Witness to the Cross
Tony E Dillon Hansen
Sermon based upon Mark 8: 31-38, Psalm 22, Romans 4: 13-25
Good morning and Happy Winter! We might as well enjoy it while we have it because before long, we will look back and wonder where the time went!
I do pray and hope that you have been using this season of Lent to the fullest. Lent is truly an opportunity to reflect and bring yourself closer to God in our lifelong journeys. If you have taken a task for Lent, I pray for success in your effort and that effort brings you get closer to God.
This is the second Sunday of Lent (only a few more left), and today, our Gospel turns our attention to Mark 8 with Jesus explaining this grueling task ahead. Many want to call this a prediction but really what Jesus is doing in this is teaching. As you might suspect, that is among my favorite types of sermon because I like to teach and to dive into the text. In this teaching, Jesus challenges us because the task is not just for the Promised One but reminder to all of us that follow the Way of Jesus and how we witness God’s wonders.
Look at this again with me. Jesus tells potential followers to “deny themselves and take up the cross… For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Think about this, deny yourself and “take up the cross.” “Deny yourself” means to let go of your ego and your expectation. Drop the pretense and draw open the curtains so that you see. See what is real and true. Allow yourself to really witness God’s beautiful wonders whether a beautiful starry sky in northern Minnesota, seeing gardens begin to bloom, learning something new, or homeless people around us. See all people that you agree and disagree, and the tricky part, see God in all of them.
Then Jesus says “take up the cross.” I have to ask, when we see a cross, what comes to mind? Why are these perpendicular angled pieces meaningful to us? Are they just cute ornaments on a wall, or something else?
When we look at the cross, we might consider everything that happened, what it cost and what that cost means for us. A colleague professed that she weeps at the sight of the cross, and then those tears change to joyous smiles when she thinks of what Jesus did. I confess that I have come to understand this and just how emotional this cross really is - from intense grief to liberating joy.
I submit when you think about these aspects, the cross is full of emotion. I submit to you to witness that cross press upon your heart. I submit when you think of that with prayer and loving heart, you will witness God in your heart.
Through Christ, we are justified by our faith, and here, Jesus is telling us to match language with deeds. It is more than just saying I have “God in my heart” but considering what we do to express God’s love and compassion in our world. We, as a Church should ask as well, what do we do to express that love so that anyone peering into this church - or virtual service - see the full expression of God working in us and through us. Do they see God so evident here, they are drawn into our community?
In order to make that connection, we must realize that discipleship is costly and be willing to “walk the walk.”
People might twist these a bit to think that suffering of all sorts is permissible, however injustice, abuse or taking things on the chin, so to say, these are not acceptable. Seriously, no one ever invites pain and misery, and we don’t go around saying “hey will you hit me”, “will you make fun of me” and “make me feel like crap for being me.”
The cross does not give credence to violence but is instead bare reminder that violence is not an end or a proper means. In fact, Jesus calls us to task. Especially if you witness (or you are suffering) abuse today, that is not the what the cross represents. Have courage and speak up. Speak up when things are wrong, and profess God’s justice and love for all. Speak truth of this love and justice to manipulators, and then, see God’s presence overcome obstacles. That may not happen by a snap of fingers, overnight or for years, but faith in the cross, what it means and what Jesus did will help us get there.
Further, through our faithful actions, we pick up our cross. The confirmation group read James 2:17 “faith, by itself if it has no works, is dead” meaning that our faith is powerful, but faith wants help from what we do. Thus, we must reveal God’s presence in what we do as well as what we profess.
You reveal that by helping your sick neighbors get food and medicine. You reveal that when helping homeless people get food and blankets, or listen to veterans tell their story of trauma. You reveal that by sharing the parent’s cry for her child’s justice and remembering those that walk the tension of protecting us on the front lines. You reveal that presence in your prayerful calls to friends, family, and beloved to let them know you care. Then, you might feel God’s presence transform your heart and giving you immeasurable joy.
I submit to you that when you reveal God’s justice through you, then your faith really flourishes and grows (not just for yourselves but in others around you - including our Church).
That is why the cross is powerful because Jesus did all of that suffering for us to have salvation - for you and for me. Thus, How humble is your witness? How thankful? How joyful?
Lent is a time to remember the sacrifice and the victory while recognize we have drifted away from God’s promise and gifts. Turn back, see the cross, fill your heart with witness of the wonders- witness of our God. Let your mind be blown with possibilities. Let your life be saved in the warmth and comfort of God’s Truth and be lifted!
My role as a preacher is to invite you into the stories, the passion and wisdom of Christ. I want to let that that message of hope and empowerment manifest in you here, this Sunday morning, but also to take that into our world.
Witness it in daily life, not just Sunday morning in a sanctuary. Witness beyond the four walls of the church or our homes and beyond social media. As Barbara Brown Taylor says, “there is an altar in the world,” which means many places are great for expressing the emotions of the cross and witnessing God among us.
Thus, I ask, “How do we witness the cross outside these walls? How do we witness God’s love and justice? Even more importantly, Why?”
We don’t do pick up the cross because it is fun, easy or to get accolades from peers or anyone? Remember our Ash Wednesday lesson that those who do have already received their rewards. If you are doing this for praises from those around you, we might want to reconsider why because many time praises don’t come - rather taunts and jeers because you have to take sometimes unpopular stances. We do this because they are right things to do. We do this in remembrance, because Jesus called us to this mission, and because we love Jesus.
When I think about this and the cross, there is powerful motivation to get up and speak up, not just when it’s convenient and easy because life happens at remarkable times and discipleship isn’t meant to be easy.
Thus, I join friends at Urban Bicycle Food Ministry, march for equal justice or simply listen to those who are hurting. Then, you too might experience an aura of joy overcome you with God’s presence surrounding us.
The cross is even more emotional to me as I think more and more about it and maybe for you too. When you think about the cross, when you let the cross (and what Jesus did) press upon your heart, you may be moved to tears. You may, like me, be moved to sorrowful tears when you think of what Jesus endured and how countless followers have met this fate as well. Yet people died, willing to be martyred, with the promise and strength of Jesus in their hearts. You may be moved to confess your unworthiness of that sacrifice, but dear and sir, that sacrifice was meant especially for you!
Let sorrowful tears change to tears of joy because we can acknowledge the anguish and sacrifice that happened to give way to salvation for you and me – in all of our brokenness and yes you are worthy! The cross brought us salvation as liberation from earthly chains through witness of the kingdom among all of us. Witness these wonderful gifts, turn your heart towards God, and pick up the “alluring cross” full of hope. Then, you cannot help but be moved to courage and joy. Let that carry you and free you.
Let our lives, our journey through Lent, be filled with prayer, love and God’s justice as remembrance of this sacrifice so that we truly witness the power of the cross, the victory in our lives and the awesome freeing gifts given to us.
Thanks be to God.