanted you to know." As the young lady walked away, the pastor looked up toward heaven and said, "Thereís your answer Esther." But of course, Esther already knew that. To live under the cross is to live by faith, not by sight. From the worldís point of view, the life of an old woman racked with pain and struggling for every breath, doesnít seem to be worth much. But for those who live under the cross there is always a purpose and plan.
The last encouragement of Paul is "Be faithful in prayer." All too often we pray only as a last resort, when all else has failed. But for the believer under the cross, prayer should be our starting point. When we pray, we acknowledge our dependence upon Him and our inability to carry on without Him. We pray, "not my will but Your will be done." We surrender everything to Godís control over our lives. The cross assures us that we have a God who listens and who understands and is merciful.
The final person Iíd like to share with you is an elderly woman who I met on vicarage in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Please forgive me for mentioning that particular city today. I was a vicar, which means that I was like an intern, preparing for the ministry. Every month I would visit a shut-in named Helen. When I first met Helen in her home I went along with Pastor Jones, my supervisor, and I soon realized that what I was in for. Helen was the type of lady who liked to talk. In fact to be specific she liked to talk for two hours, and then she would let me talk. And not only that- she talked really slow- and when you walked into her apartment you always felt like you were walking into a sauna. And so it was very easy to get kind of sleepy. But I made it through. Each month, I would faithfully visit her for about two hours. I did a lot of patient listening and then spoke when it was my time. And I would always make sure I drank some highly caffeinated soda before I went. This was how it went the whole year. I knew Helenís life story pretty well. Almost too well because I heard the same stories over and over again. Until one day, a few months before I would need to head back to St. Louis, Helen told me something that Iíll never forget. She said that in her 90 plus years she had never been able to tell anyone this secret to another soul. She broke down and cried. Harder than I had ever seen. She told me she had an abortion when she was a teenager. She was convinced that God could not forgive her for what she had done. What an opportunity it was for me, a 25 year old vicar, to proclaim to these 90 year old the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ. With all confidence and assurance I told her: "Helen, your sins are forgiven. Jesus loves you. He wants you to have peace. He died on the cross for that very reason." With those words, Helenís life was renewed. She could now face death knowing that God had given her life.
There are many people in this world who have gone through the same emotional turmoil and hell that Helen has gone through. And they need to know that as horrible a sin abortion is, it is not the unforgivable sin. Christ is there ready to forgive. When there is forgiveness, the gates of heaven are opened up to all who live by faith under the cross.
As people of God, who live under the cross, we need to raise the banner of life. Life is sacred. It is a gift of God. I saw that first hand, when my wife and I saw the Ultra Sound of our baby last month. We are not our own. We were bought with a price. The blood of Jesus. And so our commitment to life goes beyond just simply seeing that a child gets born. We can talk a good game, but what God really calls us to do is actively involve ourselves in supporting people and children who face difficult decisions. We are called to carry each others burdens, lest we conform to the pattern of our world which says that death is the solution to our problems- abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia.
Life is never a burden because God has promised to always be right there with us. In suffering we experience the love of Christ who suffered for us. And God has promised that better things are to come. People may scorn as worthless the life of the old man or woman in the nursing home, the life of the unborn child, the life of the terminally ill, the life of the physically or mentally handicapped. But the cross demonstrates Godís compelling love for each and all of them.
So, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Live your life the only way that life can be truly lived, under the cross. Amen.
Pastor Peter Hoft
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, January 20, 200
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois
Peter Hoft; Copyright, 2002
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