Jesus and the Cross 2/28/10

Luke 13:31-35

Who do you say that I am?

                Jesus is warned by some Pharisees to leave because his life is in danger.  Instead of the “thank-you” and quick exit they were perhaps expecting, Jesus gives them a message for that fox, King Herod and also for them.  Jesus does not exactly say “Bring it on,” but he makes it clear that there is something in motion that he will not stop.  Does he know that his death is on the horizon?  It would certainly seem so.  During our Lenten program last week, I asked everyone to state their name and then something that they feel is central to their identity.  Responses varied from “I love music” to “I am a teacher and a student.”  Often, we identify ourselves as Christian, as people who seek to live out lives in accordance to all that Jesus taught and was.  I’ve often wondered what Jesus’ response to that question would be.  Who are you?  Of course, then I remember that just like Moses and the burning bush, when Pilate asks Jesus this question, Jesus resists an identifying answer.  Instead he answers with a question, “Who do you say that I am.”  To my ears, this sounds an awful lot like the God of the Old Testament who tells Moses, “I am that I am.”  But in this passage, Jesus just seems so sure and so confident of himself and his direction in life at this point.  He knows who he is and why he is here, and no one is going to interrupt his journey and his mission.

                I envy that self-confidence.  Twice in my life I have been depressed, and both times it was because I was struggling to define myself and my role in the world even while the world was trying to tell me who to be and become.  I do not wish to place too much importance on these experiences, they were both very mild depressions, but they gave me a great respect for psychology and walking with people during difficult and confusing times.  The first time, in college, I was struggling to figure out if I was truly called to ministry after a professor gave me a booklet on why women should not be ordained.  I got caught in this maelstrom of listening to the story of my life, listening to my friends (my peers and adults) who saw my call before I did, listening to respected voices of authority, and finally (although this should have been first) listening to God.  I finally realized that I could not be anyone but who I was made to be, and that being me would not make everyone happy … but my job and purpose in life is not to make everyone happy … my job is to be faithful.  The second time, in seminary, I became depressed after the birth of my first child.  I had all these ideas and images of what a mom was supposed to be, and I didn’t know if I could do and be all of that.  I really had to decide what kind of mother I was going to be, and how that fit into my identity.  Every time our lives change, we must again answer the question of who am I in this context.  Will I be defined by myself or by something outside of me?

                I believe this is the challenge that faced Jesus again and again.  Others tried to define him, understand him, box him in, use him, and more.  As much trouble as we have understanding and defining ourselves and humanity, I’m not sure why we think it’s even possible to understand a being who is both God and person.  There is a power in naming, and being named.  Very often, however, we get names and labels mixed up.  When I was struggling to find my identity in college, I was trying to find the “me” underneath all the labels of my life.  I was not able to define myself as only a daughter, or a student, or a singer, or a swimmer, or a radio DJ.  I was Karin, a unique amalgamation of all of those.  By asking “Will I be defined by myself or by something outside of me?” I was asking the wrong question.  At the core, I am a child of God seeking to be the child that God created and loves.  When I ask myself if I am willing to let Christ define and shape my life, who I was meant to be comes more clearly into focus.  Claiming my name in Christ (which is why I love when people call me by Christian name, Karin!) allowed me to live into myself as belonging to God.

Jesus’ Lament over Jerusalem

There is a power in naming, and being named.  Jesus, in this passage, knows his name and knows his purpose in life.  It is so crystal clear to him that he not only tells the Pharisees to get out of his business, he uses the opportunity to disclose to them and to Jerusalem his desire and purpose.

There are not that many feminine images of God, but the image that Jesus uses of a mother hen and baby chicks is an image that is rich with meaning.  Jesus is lamenting Jerusalem’s inability to live out Shalom (the peace of God) in any way.  In more ways than we’d like to acknowledge, our society is very much like Jerusalem.  Jesus sees all the individuals in Jerusalem, the government officials, the Jewish authorities, the angry crowds, the Roman soldiers, and he sees them all as chicks that he would gather under his wings.  Not only does Jesus choose to protect us like a mother hen protects her chicks, Jesus also yearns for us to recognize him as our savior and run to the shelter of his wings.   In her sermon on this passage, Barbara Brown Taylor identifies Jerusalem’s reluctance to seek shelter saying:

“The city of God is not interested.  Jerusalem has better things to do that to hide under the shelter of this (Jesus’) mother hen’s wings.”  She then describes the meager resources of a mother hen attempting to protect her brood against a vicious and well-armed predator, with “nothing much in the way of a beak and nothing at all in the way of talons.” … “At the very least, she can hope that she satisfies his appetite so that he leaves her babies alone.” This explanation of the image is powerful enough, but Taylor continues on to how this passage illuminates our understanding of the resurrection.  “After the cosmic battle of all time, in which the power of tooth and fang was put up against the power of a mother’s love for her chicks.  And God bet the farm on the hen … Having loved her own who were in the world, she loved them to the end.  She died a mother hen, and afterwards she came back to them with teeth marks on her body to make sure they got the point: that the power of foxes could not kill her love for them, nor could it steal them away from her.  They might have to go through what she went through in order to get past the foxes, but she would be waiting for them on the other side, with love stronger than death. ” [1]

Jesus laments our human resistance to true shalom, which means living a just life in love, and as he puffs up his feathers to invite all the chicks under his safe feathers, he invites us not to scatter and experience God separately.  Jesus invites us to experience the safety, the sanctuary, of God’s love together as a church.

