Lent 2B + February 25, 2018
The central visual symbol in almost every Christian place of worship is the cross, the cruel instrument of torture and death which the Roman Empire reserved for rebellious slaves, violent criminals, and political subversives. The cross is central because Christians confess that it is here on the cross that God meets us, it is here where God is made present for us. Heaven and earth connect at the center of the cross. Of course, God is also present with us in our mountain top moments, in times of great joy, in our relationships with others, but God is most profoundly present here on the cross, the point of our deepest reality, our honest confrontation with weakness, pain, solitude, and death. While we are often able to see God in a great sunset, or in the magnificent night sky; God finds us in our own darkness, our own pain, our own emptiness, our own loneliness, our own weakness, on the cross!
Lutheran Pastor and Theologian, Mike Coffey, in his book “Renounce, Resist, and Rejoice,” reminds us that the cross is a necessary part of the Christian faith, that it is necessary for something new to happen, that is necessary for true liberation, that it is necessary for transformation, that it is necessary for us to experience God’s love. However, he adds, “Except, don’t mistake it: It wasn’t necessary for God.” He reminds us that God’s mercy, love, grace, and life-giving power doesn’t depend on some contrived system of offense and retaliation, the need for some kind of debt to be repaid, or as the appeasement of some kind of divine anger. God loves us, because God loves us, God is love, God’s is truly unconditional love, “nothing can separate us” from that love, and so it is that the cross is not necessary for God. But once again, it is necessary for us, for on the cross God in Christ Jesus exposes the emptiness of this world, the emptiness of the principalities and powers, the emptiness of violence, the emptiness of every human idolatry (money, things, power, government, anything) that seeks to replace God. On the cross they are revealed for what they are: distortions of truth, outright lies, the work of doubt and fear. Every time we gather around the cross “these things” are “exposed” in order that we might be changed, made new, made alive in the love of God. We “need” the cross, and we are called to engage the cross, not that we might die, but that we might “die to sin” and rise again to life abundant.
In today’s Gospel this call to “engage” the cross is very clear, Jesus tells us straight away, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” We are reminded that the cross is necessary, and that “engagement” with the cross is necessary, this is what it means to follow Jesus. The question that remains is this, “Which cross have you been called to carry?” Which one is yours, which one speaks to you; which cross can you carry to the depths of your soul, to the center of your heart; which cross, if engaged will bring about in you “new” life?
During the season of Lent, the tradition here at First Lutheran is take the silver cross off the back altar and replace it with a “crucifix cross.” The crucifix is a cross with the corpus, the body of Christ, attached. This type of cross can be hard to look at, hard to engage because it reminds us of the awful death that Christ died. It reminds us of how violent humanity can be. Jesus identifies completely with the pain and sorrow of our existence. And from here, he brings us into a relationship of love.
One of my best friends in college died in an automobile accident. His name was Sven. At the funeral we all were devastated, we were angry and confused, we wondered where God was at the time of the accident? The preacher reminded us that, God was in the seat beside him. Sven was never alone, Christ was present even in the accident. The crucifix reminds us of this truth. Yet so often we deny our pain, we try to cover it up, we pretend it doesn't exist. Do we cover up God's most profound presence in our life? In the avoidance of pain and death do we cut our selves off from the love of God?
Perhaps this Is this the cross you have been called to carry?
The Silver Cross
And then there's “this cross,” the one we hide away in Lent. It’s very different, there is no “corpus.” This is the cross of God's victory! It's an empty cross, it reminds us that this cruel instrument of death could not destroy God. In fact, this cross has been transformed from a symbol of death into a symbol of eternal and everlasting life. It has become a piece of art, jewelry, cast in valuable silver.
Perhaps this is the cross you were meant to carry? Maybe you need to “adorn” your life. Sometimes human nature gets the best of us and we end up defining our self as something less, less than perfect, less than ordinary, less than acceptable. We can be hard on our self. We believe the lies of this world that seek to define us as losers. The glass is half empty, the situation is hopeless. We look in the mirror and we find every fault. But the reflection in “this cross” is different, if you look closely you will see yourself in its beauty, as God’s beloved you are a piece of art, a jewel, you belong to this cross of victory.
Perhaps, this the cross you have been called to carry?
The Peasant’s Cross
This is a peasant’s cross from El Salvador. In this cross, where God and humanity intersect we discover scenes of everyday life. This cross reminds us that God is present in the ordinary human places. Sometimes we forget this simple truth and we spend our time and energy seeking out “super” spiritual experiences, we seek to climb mountains, cross oceans, we “fast” in the desert. All the while God is waiting for us in our own back yard, perhaps in the garden? “This cross” calls us to “just be human” and to find God in everyday “human” experiences.
Perhaps this the cross you have been called to carry?
First Lutheran Processional Cross
Here’s a familiar cross, the First Lutheran Processional Cross. This is one cross that you might have actually carried at some point in your life? In the center of the Cross we find the Greek letters, Chi and Ro, the first two letters of Christ. Once again we are reminded that Christ is found in the center of the cross. And the Chi-Ro is flanked by the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The Cross reminds us that Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, that all of life is held by God, held in the “sacrificial hands” of the one whose hands were pierced by nails on the cross. “This cross” invites me to “let go and let God,” to trust in the love that was lived out on the cross, and to reject the doubt and the fear and the violence that the cross exposes. To engage “this cross” is to trust in love and forgiveness, to trust in humility and grace, to trust in the way of Christ.
Perhaps this the cross you have been called to carry?
Large Wooden Cross
And finally there is this cross, a large wooden cross. Rough, simple, solid, sturdy, and heavy. It’s the cross that used to stand in front of the church. As many of you know, the bottom became rotted out and it recently fell over. What might it mean to carry this cross? I am going to suggest this morning, that this is the cross “we” have all been called to carry, this is the cross the “belongs” to First Lutheran Church. I believe it is symbolic of our mission here in this place, “Called to be the Heart of Christ, feeding our neighbors with Grace, Mercy, Love, and Justice.” We’ve “all” been called to carry this cross, it’s too heavy, too large, for one individual, we’re going to have to do this together. And to where shall we carry it? I would suggest we carry it back outside and put it back in its proper place as a witness to God’s love, the love that empowers us, and the love we seek to share though the ministry to which we have been called. Yet before we can put back where it belongs we need to provide a solid foundation on which it might stand. We can stick it back into the dirt but if it’s going to last we really need to build a cement (stone) foundation for it. This morning this cross invites us all to share in the work of building a sure foundation for our ministry: to share our gifts and our resources, our time and our talents; to create that sure foundation, where we can carry and place this cross and lift it up for all to see!
Perhaps this the cross “we” have been called to carry?
Let us pray. You call your disciples to pick up their cross and follow. Grant us the grace and courage to pick up our cross knowing that you have gone before us, that you are beside us, that you watch over us, that you are within us, that you are between us, and that on the journey you will find us. Amen.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."