Did Jesus Have A Shiny Cross? (scraps on the sermon cutting-room floor)

[ A note about this entry: This blog entry started as bits and pieces of reflections for a sermon that didn’t make the final cut. Yet I also felt like I couldn’t leave them on the sermon cutting-room floor. While some of these thoughts were already floating around in my head – others came as I read what a few others had thought about John chapter 12 and as I listened to music in the car. Read it for what you will, and receive it how you want. Hopefully some truth will resonate with you and inspire you.]

John 3:14-15 has a seemingly obscure reference to Moses (Numbers chapter 21), and likening Jesus to the serpent on the staff, which, when the people afflicted looked at it, then they were healed. John foreshadows the in which God will pursue love for Creation and implies that when people look upon Jesus, then they will be healed – redeemed.

The cross is to be seen, it is not necessarily to be understood.
And in the seeing, we are transformed.
In seeing God’s love displayed in the patient, disfigured, suffering, and Lenten colored Jesus we are transformed.

Later in John’s Gospel (chapter 12, verse 32) the author mentions Jesus saying, “When I am lifted up I will draw all people unto me…” Jesus is saying that when people gaze upon the lifted, bloody, rejected, persecuted, sin-bearing God in flesh – they may not understand or articulate love, but they will SEE love.

Sight, not understanding…So I guess the saying is true that “seeing is believing,” and in our day and age of technology that manipulates images, we see what we want to see or what others want us to see. Which can mean that seeing is often believing a truth obscured or an edited and cropped version, because then we might be able to understand it.

The crosses on many altars in churches are beautiful. The Cross – a symbol of God’s love for us. Gold plated / bronze plated / sterling silver – polished and shiny, or serenely backlit.
In some ways the Cross is edited to our liking, making it easier to digest that God would die for us. A clean and shiny cross makes more palatable the reality of Jesus dying for redemption and reconciliation than a dirty, mangled, bloody mess, because then we can get on with the business of rationalizing love, cross, redemption and mission.

We can intellectualize mission, attempt to understand mission, and even rationalize and justify why now is just not a good time to engage in mission, especially because mission is out there and what other people do.

Mission won’t happen out there unless we go, because mission, begun by God in Jesus, continues with us.
Transformation occurs when we see, maybe not understand – but when we see. And sometimes we learn to see in new ways by going.
People ask me why I do what I do, or how my passion for mission grew, and I tell them that it was by going and seeing.
Most churches that get involved in mission do so because some members’ experiences. Yes, before they go they understand there is a need – joining with brothers and sisters… yet when the people return, the articulation of understanding takes a back seat to the experiences of what the members saw.

Seeing poverty – not trying to understand it necessarily, but just seeing poverty transforms us. Seeing homelessness, sickness, hunger, orphans, and war – transforms us. Experiencing both the beauty and the horror transforms us, and gives us a taste of God’s love for all of Creation each and every day. The amount our heart breaks does not compare to God’s. The amount we want to pursue love is a fraction of God’s. God was there before we went, and will remain long after we leave, and God will remember our brothers and sisters around the world even when we forget.

Looking upon the cross transforms us. How does that transformation happen when what we gaze upon is shiny and polished? I’m not saying that we replace all of the shiny and lighted crosses with rough, bloody, wooden ones. Rather, I am suggesting that evidence of transformation occurs by pursuing love of God, of neighbor, and of enemy. When we gaze upon them – those in poverty, the homeless, the punk in school who just creates trouble, the destitute, the bully, the rich whose status can shield them, at times, from the dirt and blood – and see Christ in them, then we see them as loved by God.

As our sight is transformed our hearts are transformed.
We cannot always understand or explain the ways that God pursues us in love and works transformation in us – a process which, in the Wesleyan tradition, is called ‘sanctifying grace.’
This transformation – this sanctification – is a daily occurrence, and it testifies to God’s pursuit of love for all of us – for each of us – every day.

The Lenten Journey leads us to the cross – to Jesus lifted up – and this should not surprise us. It shouldn’t have surprised his disciples and other followers either, because for three years he told them that the cross was what would happen, but it did. Yet the journey does not end there at the cross. In fact, it does not really end at all. It moves from cross to resurrection to Jesus calling his followers to engage the world with his love.
The journey continues with each of us, and missions continues, too.
They do not end with seeing a child sifting garbage in a landfill.
They do not end in seeing effects of war and drought in refugee camps.
The journey does not end with seeing homeless or impoverished or orphaned or imprisoned or even the abused, single parent…No!
Transformation continues the journey…
– a transformation that continually witnesses to God’s pursuit to love the whole world
– a transformation that continually witnesses to God’s pursuit to love each of us.
We have hope. We have God’s promises of resurrection, restoration, and redemption.
Christ’s command for us to love one another as he has loved us is really an invitation into this work – loving is an invitation for us to engage in mission. It is an invitation for each individual and every congregation to join in God’s Holy Wok or healing the World.
And that is Good News.


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Filed under mission and missions, sermon

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