yesterday’s homily

We have an ecumenical noon service at each of the “downtown” churches. Yesterday at the Presbyterian church I offered the following…

Matt 10.38 Jesus said, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”

Matt 16.24; Mark 8.34 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

Mar 10.21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

Luke 9.23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

Matt 27.32 They compelled Simon to carry Jesus’ cross.

18 years ago some friends of mine from Seminary gifted me with a school ring which bears the motto of the institution. It says “Magnanimiter crucem sustine…” Courageously bear the Cross.

What does that mean? Courageously my dictionary suggests means “bravely, boldly, daringly.” The Cross is mostly self evident. I wonder at the people who use it merely as “bling;” however, I think we still understand that Jesus was killed on it. But my computer’s thesaurus says “to bear” is synonymous with “put up with, tolerate, swallow, and stomach.” Somehow I don’t think that’s what the saying on my ring means in its association with the Cross. So, what does it mean, “Courageously bear the Cross”?

For some it signifies sorrow and the futility of sacrificial living. It sort of sums up the despair some walk in: why bother? Who cares? Does anything matter? Look what it got Him… No good deed goes unpunished. Some forget the “bearing” part and just want Jesus to shoulder the burden for all time. Jesus did it so I don’t have to do anything. This leads to a passive faith that really amounts to no faith at all. So while the One who died on the Cross had everyone else in mind, some prefer to focus on themselves. Rather than embrace the Light and live a life of ministry and service, some curse and fear the dark and pretend that they can hide from their demise.

For some it means “protect it.” “It’s a precious emblem, a lovely symbol, something sacred and so pretty we should just gaze and be grateful.”

Some see bearing the Cross as a sort of yardstick against which all philanthropy is measured. They see the Cross as some sort of standard of behavior. And then they hold Jesus up along side Mother Teresa and Mohandas K. Gandhi as a humanistic goal to try and reach.

Some see bearing the Cross as the holding up of precious tradition: the way of life that they’re convinced needs preserving. And so they dust the Cross and polish it and make sure that it’s straight. They are the ones who believe the Cross is the means to achieving a nice society, a polite country, and an ordered world where everyone knows their station in life.

You don’t have to be a student of rhetoric to know that I’ve stacked the deck here and that I don’t agree with any of these meanings yet. So it’s time to come clean.

I believe bearing the cross courageously means we’re to be moved further into faith and motivated into action by what happened on the Cross. The Cross represents human injustice. The Cross stands for brutal violence. And we should be motivated into action because of that. But the Cross also demonstrates the absolute love and the genuine victory of God; and we should be moved further into faith and action because of that.

The Cross is about death. In Christianity the Cross is about Jesus’ death and our death. Perhaps I’m being indelicate. This is perhaps too strident, too zealous. I think not, obviously, and I’d like to say why.

One of the problems with the way the world looks at religion is that it has a tendency to fixate on “trying to be helpful.” Being helpful may well be a byproduct of the Christian faith, but it is far outside the circle of what we should know it to mean. For Christianity helping is not the goal; Truth is. My purpose today, and if I may be so bold, the goal of Christianity, is not to help you be reconciled to Jesus’ death or your own. The purpose of Christianity is to reveal the Truth about Life and death in order that you may be saved by the Truth. Only the Truth shall set you free.

Christianity is not reconciliation with death. The only reconciliation that goes on in Christianity is our reconciliation with God! Christianity is the revelation of death as the last enemy; and it reveals death because Christ on the Cross is the revelation of Life. Christ is this Life. And only if Christ is Life is death what Christianity proclaims it to be: viz. the enemy to be destroyed rather than some mystery to be explained. Christianity says that Death is not part of God’s plan for us and it is abnormal and unnatural and therefore more horrible than imaginable. [Gleaned from “For the Life of the World” by Alexander Schmeman, pp 99-100.]

So, for a Christian, to courageously bear the Cross means then that we must hold the Cross up as a reality check. The Cross is the mirror in which we must see ourselves. The Cross is the giant lever that pries us up out of the rut of our thinking and puts us on God’s path so that our eyes and ears, our hearts and our minds, will be fixed on the hope we believe: the Truth of the Cross “upon which was hung the restoration, the redemption, the salvation of the world.” To courageously bear the Cross is to stand up to those who would dilute its message. To courageously bear the Cross is to fight injustice until we die. To courageously bear the Cross is to stand in the place of others who are being brutalized. To courageously bear the Cross means that we live not in fear of death, but in the recognition that God has won the victory and defeated death and we are inheritors of the Promise of Resurrection.

Now. I know that to fear is human. And we are all afraid. But we must learn to control our fears. In 1947, C.S. Lewis wrote “Miracles.” Now think about what was going on in 1947 and the lessons in fear that we were learning… In 1947 Lewis helped us understand how we should begin to master our fears. He wrote this:

To shrink back from [our death and hide in false] spirituality is as if we ran away from horses instead of learning to ride. There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room (more room than most of us like) for abstinence and renunciation and mortifying our natural desires. But behind all asceticism the thought should be, ‘Who will trust us with the true wealth if we cannot be trusted even with the wealth that perishes?’ Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot control even an earthly body? These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage: not that we may someday be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables. Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else… should we accompany Him?

We cannot shrink back from the Cross. We must not merely be passive in our acceptance of the Cross. Courageously, my friends, courageously bear Jesus’ Cross this week and for the rest of your Christian lives.

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