February 21, 2016
"The Cross Is Our Reminder"
In Luke chapter 13, some Pharisees came and spoke to Jesus. Were these Pharisees really looking out for the best interests of Jesus? It is possible that they were. After all, they do warn him to flee and escape the wrath of Herod. Or were these Pharisees just egging Jesus on so he would stay and then indeed get caught? It is possible to wonder this because in other parts of the Gospel the Pharisees had been trying to catch Jesus with unanswerable word games, or had reported his deeds of healing on the Sabbath to the authorities. Therefore, we might be dubious about the motive of these Pharisees in Luke chapter 13.
What were Pharisees really about? The term ‘Pharisee’ simply denotes a school of Jewish thought or social movement categorized by dutifully following the details of the Torah, of Mosaic law. There were Pharisees who had repeatedly tried to trick Jesus, and clearly were threatened by Jesus’ charisma and authority. But, there were also other sincere Pharisees like Nicodemus, who came to Jesus because of his deep desire to learn the truth about which Jesus spoke. Perhaps, we should be careful not to clump all Pharisees into one group assuming their thinking is all the same. If we have used ‘Pharisee’ as a label for duplicitous action, then perhaps this is unwarranted since the scriptures do not give a monolithic view of the Pharisees.
There are Pharisees, and then, there are Pharisees, just like there are Christians, and then, there are Christians. There are Christians who say one thing about Jesus but who act in disconsonant ways, and there are Christians who say other things, but whose actions resemble Christ’s love. There are also liberal Christians and there are conservative Christians. But they are all Christians. Even among us sitting here in this Chapel, there is great variation in how we understand our Christian identity. So, firstly, just as there was a variety of Pharisees, there is a variety of Christians today. Let us be careful not to categorize too narrowly our understanding of what it means to be a Christian.
This is a significant learning we can glean from today’s text; there are many who follow God and follow Jesus. Just as we can be slow to judge the Pharisees in Luke chapter 13, let us be slow to judge one another, for the heart of each of us is known to God alone.
When Jesus hears the Pharisees warn that Herod wishes to kill him, Jesus’ answer is perfect. I wish I could speak like Jesus! He names Herod for what he is: a conniving fox. Jesus is not intimidated by Herod; he is not intimidated by evil. Jesus says, “Listen, I am casting out demons and healing people today. Yes, I will complete what I have come to do and I’ll return to Jerusalem, but today and tomorrow and the next day I have work to do that is most important. I can’t waste time thinking about Herod. I can’t let Herod deter me from God’s work of love for all people.” What authenticity! For Jesus, there was more value in his work of love and healing than there was value in his own life. This is indeed how Jesus laid out his life for the sake of suffering people.
Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is incisive. It is courageous, and it is determined! Jesus knows precisely the situation he is in; he is not naïve. He knows who Herod is and what he had done previously to have John the Baptist killed. But Jesus is also unswerving in his desire to spread God’s love and he is bold to do so and to speak up against Herod and others who would have him killed.
So, the second takeaway today for us is a question; in our lives, do we live with the same awareness of the world as Jesus did, and do we live with the same determination and courage to do God’s will even in the face of evil and danger?
This question is appropriately given to us in the season of Lent, which is a time of self-reflection to consider how our lives bear out the calling and mission of discipleship. Are we willing to carry the cross with Jesus even at a cost to our own selves? Or, do we shy away from doing good when evil is lurking for fear of our reputations being hurt? We are asked this question, which is a question about how central discipleship is to our daily lives.
There are many examples of how we fall short of the calling to be a disciple. When we do not speak up in our classes or meetings or in our dorms when harmful words are uttered targeting racial or ethnic groups, or targeting those who are marginalized because of economic circumstances, gender, sexual orientation, political or religious beliefs. Our failure to be an ally in these situations is where we fail in our discipleship. When we fail to stop in our tracks to lend a helping hand to the friend who is carrying a heavy burden, that is also where we fail in our discipleship. When we fail to take the time to be aware of social and global concerns of food insecurity, poverty, injustice, environmental protection, there again we fail in our discipleship. We fail in our discipleship when our faith in God’s love for all people is not reflected in the small and practical things we do every day. Christianity is a practical religion. It is a spirituality that is expressed in the details of our lives.
In Lent, we are prompted to repent our shortcomings. And we are assured that despite our shortcomings we are still called to enact our discipleship anew each day. In Lent, we are humbled because we are imperfect human beings. And in Lent, we are also overwhelmed by the Grace of God who yet loves us and yet, continues to call us to be Christ’s disciples, despite our weaknesses.
So, what is the Good News for us today? What is the Good News that we will carry with us as we go forth from this place of worship? The Good News that we are given today combines the two takeaways from this morning’s text. It combines the takeaway that we repent for the ways in which we have fallen short of our calling as disciples to bear Christ’s cross with him, and the takeaway not to judge one another or to assume that we know the inner heart of another human being. Remember there were Pharisees and then there were Pharisees. There are Christians and then there are Christians. Yet, God loves all of us and has come into the world in Jesus Christ for all of us, regardless of our political or religious inclinations, or any other type of inclination. God comes in Jesus for all of the Pharisees as much as God comes for all of the Christians and as much as God comes for all of God’s people. Again, the Good News is that while we might forget this truth, and while our actions might suggest that God’s love is only for the socially and culturally privileged, Jesus will still bear the brokenness of all of us on the Cross. This act of love humbles us and renews our commitment each day to respond to our call to discipleship. The cross is our reminder; our reminder of God’s love, our reminder of our brokenness that Christ heals, and our reminder of our calling as disciples. The cross is the meaning of our lives. Amen.