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The Embarrassing Cross - Sermon for 2nd Sunday In Lent 2015

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The cross has come to represent many things over the year, but during the Roman era, before the cross became the symbol of Christianity, it was a sign of punishment and humiliation 

The text notes I preached from are after the sermon audio for convenience, however, I suggest you listen to the sermon audio, because it is in the delivery of a sermon in the midst of the people of God which is where he Holy Spirit is doing the strongest work within me; and there will not only be some changes to the notes but also emphasis and intonations that don't occur in the notes. 

Sermon delivered at United Lutheran Church of Oakland
March 1, 2015  - Second Sunday in Lent

"The Embarrassing Cross" - Lectionary text from Mark Mark 8:31-38

Greetings to you this day my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God.

For years our society has been a predominately Christian society, in name, and worship, if not always in practice, and Christian beliefs have dominated for many centuries. But for the last few decades, the influence that the church has on society has been waning, for better or for worse. My parents' generation, in the 1940s and 1950s grew up at a time when practically everyone that was not specifically identified in another belief system went to church on Sunday mornings. Our identities were not only wrapped up with race, ethnicity and social status but also with what denomination. I understand that there was in fact a time that Lutheran parents would be very hard pressed to allow their daughter to marry a Methodist or Baptist, and heaven forbid a Catholic boy came calling.

But even as early as the 1970s when I was growing up, less and less families were attending worship, and by the 1980s attendance in most denominations across the board had begun a steady decline that has continued non-stop until today. And more and more people identify as "atheist", "agnostic", "non-religious" or simply: "other". And we, as Christians have discovered that our identities as such is not as assumed as it once was, and we encounter more and more people for whatever reason are adverse to this self-identity.

I think part of this problem is a reasonable response. Over the course of history, different people who claimed to be Christians have engaged in very un-Christian behavior, and entire groups of individuals have been told to do things the way of the dominant culture, been marginalized for being a part of a subset, or even had violence engaged upon them in the name of our God. And today is not entirely better--just think about how we treat the Muslims is in our midst.

Who can relate to the times that we go outside and find ourselves uncomfortable to present ourselves as believers?

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This is particularly true here in the Bay Area, where faith in public life has become less and less acceptable. I have heard it said more than once, as kind of a turnaround of other topics from years earlier... "I don't mind that you have your religion, just could you please not put it in front of our faces?" T-shirts proclaiming our love of Jesus are often met with scorn out in public among strangers. I find that when someone asks me what I do for a living, some little part of me inside wants to hedge the question. Even when I do answer sometimes, I feel a compulsion to say, "But I'm a Lutheran... not like those people you hold up signs at funerals or those people who are on TV asking for your money or those people who get in trouble with sex scandals. And then, well, yes, the pastor who refused to join in prayer with the other denominations and the people who are against LGBT rights in Utah well, those are a different kind of Lutheran... and ..."

Well. I don't necessarily fault people for being a little embarrassed to talk about their faith in public. I can completely sympathize with the crooked stares and looks of suspicion when I tell folks that I believe in Christ.

And I don't call the name-calling and ugliness that you sometimes find online toward Christians oppression, by any means. We have ample representation in government and as a single identity, Christians at the very least are the senior partner in holding the reigns of power in this country, so whatever discrimination happens against us, at least in the United States, is pretty matched by other forms of discrimination, including that by Christians themselves against other groups.

But it still hurts to see people with a wrong impression of what the gospel message is say mean things, and I want to shout out, "You've got who we are wrong!"

Compared to what the early Christians went through, we have it easy.

I'm thinking about the time before Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire, back when mass persecutions happened at least once in people's lifetimes between the First and Third Centuries. The stories about Lions and arenas are not an elaboration. And crucifixion was not uncommon, and it was not a particularly honorable way to die.

The prevailing attitude about Christians for a long time was one of scorn and derision. One peculiar item is interesting, that of a little bit of ancient graffiti from the first or second century. In the scratches on the wall is a man, standing before a cross, hanging on which is a figure of someone with a donkey's head. The words accompanying it translate to Alexamenos worships his God. The head of a donkey represented the foolishness of the religion. The foolishness of having been crucified.

And yet, despite the embarrassment it would cause, despite the consternation the disciples would encounter because of it, this is what God would go through, for his love of us, his children, to send his son to die in that, most embarrassing of ways.

The horror is not lost on Peter, as we read in today's Gospel. Indeed, what must Peter have thought to find out that after all they've been through, that the man whom he was discovering was, in fact, the Messiah his people were awaiting would suffer at the very hands of the people who were the gatekeepers of the religion...the priests and the scribes. Jesus was here to save them, how could all their plans simply go up in smoke by virtue of his death? Of course his natural inclination is to rebuke Jesus.

But Jesus, looking at all of his disciples responds, "Get behind me, Satan." And he reminds Peter that he's thinking of the world, and not the heavenly. And then Jesus instructions follow about what does it mean to follow him. These are the words that frighten and awe us, so many years later.

He says of them that to follow in his footsteps, one must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him. To save one's life is to lose it, and to lose it for Jesus' sake is to save it. And those who are ashamed of Jesus in his humanity and suffering can only be ashamed of the Father and the Spirit when he returns in glory. 

First Corinthians 1:18 reads "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." When we look at the cross and the foolishness of it, we see the glory of a God who loves us, the power of a Christ who changes our lives and saves us.

The story of Jesus who was born to a young woman of Nazareth, who was baptized by John and who called people to follow him, who entered Jerusalem was betrayed and died, is not a story to be embarrassed by, because the story neither starts, nor ends there.

Christ our God was present in the foundation of the world, and his life was foretold by the prophets. His death was followed by a glorious resurrection. And neither was he simply raised up into heaven but he ascended to rule the earth. He is not a God who was called away one time long ago but he is God who lives with us, a part of our lives and miraculously changing our lives.

And his words, that to follow him is to deny our true selves is not to say that we have to live in utter despair of physical things, that we starve ourselves or that we exert pain on ourselves simply to bring the glory to come; but to deny that our selves exist independent of one another. To pick up the cross and follow Jesus is to live in community with one another. To glorify his name among our fellow believers and to respect and love those who find themselves following other ways of life. That our gift of faith in the one true God that saves does not entitle us to be arrogant about our salvation, but to show that we are people who live like Christ. Not always perfect, forgiving when we can, loving our neighbors and loving one another as our God loves us.

And because our God endured the ultimate humiliation, for us, in order to achieve victory over death, for us, that we are empowered to live out the grace that he has bestowed upon us giving us the faith that we need. That to embrace our identity as lovers of God, by sharing our faith story, by sharing our love of Christ. Because God has given us the ultimate gift in the washing of ourselves in his blood: the unconditional pardon of all our sins. And that is some good news worth proclaiming about.

The good news of God the Father, whose unconditional love gives us the means to share his word and work with others, of Christ the son, whose suffering and sacrifice paved his victory for that love to give us salvation in the next world, and God the Spirit, through whom that victory empowers us to follow Christ to be workers of goodness and to be lovers of one another in the world here today.


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on March 1, 2015 12:33 PM.

Restorative Justice - Sermon for 1st Sunday In Lent 2015 was the previous entry in this blog.

Light, Darkness, and Discworld - Sermon for 4th Sunday In Lent 2015 is the next entry in this blog.

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