Monday, April 02, 2007

The Jesus Way: the Way of the Cross

Saints know that they are sinners because they are driving towards the light. Mary Grace has broken through and they see their need for forgiveness.

Hebrews 12:14b-15
Without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

The proper goal of the Christian life is growth in holiness, seeing our characters conform more and more to the character of Jesus. Why not be a saint?

This path is not always easy and without pain. It is more like a spiritual boot camp! We need to experience our pain and brokenness, euphemism for our sin, in order to seize upon the grace and healing that Jesus Christ brings.

Dante has written so eloquently about this nearly 700 years ago in The Divine Comedy. After descending to hell, he then goes forth to purgatory.

Now whereas purgatory entails suffering like hell, there is a difference: those sufferings from purgatory are accepted out of love and become redemptive, while the pain of hell is resisted and ultimately is meaningless.

The new journey for Dante and Virgil begins with a long spell in ‘ante-purgatory’, a sort of holding area occupied by all waiting to climb. Some put off the work for too long and have to wait. They learn the discipline of silence and inactivity, limits, in order to prepare for the greater lessons. All of those waiting pray and encourage one another. On this road to redemption, to healing, God provides Kingdom Friends for support.

Along the journey you get the mark of the seven deadly sins on your forehead. It is symbolic that our sins are always more readily apparent to others, and vive versa. This is one reason we are to love our enemies: their hatred is the mirror in which we see our own dysfunction. In humility you then climb the seven-story mountain.

Pride: best definition- self regard; looking at oneself. Two conversations- one that flows and the other where you are watching yourself, wondering if you fit in, looking for desirable results, hoping to be found interesting, etc.

The prideful are forced to carry huge rocks on their backs that press them towards the earth. Pride is a huge weight. A group of people sit on a bus that is passing through the mountains, but they have the shades pulled and are arguing about who gets the front seat and the window seats!

Envy: their eyelids are sown shut. Envy is looking out at the world and comparing it to what the ego has.

“When a friend of mine succeeds, something in me dies.” Gore Vidal

Cain is jealous of Abel; Jacob envies his twin, Esau; Joseph’s brothers envy his special status; Saul resents David. It’s everywhere in the Bible because it’s everywhere in our human experience.

Admiration is the antidote. The fact that we exist at all is cause for us to live in continual gratitude. We are owed nothing by God.

Wrath, or Anger: a lust for vengeance that isn’t God’s. Sinful anger obscures seeing, so a smoke that chokes their throat and burns the eyes torments them.

Luke 2: young Jesus in the Temple.

Sloth: sin through a lack of spiritual energy. They have to run around to overcome it. Sometimes our busyness in life is actual spiritual sloth- it keeps us occupied and away from the painful parts of life.

Coveting: the love of material stuff. The greedy are pressed to the ground, unable to acquire anything. How fitting.

Gluttony: Psalm 51: O lord open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise. Our mouth is for food and drink but also to announce praise to God.

Luke 4: the temptation of Jesus.

Lust: lust is the use of another human being, made in God’s image, for our own desire. Objectification. Lust can occur in marriage, when one partner treats the other as less than a person. These folks are burned in a fire to remind them the pain that their misdirected sexuality has done to them and others.

Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Isaiah 26:12
LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.

The seven deadly sins are not sins as we typically think of sins, that is, evil thoughts, words, or deeds. Instead, they are the branches that connect the root of sin, our fallen human nature, with the fruits of sin, evil thoughts, words, and deeds.

Adultery, for example, is a sin. It is a sin that may arise out of lust, but can just as easily arise out of one of the other deadly sins.

For example,
Pride: I am entitled to whatever I want and others are tools. Today I want sex.
Wrath: I can use sex to get back at others: my partner, my partner's spouse, my spouse, my parents, or my church.
Covetousness: I want what God has providentially and wisely given to someone else.

Burdened by his sin, Dante drinks from two streams. First, he drinks from the Water of Oblivion and all memory of evil and of sin vanishes. Then he drinks from the Water of Remembrance. These waters "restore remembrance of the sin, but only as an historical fact and as the occasion of grace and blessedness."

It sounds remarkably like a 2006 study from the University of Toronto that stated that people have "a powerful urge to wash themselves" when suffering from a guilty conscience. This urge is known as the "Macbeth effect."

