I encourage you to be in prayer for our Sunday assembly as we begin our worship series focused on being The Community Beneath the Cross.
As you take time to pray, you may also want to read the following Scriptures:
John 13:31-38; John 15; Acts 1 - 2; 1 Corinthians 1:18 - 2:5; Hebrews 13

The Church of the Christ Order of Worship and Discipleship:


During my college years I was involved with the Razorbacks for Christ campus ministry. Every semester we had a spiritual retreat and there was a popular retreat center we went to more than once in Oklahoma. The panorama window at the retreat conference room looked out on a field which ended at a river. Beyond the river was a low mountain ridge that would be multi-colored in the fall and green in the spring. But there was one constant feature on that mountain ridge – a huge white cross that stood up among the trees. It even glowed at night.

On one of our later visits to the Oklahoma retreat center I made a proposal to three of my friends. It was Saturday afternoon and we had nothing planned. We had had our fill of basketball and canoeing, so I said to them, "Let’s find that cross." We had speculated about it all those years – what was it there for, who placed it there? So we drove away from the retreat center and set off on the road that we hoped would take us over to the mountain ridge. We kept the cross in sight and then turned in on a county road that appeared to take us into the hills. We asked directions along the way often, "How does someone get to the cross?" Some knew, others had a notion, still others were clueless. Finally we made our way to a narrow gravel road that trailed steeply up the hill.

Not knowing what to expect, we got out of the car and walked up the road. As we climbed the hill with the gravel crunching beneath our feet we saw the top of the white cross rise up in our view. It was large and high. We pushed on more eagerly until we came to level ground. Now we had the whole cross in our field of view; it towered above us. But now we saw a new sight that amazed us – there was a little community built around the cross. The cross was actually a water tower. It was in the center of a little community that had two or three houses, a chapel, a barn, and a garage for trucks and equipment. The area directly under the cross was a small park with a bench and a little spire that had "Peace on Earth" inscribed on it in many languages. We lingered for some time in the community beneath the cross then we returned to the retreat center. Back at the retreat center we looked at the familiar cross on the mountain landscape with a new fascination. It looked the same as it always had, but now we knew that there was a community gathered beneath that cross. It made the cross seem alive somehow.

      Since the discovery my friends and I made years ago during our retreat I have learned that the community with the cross-shaped water tower is called Sparrow Hawk Village. This is the home of the Light of Christ Community Church and the Sancta Sophia Seminary. It is important to keep in mind that the story I tell is from my own point of view and it is used as a parable to illustrate biblical teaching about the church found in John 12-15; 1 Cor. 1-4.
      The parable about our discovery of a community beneath a cross-shaped water tower is not intended to endorse the beliefs or philosophy of the Light of Christ Community Church. I have no association with LCCC and Sancta Sophia Seminary. (I didn't even meet anyone when we were there!) West-Ark Church of Christ is not associated with Light of Christ Community Church, Sancta Sophia Seminary or Sparrow Hawk Village in any way.
The community my friends and I saw that day was organized and formed around the cross. Using this story as a parable, let the symbol of the cross represent the gospel and the reign of Christ, and let the community represent the church. I believe the church is meant to be a community beneath the cross. The cross is the community’s source of existence; it is a sign for the community; and it gives the community its shape.

The Cross as the Source of Community – [Being the Gospel]
1 Corinthians 1:18 - For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The cross – a water tower – was a source of life for the community. The good news of the cross and the resurrection is a source of life for those who are added to God’s community. We see this very vividly in baptism, which is a participation in the gospel event – there is a death and resurrection. Baptism is an anchor event in the life of a believer. Paul claimed that recalling one’s baptism was the reason for avoiding sin – the life of a believer is draws from a new set of values (Romans 6).
Against the powers of evil and conflict, the cross proclaims victory -- Jesus our King is our champion.
In a world full of deceit and corruption, the cross proclaims truth -- Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
During moments of doubt and emptiness, the cross proclaims fulfillment -- Jesus is the Son of God who shows us who we really are.
In the midst of suffering and shame, the cross proclaims companionship -- Jesus is the Suffering Servant who endures suffering with us.
Against the condemnation and failure of sin, the cross proclaims forgiveness - Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The church is weakened when powers other than the power of the gospel function as its source of life. For instance, when tradition and custom eclipse the gospel, the church is fueled by a limited source. Paul says that wisdom and well-crafted arguments are not a worthy substitute for the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). When strong personalities and human effort eclipse the gospel, the church becomes confused about who is truly its Lord and founder. Paul says that his role in establishing congregations and their regard for his work really doesn’t amount to much. And for that matter, no one can single out a special role for himself or herself in church leadership since the church is the result of God’s effort and all of us are servants in that work (1 Corinthians 3:4-9). We get ahead of ourselves and make a claim for ourselves that even the apostles would not make when we claim that building the church is our responsibility. The message of Acts is that faithful disciples became the agents of God as they were empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. Is it arrogant or presumptuous to claim that we are empowered by God’s spirit? Well, one certainly can make spiritual claims in a presumptuous manner (and that often means making such claims individually rather than communally). But how much more presumptuous and arrogant is it to assume that we can do anything without God’s spiritual empowerment? If the cross and all it represents is not our source – then what is?

