The Wilderness of Ourselves

Three Crosses and Silhoutted Person in Prayer at SunriseScripture Text:  John 3: 14-17

 

14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

This is it: THE verse.  So what we do with THE verse?  It’s on street corners and billboards and T-Shirts and tattoos and faces and signs at sporting events.  I think it is often read as some sort of great reward for doing the right things.  You know, if you do everything you’re supposed to do, you’ll be rewarded when it’s all said and done.  And if you don’t, well you’re just out of luck.  So, look at me…do what I do, go to church where I go, be what I am, look like I look.  I’m saved; are you?  (I hate that!)

But we’ve read it wrong.  For God so loved the world—not the ones in the right church or the right country or the right side of the line—but the WORLD.  God loved the world, everything about the world, everyone in the world, so much, so very, very, VERY much, that God came and walked among us, sending One who was the Godself in every way, to lead us home, to actually BRING us home, to lead us to God.  Are you saved?  Yes…every day, every hour, over and over and over again.  I’m being saved with every step and move and breath I take.  I think that’s what God does.  God loves us SO much that that is what God does.  God is saving us.

God came into the world to save the world.  So why would we interpret this to mean that God somehow has quite loving some of us or that we have to somehow bargain with God to begin loving us or that “being saved” is a badge of honor?  See, God loves us so much that God is saving us from ourselves.  It’s back to that snake thing.  OK, kids, you think your main problem is snakes?  Alright, here it is, look at it, hanging there on a tree.  Look at it, really, really look at it.  Quash your fear, let your preconceptions go, just do it.  There now, all is well.  No more snakes.

OK, kids, what is the deal this time?  You have let the world order run your life.  You have become someone that you are not.  You have allowed yourself to be driven by fear and preconceptions and greed.  You have opted for security over freedom, held on to what is not yours, and settled for vengeance rather than compassion and love.   I created you for more than this.  I love you too much for this to go on.  Look up.  Look there, hanging on the tree, there on the cross.  Stare at the Cross.  Enter the Cross.  See how much I love you.  In this moment, I take all your sin, all your misgivings, all your inhumanity and let it die with me.  All is well.  All is well with your soul.

In this season of Lent, we inch closer and closer to the cross.  We shy away.  It’s hard to look at.  But perhaps it’s not the gory details, but the realization that we are the culprits.  Lent provides a mirror into which we look and find ourselves standing in the wilderness of ourselves.  But the Cross is our way out (not our way “in” to God, but our way “out” of ourselves).  Because God loves us so much that God cannot fathom leaving us behind.  But the Cross is the place where we finally know that. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

 

First United Methodist Church, Cleveland, TX
First United Methodist Church, Cleveland, TX

In Christian language, to be truly human is to shape our lives into an offering to God. But we are lost children who have wandered away from home, forgotten what a truly human life might be. When Jesus, our older brother, presented himself in the sanctuary of God, his humanity fully intact, he did not cower as though he were in a place of “blazing fire and darkness and gloom.” Instead he called out, “I’m home, and I have the children with me.” (Thomas Long, from “What God Wants”, 19 March, 2012.)

 

FOR TODAY:  Bask in God’s love.  Look up.  What do you fear?  What is wrong?  Look at the Cross.  All is well.  All is well with your soul.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?

Today’s Scripture Passage: Mark 15: 20-33
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To read today’s portion of the account of the Passion, click on the below link:
http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=200598988

So they led him away and they hung him on the cross.  They chided him to save himself.  But Jesus was even too weak to carry his own cross.  They randomly pluck a man out of the crowd to help him carry it.  Now if we were doing the staging of this, we probably would have written in one of the disciples to do this, one of those who had traveled with Jesus these past years and received so much love and so much of life from Jesus.  It would have made more sense for one of those whom Jesus had stooped down below last night to wash his feet in a poetic depiction of incredible mutuality.  But that’s not what happened.  As it becomes more and more difficult for Jesus to carry his cross, it is a stranger who stoops to serve Jesus.  We really know very little about Simon—is he black, brown, white, olive-skinned?  Does it matter?  He was from Libya—a foreigner to the city of Jerusalem.  Anonymously plucked out of the crowd to help a bleeding dying man, he stooped and hoisted the cross that Jesus was carrying to his own shoulder.  Even at this late hour, God has orchestrated a Divine reversal in what the world expected.  Isn’t that just like God?  But, you have to wonder, where were the disciples?  Where were you?

The account says that they brought Jesus to Golgotha.  The name derives from the Aramaic golgolta, meaning “skull” or “place of the skull”.  Early tradition assumed that this was a site west of the city.  And when the Lukan Scripture was translated into Latin, it became known as “Calvary.”  But somewhere in history, the site was lost.  Perhaps it wasn’t even a specific site at all but a sort of general area away from the bustle of the city where these crucifixions would occur.  In 330, the Emperor Constantine tore down a Roman temple to Aphrodite and built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which tradition now recognizes as the last stations of Jesus’ journey to the cross, the site of the Crucifixion, and the site of the burial.  The present structure, built by the Crusaders, still houses the Constantine structure and the tradition.  Maybe it’s best that it’s like that.  Maybe it’s best that the actual site of Jesus’ final moments is not really known and even that Jesus’ final resting place is more of a tradition than a known place.  After all, would you have been there anyway? Maybe the anonymity is the whole point, sort of a depiction of our faith journey as we wander with no real knowledge of where it is we’re going–only that God is calling us there.

So, accompanied by an anonymous person to an anonymous place, Jesus is crucified.  The one who not so long ago had been surrounded by friends and followers, who a short time ago had preached to thousands on a hillside near the Galilean lake, and who only days ago had been showered with palm-branches in acclaim for who he was, was totally alone.  The one who had come into the world to save the world was now going to die in a shroud of anonymity.  It’s pointless to ask the question as to whether or not you were there.  You weren’t.  I wasn’t.  No one was. 

The life that began in the humble anonymity of a rough-hewn manger was ending the same way on a rough-hewn cross.  Maybe that was the whole point.  We bring nothing into this world and we take nothing out.  We are here for but a short time that, by the very Grace of God, is hopefully so filled with life and love that when our life here has ended, love still remains.  We do not know exactly where Jesus was born and we can’t pinpoint the location where he died.  What we do know is that while Jesus hung on the cross waiting those agonizing hours to die, God had plunged down to the very depths of humanity, to the places of loneliness and despair, to the places of abandonment and darkness, to the places where we are sometimes afraid to go.  And there, God began to say Creation into being once again.  The cross is God’s highest act of Creation yet. And when it was all said and done, it was Love that remained.

H.J. Iwand said that “our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose it must be at an end.  Our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation, and doubt about everything that exists!  Our faith must be born where it is abandoned by all tangible reality; it must be born of nothingness, it must taste this nothingness, it must taste this nothingness and be given it to taste in a way that no philosophy of nihilism can imagine.”  So, in all probability, the explanation of the Cross is that there is no explanation.  At humanity’s lowest point, whether or not we bother to show up at all, it is only God who can save us.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Where you there whey they crucified my Lord?

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon…

Grace and Peace,

Shelli