In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus at the center. That sums it all up. When others may ask why you are a Christian – particularly why you are a Lutheran, there is your answer: Jesus at the center! If Christ is not at the heart of it all, it is not Lutheran. If He is not the one whom everything flows from and returns to, it is not Lutheran.
But you really don’t keep Jesus at the center, do you? At least not every day – every moment – above all people and things. Is He pushed to the side by your sports calendar? Does He get forgotten due to social commitments? Does He just get in the way of your sleep schedule? When we are truthful, we find that Jesus often is not the Center of our lives.
Perhaps you have not counted the cost. But wait! Counting the cost of being Jesus’ disciple is more than giving up stuff. Christ speaks today of bearing your cross. He says that as a Christian, you will suffer. Depending on the time or place, being a Christian has carried a death sentence with it.
When His hearers were listening to this for the first time, they realized His word for cross was not symbolic. To them, it was truly a weapon of death. When they heard “bear his own cross,” jaws would have dropped and eyes widened as people realized Jesus means business.
And not just for them. He’s talking to you too. People will hate you for having Jesus at the center. Life will be hard, and sometimes dangerous. Even if you might not get the death sentence in this country for being Christian, it is still very possible to suffer from gossip and slander, harassment, pressure on – or even losing – your job, and much more.
“Oh! Lord! Don’t let that happen. I don’t want to suffer!” But that is not a choice. And that is the Old Adam trying to tell God that you know better than He! But shying away from suffering is a lack of trust. It is doubt that the Lord will see you through it. It is wanting glory rather than suffering, and desiring the promise of reward rather than faith that Jesus is carrying you through every hardship.
Repent of this doubt! Repent of seeking glory rather than suffering with Jesus! Repent of your tiny trust. Repent of refusing Jesus to be the center of your life!
But fear not, dear baptized friends. You have the joyous news of our Savior! In John 1:14, our Lord tells us: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word became flesh – Jesus became Man, for you. God became Man, in order to suffer and die for you, so you may have life in Him. And when He became flesh, He dwelt among us – He “tabernacled” among us.
In the Old Testament, before the Temple was built, the Lord made Himself present in a tent that in English we call the “Tabernacle.” Here, John uses the verb form of “tabernacle” to describe Jesus coming in the flesh for you. God made His glory present at the Tabernacle.
Now, He makes His glory known through His Son, who has come in the flesh for you!
And how does that glory come to be known? Not through power. Not through being mighty and getting His way. The glory of God is known in His mercy, so the very suffering and death of Jesus on the cross is the crowning moment of His glory. That is one of the reasons that the traditional Lutheran altar and chancel is adorned with a crucifix – a cross with the body of Jesus on it, displaying God in all His glory, giving everything up to save you and me.
That is hard for the world. It is crude – even obscene – to see Jesus displayed dying for all. It is something people do not want to see and be reminded of. Yet this very horrible act is the very event that brings you life! Jesus, at the center of His cross has saved you, rescued you, from the devil, the world, and yourself! Yes, the One who perfectly kept God’s Law, took on our guilt and took our punishment on Himself. All out of His great love for you!
So now, no matter what your suffering, no matter what cross you bear, Jesus is at the center. He is the One bearing your burden and getting you through. He has mercy and compassion on you, not leaving you to endure your crosses by yourself. He has suffered every temptation and every pain, and not only sympathizes, but He Himself undergoes your trials.
Jesus also speaks today about counting the cost. At St. John’s, some would say we have not always done that so well. It was renovations rather than a tower some ten years ago. And while interest rates and dividends favored us, things went well. But the cost is now counted with different rates, and our financial times are not as carefree. The budget is tight to begin with, and we need to get more serious about paying off the debt we took on a decade ago.
You will be hearing more about this in the coming weeks as we speak of the “Build St. John’s” campaign. You will be asked to consider with prayer what you can do to aid in the work of God’s kingdom right here. While we cannot pretend there is no problem, still, the Lord is giving us great gifts. He has placed a wonderful faculty and staff among us. He has gathered a peaceful and loving congregation, and blessed us with great facilities. He has given us a neighborhood ripe for the picking. Indeed, the Lord is ready to “Build St. John’s,” and He has counted the cost. And He has paid the cost with the Holy and Precious Blood of His Son! That is His Son, Jesus, at the center!
In two weeks we will hear more each week about “Why I Am a Lutheran.” We will hear how Jesus is truly at the center, bringing His Gospel to us, delivering His forgiveness, and displaying His glory in His death and resurrection for you! Amen.