Monday, September 21, 2015

Telling It - The Crucified One

Preached on Sunday, September 20, 2015 

Scripture readings: Mark 10: 35-45; Mark 15: 25-39

In my childhood and my growing up days, the big annual event of my family was to spend a couple weeks in the summer, camping. Sometimes we drove all over California, camping in a half dozen places. Sometimes we did all our camping in one spot.
We always slept in a tent. It was big enough to hang a sheet across the middle. That gave my parents whatever privacy you can have sharing a tent with three children.
Sunsets and One Sunrise, Desert Aire, WA
August 2015
We slept in the tent. We didn’t live in the tent unless it was raining; which would be a lot of fun for about half a day. So (normally) when we camped, our house had no walls and no doors or windows. Our house didn’t need them because it was a big as the world.
If our house had a door, you could say that our door was always open. We liked to pick a campsite that had some privacy, in the form of trees, or bushes, or rocks but, if someone came through our invisible door, we made them feel at home.
Camping wasn’t our house. It was our home. It was nothing like home, except that it had us.
So camping taught us this lesson, that home wasn’t a place. It wasn’t our familiar stuff, and it wasn’t our familiar routine. Our way of living and everything and everything else about it was different.
Home was us. Home is always that way. Home is people. Home is a relationship of people who belong to each other. The kind of home that went with camping has a lot in common with the kind of home that belongs to the cross. The cross makes for an open house.
Think about the kind of home the cross makes. Jesus died on the cross to open the door in God’s house so that whoever wants to come in and belong can do so. This is what it meant for the curtain in The Temple to be torn in two from top to bottom.
The curtain was the tent-like door that covered the entrance to the holy inner room in the house of God. The curtain was a big door. It was about sixty feet tall and about thirty feet wide.
The Temple was God’s house. It was all about God living in the midst of his people where they could come close and meet God. Only the curtain represented a barrier between God’s family and their God who loved them.
This separation is a thing that we call sin. The word “sin” in the New Testament is an archery word that means missing the mark. It could have been a golf word too, if the ancient people had played golf. You either hit the mark or you miss it. Close only counts in horse shoes.
You can overshoot. You can undershoot. You can veer to the left. You can veer to the right. Apparently, in golf, you have four and a quarter inches to get it right, and you have hundreds of feet in every direction to get it wrong.
Why is the game so picky? Because you can get the hole in the cup and, when you do, I hear that it’s beautiful, at least when you are on par or under par. If it takes much more than that you may get the ball in the hole, but it isn’t pretty any more. It isn’t the same and it doesn’t make you happy, and it doesn’t make you good company for others.
 The doorway into holy inner place of The Temple was covered with a curtain to keep out those who missed that mark. Does this seem unfair?
The people who were around the cross were in a holy place without knowing it. It wasn’t anything like the holy place they were used to thinking about.
In the holy place they were used to thinking about everything was simple, and quiet, and orderly. One day a year the blood of an animal sacrificed for the sins of all the people was brought into the holy place, in The Temple. When the blood was sprinkled there, in the presence of God, it brought God’s loving forgiveness to all his people. The blood that was shed made the infinite love of God real and true.
Jesus, hanging on the cross represented the forgiving love of God. Jesus was God making himself into the powerful sacrifice of love. Jesus is God shedding his blood to give us a real and true forgiveness that allows us to come home to God, and to become that home in that close relationship with him.
The blood of God takes away all the stuff and all the routine of our old home. It makes us at home with a family as big as the world. The cross makes it possible for absolutely anyone to come in, if they want to come home.
The cross also shows us why a life-changing forgiveness is needed. Jesus was, and is, the holiness of God. He is the Son of God who represents his Father. His Father is the Sender and the Son is “The-One-Who-Is-Sent”, and the resemblance between them is perfect. Glory hung upon the cross; the glory of an infinite and unconditional love.
See what the people at the cross do in the presence of the holiness and glory of God.
The priests and the teachers of the law were the pros of holiness and goodness. They were successful in all the rules and techniques of the game, but they didn’t like holiness and goodness at its best the way they saw it in Jesus. They loved their own holiness and goodness.
It was the same, in the beginning, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They thought that eating it would give them a holiness and goodness like the holiness and goodness of God.
They thought it would make them pros. They thought they could be like God and so they could claim authority over their own lives. They wanted to be in charge. They misinterpreted and misunderstood God, and God’s motives, and God’s ways.
The priests and teachers of the law were looking at the face of God covered with the blood of the crown of thorns and they didn’t know what they were looking at, and they didn’t like it. They knew the truth but they didn’t understand it when they saw it. They said, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself.”
Even in the Old Testament, the prophets knew and spoke the truth that if God’s people and God’s creation were to be saved, then he would have to do it himself. God said, “There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.” (Isaiah 45:21)
The point was for God to be our Savior. God’s love is about saving others and not about keeping away from us in our need. God had to get involved and spend himself to pay the cost of a new world and a new way of life for us in that world.
When we read what the gospels say about the holy place around the cross we see what sin does. The thieves on either side, in their pain, could only make themselves feel better by causing the pain of heckling Jesus. The disciples who had spent so much time learning from Jesus, including learning about the cross ran away from the cross. The Gospel of John tells us that the only the disciple there was John standing by the side of Mary the mother of Jesus.
