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The Sanctuary Sermon for 2/21/21

The Sanctuary Sermon for 2/21/21                                                                                                       

“Cross Roads” Mark 8:34-37


34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?


One of my favorite things to do when I was a kid was to spread out the cartoon section of the newspaper, stretch out on the floor, read them all then read them all over again. The Sunday funnies, as grandfather Wiegand called them were the best, they were all in color. But I’m aging myself and I digress. I still read the comics online occasionally, and one comes from the New Yorker Magazine. It shows two men who work in advertising sitting at a bar, one clearly despondent. The unhappy one says to his companion: “I was on the cutting edge, man! I pushed the envelope. I set the bar high. I did the heavy lifting. I was the rainmaker. Then suddenly, it all crashed when I ran out of metaphors.” Hmmmph.


Metaphors. They clearly play a significant role in our lives, don’t they? Not just as linguistic tools, but as much more. Metaphors shape our thinking, convey philosophy, and even express theological concepts. Of course, metaphors, whether pithy and catchy aren’t simply a modern communication phenomenon. In fact, they are probably as old as the human language. For example, we know that the master teacher, Jesus, taught in parables—sort of extended metaphors—beautiful stories that challenged the status quo. Symbolic language was prevalent in Jesus’ teachings as; “I am the vine; you are the branches.” “I am the light of the world.” He tells us about the pearl of great price, the wheat and the tares, and the house built on shifting sand. Unlike our businessman in the cartoon though, Jesus never seemed to run out of metaphors.


So not surprisingly, across the centuries there has been dispute about metaphoric language, simile speak, and hyperbole in the Bible. Do we interpret some of the language of the Bible metaphorically, or does reverence for the texts require us to understand them as literally as possible? Like the parable of the Kingdom of Heaven I shared with you last Sunday which is dripping with cultural customs, norms and expectations—both Jew and Gentile alike.


So how would you understand today’s text? Metaphorically? Literally? “Whoever wants to be my disciple,” Jesus said, “must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”


The cross in Jesus’ day wasn’t a symbol or a metaphor. The cross was real. It was an instrument of pain, shame and humiliation, absolute loss and death. It was a real weapon and the only way to, ‘take it up,’ was to become its real victim. The cross was also an instrument of oppression and power. It was a method that those who had power used to communicate that they had power over anyone who would go against them. On the cross, the victim was defenseless and utterly powerless.


Those who were put up on the cross did not survive. The cross meant the end. The end of their ability to determine their own future, the end of their power to control their destiny, the end of whatever they thought they would be able to accomplish on their own. The end of life.


When Jesus picked up his cross, it was to set himself against the Roman Empire and the Temple authorities, against the ideology of worldly kingdoms that oppressed and shackled God’s people, and against everything that hindered the breaking in of God’s kingdom to come. Even more so, he chose the cross and willingly offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to reconcile humanity and all of creation back to God. He picked up the cross to go to his death, a literal one for you and me.


In Mark’s day the threat of crucifixion was still there. As this Gospel was being written some forty or so years after Jesus’ ascension, conflict was everywhere. Social, political and religious instability were inescapable. Rome was appointing a new Caesar after Nero had died. The temple in Jerusalem was under siege and soon would be destroyed, while Jews were divided over supporting Rome or rising up against it. And the fledgling band of Jesus’ followers were caught in the middle. Their beliefs neither persuaded them to fight Rome nor encouraged them to support it. Neighborhoods were divided; families were divided. It was a difficult, desperate, and dangerous time. People were at a crossroad. 


Jesus’ words about cross-bearing reminded his early band of followers of the cross’ very literal potential to take a life and depending on the choices they made, it might take theirs. Yet, these words spoken by Jesus would have reminded them of the prospect the cross offered to help them gain everything.


With gaining everything in mind, if I were to ask you if the cross still has its uses for your life on the cross road you travel, what would you say? 


To take up our cross means that we squarely face our human limitations. 


To take up our cross means that we realize in the face of sin, we are powerless. 


To take up our cross means that we come to terms with our inability to control, and we finally face the end of ourselves. We have no more tricks up our sleeve, no more cards to play as the well of our human effort has run dry. We are brought to our knees and we lay ourselves down.


Jesus says to take up your cross and follow him down his road. Where did Jesus go when he took up his cross? He too, faced the limits of his human nature. Human and spiritual evil demonstrated to him that it is indeed powerful—so powerful that it can put a righteous person to death; so powerful that it oppressed a divine ministry of healing, wholeness and harmony that he’d had begun. On the cross, Jesus’ ability to change the world by himself was put to death. But if we continue to follow him on his road, we see that the cross is not the end of the journey. Three days after the cross God raised him up and proved that no power is greater than God, not even death.


To take up our cross and follow Jesus means that God takes our broken sinful selves, our perishing diseased bodies, our feeble determination and imparts it with his Holy Spirit to help accomplish his will on earth.  


As we follow Christ, we learn to understand the cross to be the place of our ultimate surrender. Yet out of surrender comes transformation...a place to hang our arrogance, our \ pride, our anger, our bitterness, our prejudice, our hurt, our greed, our addictions and then let them die, so that something eternally good, grace filled and Christlike may be resurrected!


So, let me ask, “What do you need to nail to the cross this day?”


Is there something within you or around you that should be hung there? Does something in your life need to die for something else more gracious, good, and generative to live?


Imagine the hundreds and thousands of Christians who have trusted in the cross’ power to change things, whether in their own personal hearts and souls, or whether a social, moral or national change was required. Closer to home, even as I look out at all of you, we have our stories of the power of the cross. Let’s make no mistake. Cross-bearers often carry a heavy, load, as they take up their crosses to follow Jesus. But they have done it time and again with conviction that the potential and the power of the cross that burst into the world when Jesus first shouldered it is now accessible to every one of us. 


Crosses. Jesus carried one, literally. And his followers have been asked to shoulder them on their road ever since. Does the cross play a role in your existence? To be quite honest, I don’t expect many of us bear its crushing weight or feel its coarseness in our hands or on our face. But if we are Christ’s own people, it should be something more than an act in history or an empty metaphor. The cross—all it means, all the power it holds, all the transformation it enables, ought to stand central to our lives.


Auguste Rodin was a gifted French sculptor (The Thinker, The Kiss) who one day found an enormous, meticulously carved wooden crucifix for sale beside a road. Rodin bought that cross he so admired and had it carted to his home. But when it arrived, he found that the cross was too big to fit inside his house. So what did he do? He knocked down the walls, raised the roof, and rebuilt his home around it.


Now isn’t that quite the metaphor? What if the cross was central to our lives, our homes, our relationships, to our very being? What if we lived under its shadow every day? What if it stood so near that we could cling to it whenever its power was needed? What if we were to hang every evil on it, every hardship, every pain and loss to let the cross do its work as it has for millions of people for thousands of years?


It would then be more than an empty metaphor; it would still be doing its work. And what’s more, we who are the followers carrying that cross on all of our roads, could be God’s agents of transformation. 


Just think. Metaphorically speaking, we’d be on the cutting edge, man! We’d be pushing the envelope. We’d set the bar high. We’d be doing the heavy lifting. We’d be the rainmakers.


“Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says. What greater call could we ever accept than that? Let’s hit the cross roads, church.


This is the Word of the Lord for the day.



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