“Cross of Love” – a Sermon
by the Rev. Jay Lawlor
17th Sunday After Pentecost Proper 19 Year B: Sep. 16, 2018
St. David’s Episcopal Church – Bean Blossom, IN
In July 2017the Episcopal Youth Event – EYE as it is more commonly known – was held in Oklahoma. Every three years the Episcopal Church convenes EYE to celebrate and energize the active participation of youth in ministry as members of the Body of Christ throughout the Episcopal Church. It is the second largest gathering of Episcopalians behind General Convention. And it is an amazing, energetic, inspiring time of worship, reflection, fellowship, and mission. I served as a leader for the youth delegation from the Diocese of Massachusetts in 1999 when EYE was hosted by this diocese at Indiana State University.
At the most recent EYE Presiding Bishop Curry gave an incredible sermon at the opening Eucharist. I watched it online and you can pretty easily find the video. In the sermon, the PB said: “If you want to change the world, follow Jesus.” It’s a short, but powerful, statement. Because following Jesus means taking up our crosses – which is to go where God hears the cries of God’s people and change the world more into God’s vision for creation.
And God has a history of calling upon people of faith to be God’s agents of change in the world. In fact, it is how God enacts change in the world. While not part of our Lectionary this morning, Moses comes to mind. Recall from Exodus the story where God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4b) A few verses later, Exodus continues:
Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians (Exodus 3:7-8a)
And we are familiar with the rest of the story. God delivers the Israelites from Egypt through Moses. God chooses Moses to lead them out of bondage and oppression.
Leading Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann comments that Moses, while at first unsure he is up to the task, becomes a willing participant and a legitimate partner with God. Because of this, vocation is assigned to Moses for the sake of the Israelites. Moses’ personal encounter with God is not for his own sake, it is for the sake of the community – as it was for Abraham. As it was for Jesus. As was and is for those who follow Jesus.
Our call from God may not be in the form of something as dramatic or obvious as a burning bush, but all we need to do is look at the world and know God is surely calling to us. God hears the cries of those who are oppressed, vulnerable, lonely, sick, or suffering with injustice, and God calls upon agents of change to transform the world. It is throughout Scripture – both the Hebrew Scripture (our Old Testament) and the Christian Scripture (our New Testament).
So, in the words of our Presiding Bishop, “If you want to change the world, follow Jesus.” For Christians today, it is about taking up the cross which leads us to proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace, and love. And the Gospel – the Good News – is that God is love and God’s love redeems us through Christ. It is a love which knows no limits, no exceptions. And out of this love we learn to become the community God intends us to be.
This Jesus Movement we are all a part of is transforming. Not just for us, but for the world. If we are willing to follow Jesus. If we are willing to follow Jesus even to those places we may not want to go, to be with those we may not want to be with, to take risks for the sake of the Gospel when it is easier to play it safe. To take up our crosses. Matthew’s Gospel today is all about taking up our crosses.
When Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, be tried as a criminal, an enemy of Rome, and be put to death, they want nothing to do with it. Peter takes Jesus aside and Mark tells us he “rebukes” Jesus. But Peter, and the others, seemed to miss the part where Jesus said that on the third day he would be raised again. And that, of course, makes all the difference.
Jesus goes so far as to say to Peter that it is like Satan talking; that Peter is a stumbling block for what Jesus knew would happen as a consequence of his actions. Peter is stuck in the moment, he has tunnel vision and can’t see the bigger picture. Jesus is telling them the cross of Rome is not the last word.
Jesus on the cross was a great injustice. It was a violent act of cruelty and destruction. Rome’s cross was a symbol hate. Nailed to it, Jesus took on sin and death.
But sin and death would not triumph. Oppression, injustice, and hate are ultimately not victorious. Love wins. Love wins because God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of their oppression in Egypt. Love wins because Jesus transformed a cross of hate into a cross of love.
Jesus on the cross was the most self-less act of love the world has known. So when Jesus says that his disciples must take up our crosses to follow him, we are to take up selfless acts of love in the name of Jesus. And whenever we hear one group using scripture as a weapon to oppress others, to justify discrimination, as we did this past week with the Nashville Statement which took aim at the LGBTQ community; that is not love, so it is not of God.
We know this. Taking up our crosses to follow Jesus means we are called to witness to love. Love of God. Love of neighbor. No exceptions. Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34) Taking up our crosses means going where God hears the cries of God’s people so we can respond in love. Sometimes it will challenge us. Sometimes it will be risky. But the closer we follow Jesus, the more we will reach out to the stranger; assist those in need; heal the sick; comfort those who mourn; and speak out against discrimination, oppression, violence, and hate. When we take up our crosses we are acknowledging that God hears the cries of God’s people and that we are answering God’s call to live in justice, peace, and love.
Taking up crosses is living passionately, and without fear, into your calling as a community of people called to serve those in need in our town, in our nation, and around the world. (from St. David’s worship bulletin) That is how you fulfill the vision God has given you as a community of faith serving Christ for over fifty-five years in this place.
That’s about following Jesus to change the world. So let us take up our crosses and lift them high so the world knows God is love, that God loves without exceptions, and so do we. It is that love which will change our world. Amen.