The women who served Jesus were there because they thought of themselves as servants and slaves. The world taught them to think that way and they had learned their lessons well. They were not so afraid of the messiness of the cross that they would think of running from it. They would take care of Jesus, as well as they could, as long as he lived, and even after he died.
No one who loved Jesus spoke to him, except Luke tells us that one of the thieves had a change of heart. He spoke to Jesus in faith, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43) Here we see it again: Jesus opening the door to God’s house and making his house a home; even for a thief.
Jesus said that the cross was a price that had to be paid as a ransom, as the cost that had to be met to set others free. Taking a house and making it into a home is costly. The cost of changing the hearts, and the minds, and the way of life of those who are supposed to be at home together is price that no one has ever found.
Making a home for those who don’t want to come home is a price that no human being can pay for another, let alone for the whole world. It only happens as a gift. God paid the price for that gift in Jesus.
The cross is the price that God pays for us and for the world. The cross is also the price that we are called to pay for our love for Jesus, and for our love for others. The cross is not just the price we pay to faithfully tell about Jesus. The cross is the price we pay to be Jesus in this world, and to live his life for others.
The word “gospel” means good news. The good news about the cross is that it gives us the forgiving love of God that opens the door to the presence of God. But our own lives also have be the same kind of love that opens the door to the forgiving love of God in Jesus.
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-35)
As Christians we are called to be “slaves of all” just as Jesus was. We must do this prayerfully and, in our prayers, we must pray to be wise and good users of God’s gifts. But the wisest and best users of God’s gifts see themselves as the slaves of all. The wisest and best users of God’s gifts always worry that they might not be going far enough. Jesus calls us to this.
Part of how we do this it to tear through the door between others and us because we are living in God’s home. Not every one will see that you are in God’s home, because they don’t know how to see God. If they saw God they might act like all those people around the cross. But they can see you, and you can give them a home without walls.
When I was seventeen one of the worst bullies in my class had been giving me a bad time all day long and we walked together into Mr. Thomas’ class. And Buzz made another wise crack and then he said, “You hate my guts, don’t you Evans?”
I didn’t know what to say, because I knew I had a hard time with my feelings toward Buzz. All I could come up with was this: “No I don’t hate you. We’re just really different.” I tried not to close a door, although I know he wanted, with all his heart, for me to say that I hated him.
It didn’t do any good. It was the best I could come up with as a seventeen-year-old and (so far as I know) nobody had ever been able to get through to him.
The first church I served, after I was ordained, was in a small town on the Oregon coast. It was a recreational and vacation community. It had a lot of artists living in it. It was also a lumber mill town, and so it could be very rough. There was a lot of drinking and drugs. I never knew so many people who had been in jail, or in prison, or who went to jail or prison after they got to know me.
I had to learn that there was no shame in this. Parents got as mad as heck when one of their boys went to jail. They were mad because their boy had been so stupid. They were mad, but not embarrassed. That was the way their world was.
I learned to not be embarrassed. I went to their homes, even though they weren’t church people, and they never repaid me by coming to church. They knew that even though I lived with an open door toward them a lot of people in my church wouldn’t show them an open door except for the door out.
I talked to kids out on the street at night. I talked to the drunk who came to church drunk on a Sunday morning. Even with all the people there, he didn’t even realize it was Sunday morning. I was able to spend some time talking to him. He had a lot of problems. I think some of my people appreciated my doing this, but others didn’t.
The guy who came to church drunk actually conned me at least once, and I was too dumb to see it. I don’t know if I ever did him any real spiritual good, but I was his servant, his prayerful slave, to pay a price to set him free. I was willing to be his ransom.
Knowing Jesus is our ransom to free us to come home changes us. It makes a difference. It changes our hearts and minds. It helps to change us into his image. Jesus came to be the slave to all, and we can be the same.
Even when we don’t see that we are making a difference, Jesus has made a difference in us. It makes us trust that, when we become slaves to all, Jesus can do something with that. That is what the Son of God wants.
The Roman officer didn’t know who Jesus was until he heard and watched Jesus die on the cross. That was all he knew about Jesus. That Roman was (perhaps) the first convert. At least he could say, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

It happened because (even without understanding it) he saw Jesus paying the price of being the slave of all. If we are such slaves, then that same power of Jesus will be at work in us; and, then, Jesus can do anything with us.


  1. There will be a film that will be released in 2016, called "Risen" and is from a viewpoint of a Roman solider who must find the one who was crucified and put into a tomb but his body is now missing. I hope it will be a well done film and make people think.

    1. I saw the trailer for that movie today. I hope it's good too. It was a preview at "War Room" which I went to see. I have mixed feelings about War Room. There is so much monologue. The spiritual transformation in the characters' lives was wonderful, but Christian movies can be arificial and preachy. The acting I saw in the trailer for Risen seemed good, but the story seemed to be all about a concerted and exhaustive effort to find the body of Jesus in order to disprove the resurrection. Even in the trailer it seemed exaggerated and endless. We will hope and see.