As we continue to prepare ourselves for the Gathering, the youth and adult leaders took some time to discover the Theology of the Cross and why that is important to us as Lutheran Christians.
We learned first that God in the person of Jesus Christ is calling us to live by:
- faith, not by sight
- hope, not consummation
- love, not power
Once we explored these ideas, we discovered that they came as a product of four acts of God through Christ’s death on the cross:
- Solidarity: God actively pursues solidarity with humanity in Christ.
- Suffering: Christ intentionally suffers with, for and because of us.
- Reality: Christ’s solidarity and suffering exposes the reality of evil.
- Resurrection: In Christ, God redeems, bringing new life from suffering and death.
We saw that as we travel to Detroit this summer, and throughout the rest of our lives, we are called to be theologians of the cross.
The Theology of the Cross is one of the key components to Martin Luther’s theology yet the term never appears in his writings. There is a potential danger in using this term as it runs the risk of becoming a doctrinal idol rather than a way of understanding God, scripture and the human experience through the lens of the death of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is more appropriate to talk about being “theologians of the cross” rather than using the term “theology of the cross.” Luther describes a theologian of the cross most clearly in his Heidelberg Disputation (see below). A theologian of the cross stands in direct contrast to a theologian of glory. A theologian of glory assumes that beauty and bounty are obvious signs of God’s favor and blessing that result from our own efforts and choices. A theologian of the cross has a hard time accepting this. Martin Luther said a theologian of glory would call something bad “good” and something good “bad” while a theologian of the cross will call a thing what it is. A theologian of glory will think that power and wealth are signs of God’s blessings. A theologian of the cross would never make this assumption and would warn against the dangers of both power and wealth; they easily lead to corruption and not God’s blessing.
Being a theologian of the cross has some implications on how we live our lives. Please remember that these implications have nothing to do with earning God’s favor. The work that comes from these implications is not done for God’s sake, but for our neighbors’ sake. What does it mean to believe in a God who died on the cross and what are the implications for how we live?
1. It means we believe that Christ completed the work of redeeming creation and bringing us back into a right relationship with God on the cross. There is nothing we can do to negate or enhance the work Christ has done on our behalf. Thesis #26 of Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation states, “The law says, ‘do this’, and it is never done. Grace says, ‘believe in this’, and everything is already done.”
- Therefore, we are free from worrying that something we’ve done or left undone will separate us from God’s love in Christ.
- Therefore, we are free from assuming that anyone’s salvation is our responsibility.
- Therefore, we are free to serve our neighbor for our neighbor’s sake rather than serving our neighbor to please God or to make ourselves feel better.
2. It means that we believe in a God who suffers with and for those who are broken, oppressed and marginalized. Thesis #20 of Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation states, “[One] deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.”
- Therefore, we all must be honest about the times when we are broken, oppressed and marginalized as well as the times when we are the breaker, the oppressor and the center.
- Therefore, we are called to follow Christ into the suffering of those who are broken, oppressed and marginalized not to be the Savior (that victory has been won) but to be in solidarity with the broken, oppressed and marginalized. In this act, both the oppressor and the oppressed can find wholeness.
3. It means that we believe life comes out of death. This is not naïve optimism but an honest appraisal of our reality and its finitude. Everything must die. But death is not the end. Everything must die to live.
- Therefore, we must recognize and name evil as evil, expose the human causes of the evil, and live out our callings to counteract and root out the evil.
- We don’t run from evil and places of death, rather we walk into them. This is where God is at work and this is where God will bring new life.
- That which is evil we will call evil. That which is death-dealing we will call death-dealing. But in the face of evil and death we will also proclaim and practice resurrection.