Life in the Cross

+ A sermon for Holy Cross Sunday / the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) / Proper 19B / Ordinary 24B at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on September 16, 2018 +

Texts: 1 Corinthians 1:18-24, Mark 8:27-38

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever thought about how strange a symbol the cross is?
To paraphrase the late-comedian Lenny Bruce, ‘If Jesus had been killed in modern times, we would all be wearing little electric chairs around our necks instead of crosses.”
Although I would say that a noose is a better analogy.
Crucifixion was an ugly, public execution. the-crucifixion-with-mary-and-probably-mary-magdalene-1
It was so humiliating that Roman citizens were not permitted to be crucified.
In the ancient world it was so ridiculous to think of worshiping a man who was crucified that the earliest known pictorial depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion is a piece of Roman graffiti mocking an early Christian for doing exactly that.

And yet today, crosses are everywhere.
They mark hospitals and aid organizations.
We sing songs like “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” and “Lift High the Cross.”
We wear them as jewelry, we tattoo them in our flesh.
We mark them on babies when they’re baptized and on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday.
We make the sign on the cross as we worship and give the cross the highest place of honor in our sanctuary. And this morning we celebrate Holy Cross Sunday here at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.


IMG_5629 copy
The author’s Jerusalem cross tattoo at Razzouk Tattoo in the Old City of Jerusalem.

This is a strange symbol, my friends.
We celebrate this object of torture and death.
We venerate the instrument that killed our God.
And yet we have the audacity to claim that it declares the love of God for the entire world.
Or as the Apostle Paul says, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
Because on the face of it, the cross simply does not make sense. It does not fit our normal understanding of what should be glorified.

We can see that play out a bit with Peter in today’s gospel.
Peter acclaims Jesus to be the Messiah, the anointed one, their leader.
But then, immediately after, when Jesus predicts his death on the cross, Peter rebukes him. ‘How can you say that, Jesus? The Messiah is supposed to liberate us, to save us from our oppression, to be victorious over the empire that is holding us down. Our Messiah can’t die – that doesn’t make sense!’
Peter and the disciples were looking for a powerful leader to follow – one that would bring military might to their people, to bring glory to their country.
And I get it – we want our leaders to be strong, to be successful, to be victorious.
We want our God to be mighty in power, glorious in majesty, able to fix all our problems.
We don’t want to follow losers.
We don’t want to follow a man who is going to die – especially on a cross.

But Jesus reminds us that this is a human way, a worldly way of thinking.
Our God does not come to us in glory, but in humility.
Our God has come to us where we are, fully in our humanity.
Our God meets us in vulnerability and, paradoxically, even in suffering and death.

41729944_679529002422764_1829577281215922176_nAnd Jesus reminds us that he is bringing a new kind of kingdom into the world – a commonwealth of God’s own making.
This new reality – this divine reality, Jesus calls it – does not evaluate success the same way that we may think.
It does not focus on self-promotion or seeking glorification.
It’s not based on domination by military might.
But instead Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow him.
And by doing this we will find life.

Now for Jesus, this was a very literal reality – he is walking on the way to Jerusalem where he knows that he will be crucified and will rise again.
But Jesus is not telling us that we have to suffer and die in the same way as he did so that we may share in his life, but rather die to ourselves.
And Jesus is not telling us that we have to make our selves miserable or deny the things that we love.
This isn’t a divine diet plan where Jesus is telling us to deny our selves eating pastries or chocolate or beer or something.
And this is not telling us that we need to seek out pain or suffering to follow him.

Jesus is telling us to recognize that the life that we have been sold by the world around us, the life that we see in advertising campaigns and money-making endeavors, the life that we are told to put so much stock in – that this isn’t really life at all.
That life isn’t something we can buy, but something we experience when we embrace those around us.
But before we can experience that life, before we can follow Jesus as he calls us to, the old, inadequate, worldly understanding of life must die.
That version of us has to die before we can see the new life Christ brings.
Die to self-centeredness that is so common in humanity.
Die to the systems that trick us into a dog-eat-dog mentality and quid-pro-quo scheming; an economy of scarcity where we have to look out for ourselves.
Die to these human things and find life in divine things.
Find life through the way Jesus lived his life – for others.
He calls us to reorient our lives from a self-centered focus into lives of love and service for each other and the whole creation.

We as Lutherans believe that in our baptism, this old version of us does die and we are raised into this new life that Christ brings.
And so when we baptize people into this death and resurrection we mark them with the symbol of this new creation – the cross on their brow.
And when we remember our baptism, we are invited to trace again this cross to remind ourselves of the new life that it brings to us and to encourage us to live into the new reality of God’s coming commonwealth.

freely-54683.jpgMy friends, for most people the message of the cross still seems like foolishness.
This message is still as shocking, still as revolutionary, as it was two millennia ago because it goes so contrary to the ways the systems and powers of this world operate.
Rather than trying to amass wealth, we are called to joyously give away our riches and see the abundance we already possess.
Rather than try to rely on physical or military might, we are invited to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and experience the peace of God in our world.
Rather than try to seek profit or gain by subjugating others, we are asked to work for the betterment of all people.
Because even if we control the whole world, we cannot experience this new life on our own.
Because in the light of this new commonwealth, this new reality based on the love of God, the so-called wisdom of this world simply seems foolish as we see the true wisdom and glory of God through Christ’s example and call.

And this cross becomes for us a reminder, a meaningful symbol, of the life that Jesus lived and the life we live through him.
Of the love of Jesus for us and for the world.
This cross, which the world would use to torture and to murder is transformed in our eyes into a tree of life offering healing and life for all peoples – an indelible symbol of hope and love. november4
And through this cross and the message it proclaims, God is working through us to transform the world around us into this perfect commonwealth that Jesus brings.

So perhaps it’s fitting for this congregation to call itself Holy Cross – to cling to the cross as the core of our identity.
Because we recognize that we are bound together by our common calling.
We see how this cross has transformed us from strangers into a close community of friends and family.
We recognize how this cross has brought us new and abundant life that is so much better than we could have gotten from the old model.
We heed the call of Jesus and take up our cross to love and serve our world.

Because I believe it’s the cross that allowed us to see a spare apartment and feel inspired to transform it into a place to help someone without a home.
I believe it’s the cross that allowed us to see a plot of land that we could steward and till into a garden and orchard that feeds our neighbors and builds community.
I believe it’s the cross that allows us to spend countless hours sewing and quilting year after year until the work of our hands has kept thousands of people warm across the earth.
I believe it’s the cross that inspired the many more acts of love and service that this little congregation relentlessly does.
And I believe it’s the cross that calls us into this beautiful community we call Holy Cross, so that we can support each other, love each other, and embrace each other as we walk the way of following Jesus and seek this new and abundant life together.

And yet we know that our work is not done.
We know that there is more to do, more people to serve, more life to find.
We know that the old wisdom of this world still reigns and offers a false life that is not what God intends for us.
We know that there are still more people to invite into the new life of this community of the cross.
And so this ancient Holy Cross Day can become for us an opportunity for a new commitment for following Jesus.
To see where he leads us, to serve where he needs us, to help bring life where death and suffering reign.

Where will he send us?
Where will he call us?

freely-68918.jpgThis community has made a commitment to the cross – to taking up our cross and following Jesus.
And through our life together, through our ministry to our neighborhood, to the world, and to the whole creation, we get to be part of what Christ is doing in the world.
In this community, we get to glimpse the coming commonwealth of God in the light of this cross.
And we get to proclaim this good news of life and love to the whole creation through word and deed until all the world knows the love of God that we have glimpsed in this place.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s