This sermon was delivered at a mid-week Lenten service at Geneva (NY) Presbyterian Church.
“Cross Culture: the cross we wear, the cross we bear.”
Well, Deb knows me well enough
to know I can’t draw a straight line – even with a ruler.
And I can’t follow directions
unless they are written in blood, and even then
maybe not so well.
But she invites me any way,
and for that I am grateful to have such a friend.
So, I am thinking that what I am about to say
will resonate with about 25% of you,
and offend another 25%.
The rest of you? Hard to say,
you guys in the middle
are kind of tricky to figure out.
What I am going to talk about is the cross itself,
and I will preface my weird and crazy remarks
by acknowledging that that cross around your neck,
if you have one, may have deep personal meaning for you.
I am not trying to call your baby ugly, so to speak.
In fact, you should know, we use a processional cross
at Trinity every Sunday,
even though I wish we didn’t.
But that is because I know it is meaningful to lots of people.
That said, I don’t wear a cross. Ever.
In fact, I wish the cross
was not the symbol of Christianity.
And while that was once a kind of lonely perspective,
I am happy to say, I am no longer
quite so alone.
As some of the Trinity folk know,
I’ve been heard to say that wearing a cross
is like hanging a little gold or silver electric chair
around your neck.
It is the symbol of state murder –
execution for crimes of capital offense.
Now on one level,
I am politically rambunctious enough
to like the idea of Jesus
as a reminder of State-sponsored violence
That works theologically.
It slaps us in the face the way Jesus did.
On the other hand,
defining Jesus’ life and ministry
by the last brutal act in his life,
inflicted upon him by the full weight
of an empire, causes us to give short shrift
to the most important parts of the gospels.
We ought to be focused on his wisdom
not his criminal sentence.
We ought to be amazed by the radical hospitality
and inclusion of his table fellowship,
rather than his torture.
We ought to be stunned by the elements
of the spiritual practice he shared with us
over the last three years of his life,
instead of the last gruesome three hours.
I think it is so interesting to notice,
that what the Church likes to stutter over the most
are the birth narratives – which
Jesus had little to do with as a passive participant –
and his crucifixion, which was also beyond his control.
By that, I mean he had no more power over saving himself
than John the Baptist did.
When an empire decides to rub you out,
more often than not, it happens.
Now some people still believe
that God set Jesus up to be tortured and executed
in the most painful and inhumane way possible,
just so that people like us 2000 years later
can sleep easy with our sins.
If that is true, we have a very problematic god
and the cross becomes an ugly reminder of that god
instead of Jesus’ execution.
So, my own theology
gravitates to the Jesus stories, and
the Jesus sayings, and
the events abundant with stunning wisdom,
and provocative counter-cultural customs.
I do not think Jesus died on the cross
because God set it up that way,
and I do not think Jesus died on the cross
because Jesus thought that was the best way forward.
I think Jesus died on the cross
because that is how WE do things.
I say “we” because we haven’t changed much
since the first century.
Our technology and life-style are very different,
but more often than not, still today,
when the prophets and messengers of God
meet up with us,
it does not end well for them.
In a nutshell, when we hear the Passion story
told in the shade of that terrible cross,
what I think we should be remembering instead of Jesus
is our place in that story.
You and I are never mentioned in the gospel accounts
of the last week in Jesus’ life,
but we are in there between the lines.
We are the Romans.
You know, the ordinary Roman citizens
who didn’t know diddly about Judah or Jerusalem,
but who benefited economically from the Roman occupation
of those foreign lands, and the
exploitation of its farms and people.
They didn’t know about Jesus when he was alive,
but their agents and their military
tortured and executed him for their benefit.
So, to my strange way of thinking,
instead of pretty, polished crosses
I think we would be more true to the gospels
if we looked out into the world all around
to see who is getting exploited
and who is getting smashed
by agents of our government
and our military,
and wonder about how we are benefiting
from all that violence.
That is what the cross means to me.
I can only stand to think about it so much,
and just so often,
because it is so painful and overwhelming.
It will bring me down, to be sure.
So instead, I focus more on the gospel wisdom
and the spiritual practice Jesus invited us into.
That way, I think I am working on turning things around
even though I know there are still lots of people
getting smashed by a cross
in my name and for my benefit.
I have to believe that if I keep my focus on Jesus,
how he lived
and what he did
and all those juicy wisdom stories he told,
then there will be fewer crosses in the world
and fewer people paying the price.
I want to focus on the Jesus who lived,
and had his being among us.
It is quite easy to die in our world,
but to live like Jesus lived?
That’s something worth trying.