The Way of the Cross ©

Participating in Ash Wednesday services always re-focuses my attention on the cross.  This was further emphasized for me in writing a devotional for United Community Centers of Fort Worth and preparing a number of sermons that I will be sharing in various congregations during Lent. I think the early church got it right when it called for a season of self-examination, confession and reflection preceding Easter.  It is a fact of faith that we cannot truly get to Easter without going through Good Friday.  It is a biblical and theological truth that we must first journey to the cross before going to the resurrection joy of the cemetery. An exchange between Jesus and Peter highlights the point of focus.  “Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts’” (Mark 8:33).  Jesus the Savior makes the cross connection in his determination to live out God’s purpose.  And what is that purpose?  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). Obedient to God, Jesus is on a collision course with human things.  His mind is set on divine things, the divine purpose of God for the salvation of all people.  He is not out for Number One but marches cross-ward for all.  He will suffer, be rejected, and even die to reconnect us to God in a relationship we call salvation. Peter is “rebuked” because he tempts Jesus to ignore God’s purpose.  One scholar puts it this way:  “Jesus is tempted (and so are we) to think that God’s anointed can avoid suffering, rejection, and death; that God’s rule means power without pain, glory without humiliation.  This is Peter’s human way of thinking; and Jesus, overcoming this tempting suggestion, identifies it as a devil of an idea.  Second, Jesus’ rebuke reminds Peter where disciples belong.  ‘Behind me’ (v. 33) and ‘after me’ (v. 34) are identical in Greek.  Disciples are not to guide, protect, or possess Jesus; they are to follow him” (Lamar Williamson, Jr., Mark, p. 153).  In the courage of Christ’s self-offering, the cross connection is made.  Jesus offers himself for you and for me and for all.  He not only shows us what God is like, he takes us to God if we will only but follow. A great preacher of our time, Fred Craddock, puts it this way.  “Do you want to know what God is like?  Jesus is what God is like.  He is the revelation of God’s nature.  You see, it is not enough to say, ‘I believe in God,’ or ‘I believe there is a God.’  People hate in the name of God.  People kill in the name of God.  People are prejudiced in the name of God.  What kind of a God do I believe in?  This kind:  I believe in the God who is presented in Jesus Christ, not just some vague little feeling that crawls around in my head and make me say, ‘You know, I feel kind of funny.  I think I must have faith.’ . . . “What is God like?  Here is the answer: Jesus. . . . I do not want you to think that to be a Christian you have to believe in God and then you add Jesus.  You do not add anything; it is Jesus Christ who tells us who God is.  This is the kind of God in whom we believe.  . . .  Do you remember when he took that old cross on his shoulder and started up the hill to Golgotha?  That is what God looks like” (Fred Craddock, The Cherry Log Sermons, pp. 40-41). three-crosses The purpose of God is the cross connection; to draw us back into a relationship with him through the suffering, rejection and death of his own son.  The cry of why on our lips – thrown into the angry storm of this world’s hate, of human things – is answered by the divine thing, the very love of God in Jesus the Christ.  This is God’s purpose. How does this purpose translate for our lives?  Why first, from good old Peter, we learn not to rebuke or manipulate God but to follow, to follow the Lord through suffering, rejection, and death to the cross and beyond. Secondly, we are taught to focus on divine things by embracing God’s purpose of redemptive love for all people.  We are to see both ourselves and every single human being as a person for whom Christ died.  The cross connection is made for all. Third, we are to embrace both the purpose and the method of love.  Evil is not met with greater evil.  That is the human way.  The way and purpose of God exists in the gift of divine love to be shared.  This truth is hard to remember and even harder to embrace when facing the hatred of ISIS or violence in our community.  And yet, it is the way of the cross. Rev. Jason Adams (then an Associate Pastor at University United Methodist Church in San Antonio where I was the Senior Pastor at the time) shared a story with me that has lingered in my mind as an illustration of the way of the cross.  “In the early 1990’s, there were some women who lived near Washington D.C. who wanted to show God’s love to a special group of people.  They heard about a group of babies who were rarely held and destined to live and die in hospitals because they had AIDS.  The babies didn’t get much attention, so they began to cry silently.  No one had responded to their crying out loud, so they stopped doing it.  But they still shed tears.  Even though these children would die by their second birthdays, the women took a number of the AIDS babies’ home.  The women would respond to the silent tears by holding and rocking the babies.  Soon these unloved, cast-off AIDS babies began to cry out loud again.  They had been spoken to in the only way they could understand.  Women, who were willing to truly give of themselves, had spoken to them in the language of love.” God’s purpose in Jesus Christ is to similarly embrace us in the cross connection.  We are spoken to in a way we can understand.  The divine thing is Christ, his sacrifice for us and the forgiving love of God he offers us and all.  The way of the cross offers a purpose to embrace and a Savior to follow. I need Lent.  I need it not only to prepare for Easter but to forge the better nature and higher intent of my being.  In the way of the cross, all life and death take on a greater purpose and higher calling.