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The Sign Of The Cross

November 19, 2019 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Verse: Luke 21:7–21:8

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Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
November 17, 2019
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Pentecost 23
The Sign Of The Cross

And so they asked him, "Teacher! When will these things be and what will be the sign that they are about to take place?" And he answered them, "See to it that you are not deceived! For many will come using my name saying, 'I am he,’ and 'the time is now here!’ Do not follow them.” Luke 21:7-8

Today’s gospel raises as many questions as it answers. This is not surprising because it contains elements that point to Israel’s past, and others to the church’s future … and that baffles most interpreters. But it confuses them only because they miss what is at the center of it all, the sign the disciples asked about, the sign of the cross!

And so today let us try to understand what so many miss: that the cross IS the end of the world. The end of the old world, that is, and the beginning of the new!

All that Israel suffered in the past, and all that Jesus foresees of the church’s future distress is distilled on the cross. His flesh is the tissue that connects the past with the future. The Alpha with the Omega. The beginning with the end. And so to turn this chapter of St. Luke’s gospel into a sci-fi, political thriller about the end of the world, will lead to nothing but confusion.

And so hear the word of the Lord, “Do not follow them!” Don’t follow these wild-eyed dreamers, but let us stay focused instead on the sign of the cross.

How do we do that?

We’re doing it now.

To stay focused on the cross means that we must never forget the prophecies of the Old Testament. The countless blessed promises that God made to blind humanity to fix what Adam and the Woman shattered by sin. This is why we hear an Old Testament lesson every Sunday. Recall the one we heard a few moments ago. It is the Old Testament’s final promise, given by its final prophet!

The pledge of a New Elijah who would soon appear to turn the heart of the Father to his children, and the hearts of the children to their true Father by the cross.

Next, staying focused on the cross means to hear the gospel and to believe it. To magnify God in the Christian assembly for our Lord’s incarnation, life, death and resurrection.

But not only to hear and believe it, but to receive the once-crucified-but-now-exalted Lord of the cross into our own flesh, by the Word and Sacrament. He is the New Song, who has done marvelous things for us, whose right hand, and holy arm have worked salvation for us. (Ps. 98)

And so let us avail ourselves of the cross. The Fig Tree from which hangs the sweetest fruit of all, Jesus our Savior and King. May we hold it dear, and by it endure the tribulation that is coming to the earth; so that we might Stand before the Son of Man with heads lifted high, gazing into Sun of God’s glorious love.

Not only by Word and Sacrament but by Christian symbols, the chief of which is the sign of the cross.

For Christ Lutheran Church that means the blessed crucifix we dedicated two years ago which, by now, has become so much a part of us that we might not even see it any more.

But that is good, not bad.

Good because it means that it has become a part of us. That it is the normal state of affairs for Christ Lutheran Church to worship beneath the sign of the cross, and to offer all prayer, praise and thanksgiving to the Father through this victorious Lord.

While the symbol of the cross is not a sacrament per se, it is sacrament-like!

The very sight of it preaches the gospel of forgiveness to us. It cools burning consciences; lifts drooping spirits; strengthens us in every good work; and it reminds us of the Lord’s word that:

“If anyone would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

As such it calls us to suffer whatever comes our way with patience and not self-pity; and to rely only on God to be our “balm in sorrow and our stay in strife.” (LSB #917)

Yes, the church has seen fit to place the sign of redemption all around us. It adorns the steeple high above. It is emblazoned on every worship book, altar book, lectionary, on every parament and vestment, on the “fair linen” that graces our altar – which actually has 5 crosses embroidered into it, representing the five wounds of Christ.

Many Christians also wear the cross around their neck as a reminder of God’s golden love for humanity, and to comfort them in every affliction of body and soul.

But most famous among Christian symbolism is the sign that had gone missing among Lutherans for four centuries, but has been restored in our day: the sign of the cross itself.

It is never commanded in the Bible, or even suggested.

But the Christian heart, and more importantly Christian flesh, knows that there is no better bodily movement. No more ready or powerful defense at our disposal than the sign of the cross to bring us safely through every danger of body or soul.

The early 3rd century the church father, Tertullian says: “In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross” (De corona, 30).

St. Anthony of Egypt (later 3rd century) tells us that, "The illusions of the devil soon vanish, especially if a man arms himself with the sign of the cross. The devils tremble at the sign of the cross of our Lord, by which he triumphed over and disarmed them.”

“What will be the sign” the disciples asked the Lord in the temple that day.

It is the cross! The sign of salvation. The sign by which Constantine the Great conquered his enemies to become the first Christian emperor of Rome; and the sign by which God’s people still conquer sin each day, and rise from the dead.

The cross is the sign.

Not the original cross, of course, for it is long gone. As lost to us as the ark or the holy grail. But the Lord who died on it is not! He is risen! Risen indeed, Alleluia! Risen and with us today in this divine liturgy.

Only let us not be fundamentalists who look with jaundiced eye upon the incarnational realities of our faith. Who toss out baby with bathwater. But instead let us bend the knee before this holy sign, as before the Lord who sacrificed his life on it for us.

Let us love it, venerate it, bow before it and cover ourselves and our loved ones with it, at all times and in all places. Amen.