In order to study this effect, the researchers asked volunteers to think about immoral acts they had committed in the past—shoplifting, betraying a friend, and so on. The volunteers were then offered an opportunity to clean their hands. According to the results of the study those who had retraced their sins "jumped at the offer at twice the rate of study subjects who had not imagined past transgressions."

God has wired us with an internal desire to become cleansed, to be healed. As sinners we realize that comes in our surrender to Jesus and the cross of Christ. The cross enables us to recall the sin and brokeness from our past as just a memory and the occasion of healing grace.

I received the following email from a friend who lives out of town, concerning the subject of sin we discussed last week:

Because the word ‘sin’ has been in my mind so abused, I sometimes think of it as error or mistake, so I don’t react and shut down. When I think of the word sin, it seems to throw me into the realm of believing there’s no hope. I had a really bad experience as a very young child, in a church unfamiliar to me, and I was literally shamed into leaving a large gathering in the sanctuary when I truthfully acknowledged I didn’t know if I had a personal relationship with Jesus. Had the pastor instead welcomed people to get to know Jesus, rather than condemning (or shunning) us, he likely would have opened up the Kingdom to many more. (Growing up in the United Church, his question came in a form I wasn’t accustomed to.) Maybe that’s part of why I have trouble in groups.

There has been ample damage done in the name of Christianity, (and I’m sure all other world religions) creating barriers rather than embracing people who most need embracing. I don’t for a moment believe it would have been Jesus’ approach, and that’s what upsets me – all the things done in the name of Jesus that have nothing to do with Jesus, but everything to do with power, control, fear – not love. (and I am a part of it all; the judging, condemning, not trusting, not forgiving, fearing…)

So now that I’ve got that out of my system, I have an opportunity to demonstrate forgiveness of that early experience (and many more experiences)…and move on. It seems the less we forgive, the more we stay stuck, and self-righteous. Yes, our minds do much to confuse us and misrepresent who Jesus knows us to be.

Webster “sin”: a vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God.’

Any time we disconnect or estrange ourselves from God (and there are so many ways in which to do it) we indeed are weakened or ‘debased.’ I’ll accept I sin and move forward; false sense of pride (ego) has kept from acknowledging it in those words, as if I’m admitting something beyond reconciliation. And it is through grace I am reconciled.
It feels liberating to work this through…

I believe there is a deep honesty reflected in the email. A saint on his way to knowing that she is a sinner. How utterly blessed!

On Tuesday at a meeting with my mentor, he shared the kind words many had spoken at his last church staff meeting, and then recently at his last executive denominational meeting. While he accepted that they believed what they were saying, he knew what was in his heart. He commented, “Anything accomplished was God working through me because I know I am a sinner. I know the thoughts I have and the judgments I make.” I thought I was in the presence of the apostle Paul at that moment.

“If you don’t believe in evil, come to Africa." So begins a World Vision video I recently viewed.

Saints know that they are sinners. Usually it takes a little age to bring this out, I guess like the flavor of a fine wine.

Confession is a discipline for sinners. “Don't struggle alone. Come share your sins with us.” How’s that for a small group slogan?

Luke 18:9-14
He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: "Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: 'Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this taxman. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.'
"Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, 'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'"

Jesus commented, "This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face, but if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself."

Recall Mrs. Turpin thanking God for her great disposition. She ended up on her back. Grace doesn’t always tickle does it? I spoke to someone this last week that was hit on the head, but has seen that as a grace-filled wake-up call.

When we find Jesus in the centre, God gathers us to Himself. When we’re able to admit the self-centredness of our life, we can begin to find healing. Jesus gathers us; he heals us; He’s also what Hans Urs von Balthasar calls, “The keynote player.” As in an orchestra, where everyone tunes into Him to follow the harmony, otherwise we all play our own song. How terrible that sounds. And then Mary Grace usually shows up.

Jesus is also a warrior. C. S. Lewis said that Jesus came as a little tiny baby because He needed to infiltrate and slip quietly and clandestinely behind enemy lines.

Our sinful world is enemy occupied territory. There are powers of hatred, violence, and spiritual sickness.

Jesus doesn’t fight the way of the world though. But make no mistake; He’s come to fight.

In Luke 2 it begins with, “In those days Caesar Augustus and Quirinius take a census.” The story begins by invoking the names of the powerful, and they are taking a census. Remember when David took a census in the Hebrew Scriptures, the OT? God was not pleased. A census was an expression of power – count the people, tax them better, draft them better, manipulate them more, act as if you’re in charge rather than stewarding a gift that God has given.