The Cross as the Sign of the Community [Saying the Gospel]
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

The community beneath the cross never takes the attention away from Christ or the gospel. Remember from the parable that it was the cross that attracted us to that community. My friends and I began our quest to discover the meaning of the cross. We found the community by seeking the cross. In a culture in which people are urged to find the "the church of their choice," we need to resist the temptation to become the most popular church by presenting ourselves. If our message is about who we are, then our message is off-topic. On the day of Pentecost, the church was established with power, but the topic of the sermon was the church – Peter’s message was about the Lordship of Christ (Acts 2:36). Paul came to Corinth resolved only to preach Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2). People’s tastes in "church" might change, but the message of Christ and his cross is a constant. People are seeking a church home because they are ultimately seeking God. We are the companions and community that meet and are gathered together as we are drawn to the cross. (John 12:32).

Of course, some people may encounter the community before they see the cross. Imagine if my friends and I were just hiking along through those hills and came upon this little community. In that case, the community would be the first thing we see and the cross would be noticeable as we moved closer. Sometimes, we are the sign for the cross. That’s not wrong. We do need to live up to our name – not simply for our sake but for the sake of the world. Jesus didn’t ignore the fact that our community would be a witness and we would be proclaimers in word and action.

The Cross as the Shape of the Community [Doing the Gospel]
John 13:34-35 "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

The love for one another is not simply directed inwardly. The church does what Jesus does. We demonstrate compassion, love and service to all – within the church and without. Our mission has all of creation in view. The parable of the community beneath the cross also suggests that the church is connected to the surrounding culture and world. That little community beneath the cross was part of the mountain landscape. It had not separated itself or isolated itself from the landscape in such a way that it was inaccessible. We are in the world, but not of the world.
Jesus describes the church as salt, light, and leaven. Each of these items effect a change: salt preserves and adds flavor, light illuminates, and leaven causes dough to rise. They effect change because they maintain their distinctiveness. This is why Jesus warned us not to lose our saltiness. However, maintaining our distinctiveness in isolation is not an option. Salt, light and leaven act within their environment – salt works within food, light works within darkness, leaven works within dough. As a community beneath the cross, the church is the community formed at the intersection of the gospel and the world that is reordered and transformed by that gospel. The church, like our Lord, is an incarnation of the gospel. What does the church of Christ look like, well very simply it looks like Christ. We act and serve in his name.

There is an image of a community beneath the cross that came out of the aftermath of 9/11. Rescue workers who risked their lives gathered beneath a cross formed out of the pain and suffering of tragedy. This little community didn’t think of itself – it thought of the lost. But in their mission to rescue the lost, they acknowledged that they too needed to be saved. The mission of the church in the world is not self-preservation. How could it be if our Lord’s mission was not self-preservation but sacrifice? In truth the church has no mission that it can call its own. The mission is God’s – he takes the initiative. He reaches out in love to create a world. He reaches out in love to transform that world when it is corrupted by sin. God is the first evangelist – he sends his son Jesus not to condemn the world but to seek and save that which is lost – which includes us.

We often call the sinners - the lost. I think we would do well to call ourselves the found so that we will remember that the church is the gathering of those who are being saved by the power of the gospel. We are not something special on our own. None of us arrived already saved. All of us were the lost who are now gathered in by God’s grace. So, the church moves through the world as a servant and a testimony of God’s power. Our mission is not to stride through the world as though we own it. We are not called to appear as people who have it all together, know all the answers, never make mistakes, and are always successful. Paul proclaimed his faults, weaknesses, and failures so that he could proclaim the power of God – and he urged us to do the same ... (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

We, the found, are now empowered by God’s spirit and sent to participate in His mission. So our mission as the church is God’s mission. We are formed by the cross and we lift it up so that all will be drawn to it. If they come to Christ, they will come in among us - the Community Beneath the Cross.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 18 April 2004

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