SERMON FROM HOLY CROSS DAY
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
September 11, 2022 By: Pr. Amandus Derr
Readings: Numbers 21:4b-9; Psalm 98:1-4; 1 Corinthians 1:18-24; Saint John 3:13-17
In nomine Jesu!
Today, every reading and psalm, today’s Gospel, rally day 2022, the blessing of the choir, even this 21st anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks – can be summed up in these five words, “Don’t look back, look up;” ought to be one of our guiding principles for us at Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church as we begin program year 2022-2023 today.
“Don’t look back, look up” is exactly what God is calling us, nourishing us, and filling us with the Holy Spirit to do today but, as we see in both our first reading and in today’s Gospel, doing so is not quite as easy as it may seem. Hence our need for Christ’s nourishment and the Holy Spirit’s energy and direction.
Consider the book of Numbers and the situation facing the former Hebrew slaves, now a free people, on their way to the Promised Land. By the time we get to Numbers 21, they have been free from Egyptian slavery for several years. But they are impatient with God’s timing on their way; and punished for that impatience, now face forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Yet even as they wander, God cares for them; quenches their thirst daily with water from a rock and feeds them daily with manna from heaven and quail that drop from the sky. By the time of today’s reading, they are not only still impatient, they are also sick and tired of the [apparent] blandness of God’s daily of food; and they grumble, grouse, and long for the onions, and garlic and other herbs they relished as slaves in Egypt. God wants them to look up and look forward to all that lies ahead; they insist on looking back, conveniently forgetting that slavery’s whip and lash accompanied Egypt’s more flavorful food. Hence the bronze serpent raised on a pole. “Don’t look back, look up” and live, God implores, so that you can be on your way.
Consider now the Gospel, John’s story of Jesus’ meeting with the Pharisee Nicodemus at night. Nicodemus wants to look back: at his heritage, his people’s history, his privileged position (“teacher of Israel”), even his logic; “earthly things,” as Jesus labels them. Reaching back into Nicodemus’ and his people’s history, Jesus tells Nicodemus “Don’t look back, look up;” inviting Nicodemus to be born anew “of water and the Spirit” and cling to the same symbol of the future, to which his ancestors clung, the bronze serpent raised on a tree in the wilderness being replaced by Jesus the Christ raised on the tree of the cross. “Don’t look back, look up.”
As today we inaugurate a new year ahead, the symbol, Christ’s cross and God’s call “Don’t look back, look up,” is the same for us today.
Christ’s cross, signed on our foreheads at baptism, planted before us in our worship, on whose fruit, Christ’s body and blood, we are refreshed, renewed, and fed signals for us a new beginning, calling us to forgive and forget the errors and sins of the past. That’s the truth of the Gospel! That’s the force behind Luther’s advice that every morning when we rise, we remember our baptism, making the sign of the cross, and live each new day as God’s renewed people. That’s God’s call to every Christian and, more importantly, that’s our reminder of God’s Promise to daily and constantly forgive us, renew us, inspire us, and use us because God constantly looks at us through Christ’s cross.
Like those wandering Hebrews on their way to the promised land, we of Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church are on a journey, on our way to a future that will be both familiar, because the essence of our faith is deeply rooted in Scripture, Church history and Lutheran tradition, and simultaneously will be exciting and new because new challenges, new people, new staff members and a new senior pastor will soon be sent by God to live and serve Christ and others with and among us; and so God is telling us “Don’t look back, look up.”
But here, because I’ve been serving with you for quite a while now, I want to be very Christ-the-King-Church specific: “Don’t look back, look up” for us must mean that all of the past mistakes and slights; all of the ways we’ve viewed each other in the past, all of the real or imagined sins that have stifled some in their zeal to be taken serious among us here must now be put behind us, because while they may be delicious to our palate, they are slavery in our lives. When we view everything through Christ’s cross, “Don’t look back, look up,” means that everything and everyone is being renewed, is seeing anew, and is starting anew for all.
At every Eucharist, Jesus comes to us despised, rejected, scorned, crucified, emptied, and raised, and in this way tells God and us, “Don’t look back, look up;” and gives us the Spirit to start over again. For this entire year, let’s live every day together that way, so all of us, and all whose lives we touch may see the wisdom, beauty, glory, power and life of God lived joyfully among us and in all we do. “Don’t look back, look up.”