Taking up Our Cross

Tonight, we are looking at the necessity of the cross and what does the death of Jesus mean for us.  Did Jesus truly have to die?  Why did Jesus die for us?  Paul, in the Philippians passage incites us to imitate him in the Christian life.  In a sense, he invites us to also imitate Christ in a self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of faith.  What does it mean when we “take up our cross to follow Jesus”?

There is a story about a group of initiates who are seeking to become monks.  The abbot meets with them at the bottom of a mountain and invites them to come to the monastery to begin their ministry.  The monastery is at the top of a mountain.  Before they begin their trek upward, the abbot gives them each a very large cross to carry up to the monastery with them.  He tells them the journey can take as long as it needs to, and assures them that there will be a hot meal waiting for them at the monastery.  He prays with them, wishes them well, and the new monks take off on their very long journey.  Before long, the sun comes up and starts beating down on the backs of the monks as they trudge uphill.  Every so often, the monks stop to take a break and wipe the sweat from their brow.  By lunchtime, there were already three monks who had decided they were not truly called to be monks.  So they had left their crosses, and gone home.  One of the monks looks at his cross and starts thinking.  He realizes he could go much faster if the cross were not so heavy, so he takes out a little hand saw and cuts a foot off the bottom of the cross.  After a quick drink of water, he starts off again.  Refreshed from his break, and moving much faster with the lighter cross, he quickly passes most of the monks.  In the middle of the afternoon, he stops again and is starting to get really tired.  He is thinking about calling it quits; he could easily go home to a meal, a shower, and a bed.  Below him he sees a few more crosses left by the ones who had already given up.  There were only two other monks still going up the hill with their crosses.  He could see them resting just a ways behind him.  Finally, he made a decision and he took out his little handsaw and cut another foot off the bottom of the cross.  He jumped up, took up his cross, and kept moving.  He almost had a skip in his step with some of the excess weight of the cross now gone.  It was just a little past dinner time, when he stopped again for a break.  He really wasn’t sure if he could make the rest of the journey, but he was so much further ahead of the other two that he couldn’t give up yet.  He rested, and then he pulled out his hand saw and cut another foot off the bottom of the cross.  About a half mile up the mountain, the new monk comes to an impasse.  Just ahead of him, is a gorge – and there is no way around it.  The sheer rock wall does not give any way to climb up or down it in order to get to the other side.  On the other side of the gap, there is a long green pasture leading up to the monastery.  The monk ponders this new dilemma before him, and he sits down on a nearby rock to contemplate his options.  There is no bridge, no tree with a rope to swing across.  It is just a deep chasm.  As he’s sitting there thinking, one of the monks that had been behind him comes up to the chasm and also mulls over the dilemma at hand.  After a few moments, this monk takes the base of the cross and leans it across the canyon.  Lo and behold, it reaches to the other side!  He walks across, picks up his cross, and continues on his journey.  The third monk reaches the chasm and after a few moments, he reaches the same conclusion that the second monk did.  In a matter of minutes, he is on the other side and approaching the monastery.  The first monk, somewhat awkwardly, takes his shortened cross, holds the base of it at the edge of the cliff and lets it fall.  Closing his eyes, he is afraid to look.  When he does, he sees his cross all the way at the bottom of the ravine, floating down the river.  With a deep sigh, he turns and starts his trek back down the mountain.  Today was not the day for him to enter the monastery.

                Surely, Jesus knew what he would encounter in Jerusalem.  I’m not 100% sold that he knew all of the details, but he knew enough to realize that the road ahead would be more than difficult.  But he knowingly took that road, because he is God’s love incarnate.  The Holy Father not only gave us undying love, he gave it to us in a human form that could teach us, understand us, and love us as no one else but our Creator could.  This is a parent’s love for a child!  

[This story only if there’s time]

In a certain village in Umbria (Italy), there lived a man who was always bewailing his lot. He was a Christian, and found the weight of his cross too heavy to bear.

One night, before going to sleep, he begged God to let him change his burden.

That night he had a dream; the Lord led him to a warehouse. “Go ahead and change it,” he said. The man saw crosses of all sizes and shapes, with the names of their owners. He picked an average size cross � but when he saw the name of an old friend written on it, he left it aside.

Finally, as God had permitted, he chose the smallest cross he could find.

To his surprise, he saw his own name written on it. [2]

When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we must know and understand that the way ahead may not be easy for us.  We will get tired, we will want to take shortcuts, we will think about turning back, but no matter where we are in that journey we can be assured that Christ is with us each step of the way, ready to scoop us into the crook of his warm, caring, protective embrace.  Know that out of the raw materials of our lives (our core selves, our achievements, our mistakes), God can and will work wonderful things in us!

Let us pray,

God of the barnyard, gather us into your safe fold.  Protect us from evils that we cannot see or understand.  Help to us to huddle together as we rely on your strength and perspective to see us through to safety.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.

Journey into this week and beyond
blessed with the presence and guidance of God
filled with the perseverance and compassion of Jesus Christ
strengthened with the power and vitality of the Holy Spirit.

[1] Kate Huey, Weekly Seeds. 



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