The Way of the Cross
Central to the Christian faith is the Cross. It was on a Cross between two thieves that Jesus was crucified and died. It was on a Cross that Peter died crucified upside down.
It was in the Coliseum that Christians were fed to the lions.
Until Constantine became the leader of the Roman Empire and became a Christian it was illegal to be a Christian. When they would gather early Sunday morning for worship and a meal, they had to post a guard to warn them if the Roman Soldiers were coming to arrest them.
Recently when Isis was sweeping the Mideast being a Christian could get you killed.
But in America we experience the previous gift of religious freedom. But has it led us to a religious complacency?
Jesus was particularly concerned for the plight of the poor, disenfranchised, the sinners, the prostitutes. He was accused to eating with wine bibbers and sinners. The religious establishment looked down on Jesus.
He healed on the Sabbath. He threw the money changers out of the Temple during the days of preparation for Passover.
Each year pilgrims would come to Jerusalem to celebrate God using Moses to free the people of Israel from Egypt. The angel of death killed the eldest child in every family of Egypt and the Pharoah finally let the people go.
At least once in a Hebrew’s life they were required to come to Jerusalem with a perfect animal sacrifice to be presented at the Temple to be offered up to God.
Coming from such a long distance many pilgrims would decide to purchase a sacrifice in the area just outside of the Temple. A racket got started. You could only purchase a sacrifice with Hebrew shekels. If you came from far away such as Greece, or Rome you would have Roman money. There were money changers who for a fee would convert your Roman currency into Hebrew shekels. The fees were rather high. When Jesus entered the Temple and saw this practice he shouted; “My Father’s House is a House of Prayer, you have made it into a den of robbers.” and began to turn over the money changers’ tables and with a whip chase them and the animal sacrifices they sold out of the Temple.
It was this act that spurred the religious leaders into planning his death. They convinced the Romans to crucify him on a Cross until he died.
Jesus died on a Cross because his religion and the Roman government turned against him. You do not mess with the racket of stealing money from pilgrims.
I have long reflected on the Cross and its meaning for me. These are my tentative answers today. While I reflect on them, I would like to ask you to reflect on what the Cross means for you.
Jesus was willing to die on a Cross to absorb the power of sin and death for all humanity. He was willing to die between two thieves who deserved punishment for their deeds. When one thief repented and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his Kingdom, Jesus answered, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
The Cross was his final act of making it clear he loved the people religious people usually shunned and avoided. He loved Samaritans who were despised by his people. He loved sinners and prostitutes who the religious people would not even share a meal with. He healed lepers by touching them. Religious people avoided them. Women with female issues were healed. No religious man allowed himself to come close to them. The list goes on and on. I like to call Jesus’s actions as the Way of the Cross.
There is a story told of a young man, who was trailer trash, who walked into a local church to worship and one of the ushers made it clear that being poorly dressed he could not worship here. Sadly, the young lad left and gradually was walking slowly back home. A stranger approached and asked him why he was so sad. He told him that he was kicked out of the church because he wasn’t appropriately dressed.
The stranger responded, “I am Jesus. They kicked me out of that church a long time ago.”
I am pleased to find myself in a church that is not that way. I believe we welcome everyone who comes and makes them feel welcome. I believe that has been one of the reasons our congregation is growing.
It does not matter to us your politics, where you were born, or what is your sexual preference. It does not matter what age you are, or your economic circumstances. Because you are, you are a beloved child of God.
I am so pleased we as a congregation knowing we are blessed are once again giving to benevolence of the NC Synod of the ELCA. I hope when we are considering the budget for 2023, we will commit to giving 10% of all the offerings we receive to benevolence.
I am pleased the Council gave a tithe of the money we received from the yard sale to the Social Ministry Committee to pick a local human need they believed the church needed to support.
This is the first time I have served a congregation who could say, “We have exceeded the church’s expenses by hundreds of dollars through July. Of course, we will next have to face the issue since we have been so pleased where do we need to be a blessing?
We are and will continue to be a place that encourages our faith in our daily life, in our family, our neighborhood, the school we attend, and the job we do. There are many forces in all these areas that pull on us to go along with some questionable things rather than continue our journey with Jesus.
Sometimes being a Christian can even divide a family.
Yes, there are times when the way of the Cross gets painful and might lead to rejection, yet it is the way of life, and perhaps how we live and love and care will cause someone else to check out: who is this Jesus they follow? Amen