This is a story of two kings. Lets keep Augustus in mind as we look at the other king. When there was no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph, there is no place for their son Jesus to be born but that of abject poverty.

Where was Caesar when this happened? Likely in his palace on Palatine Hill. He had the best house in the ancient world. The most protected: best roof, most elegant, safest. This new king is born in a tiny cave!

In the eyes of the world the best place to be is protected. In the life of this new king the place to be is vulnerable and unprotected.

Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes. Caesar, the world’s most powerful person has the best wardrobe in the world! Jesus isn’t even free to squirm in his!

What’s the good life? Freedom, power, my dominion. For Jesus, He was bound to love others. His swaddling clothes mimicked His burial clothes at Easter.

Who was the best fed person in the ancient world? In the eyes of the world: Caesar had it all. He was George Bush and Donald Trump all rolled into one: free, well protected, powerful, very well fed.

Who did Caesar hang out with? The best-looking, most influential people. Jesus had shepherds come visit Him. Caesar wouldn’t associate with shepherds. They were shifty, lowlife kinds of people. Jesus associates with poor and the marginalized.

Then the angels show up. This isn’t touched by an angel kind of stuff. When angels show up in the Bible people get scared and fall on their face. A stratia of angel’s shows up, an army.

Who had the biggest army in the ancient world? Caesar. At Christmas a new army shows up. They don’t use the pathetic weapons of Caesar. They are rather led by a baby king. They will fight with weapons like those mentioned in Ephesians 6:

the armor of God, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

In other words, defeat Caesar by outflanking him! Jesus ends His life on a cross.

In the ancient world the cross was terrifying: it was state-sponsored terrorism. Caesar says, “challenge me and I will expose you to the elements and animals will eat the leftovers.”

Above Jesus is a joke, the inscriptions reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” On Christmas Day, the two kings started fighting, and on Easter the fight seemed to end. That’s what made it so sad for everyone. There had been so much promise, so much hope, and so many dreams- all to be dashed on the cross.

If that were the way it did end it would be sad. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19 that "if Jesus wasn’t resurrected we are to be pitied."

Remember the old gangster movies? A guy is hurt, so one of the other men is killed. They take retribution and kill a more powerful person. Soon it’s a bloodbath of one-upmanship until a full-scale war breaks out or the Boss is killed.

In the movie The Untouchables, Al Capone says, “Somebody messes with me, I'm gonna mess with him.”

Elliot Ness and Jimmy Malone are out to get Capone.
Malone: You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I'm saying is, what are you prepared to do?
Ness: Anything and everything in my power.
Malone: And then what are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms you must be prepared to go all the way because they're not gonna give up the fight until one of you is dead.
Ness: How do you do it then?
Malone: You wanna know how you do it? Here's how, they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way, and that's how you get Capone! Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?

That’s the way of the world folks. Caesar did it to Jesus. You messed with me and now you get to pay. Except that on the third day Jesus rose.

In Luke 24 Jesus is resurrected and appears to several. When He appears to the disciples, they are startled and frightened. This could be the oldest ghost story in the world, the precursor to the slasher movies of today. We killed Him; we betrayed Him, and He’s back for vengeance. Run!

Jesus does two things in all the accounts of His resurrection: He shows His wounds- they are real. Don’t forget what sin did to God! As Virgil picks up a fainting Dante from the sight of his own sin Virgil says, “Look, see! That’s the horror of your own sin!”

Jesus says, "Shalom, peace be with you." We killed God, you and I, and He returns to offer peace!

Luke 24
"You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations—starting from here, from Jerusalem!”

The way of Caesar is an eye for an eye. Hatred, retribution, violence, vengeance. God restore order through peace, compassion, and love on the cross.

Romans 8:31-39
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God's chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us! —Is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We're sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

That’s the Jesus Way. God’s grace and mercy is greater than any sin. The ‘King of the Jews’ sign placed above Jesus on the cross was meant to mock Him and show the power of Caesar. We hold the cross up to repudiate worldly power and violence.

Our own sin is swallowed up in God’s shalom, His peace. Through the power of the cross.

2 Corinthians 4:17
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.


Blogger Supe said...

I LOVED this sermon.

~Penny (& Ophelia)

9:23 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home