The Old Bedazzled Cross
25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, "This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
As a pastor, people sometimes want to express their gratitude and appreciation for this or that, so they want to get you a little gift. I’ve noticed that there’s a definite go-to pastor gift. It’s truly the thought that counts and I appreciate the appreciation….but can you guess what the most common gift is?
The number one gift a pastor receives is some kind of cross décor. Before I even graduated seminary, our family had enough wall crosses to cover the entire wall of our stairwell. Many are made by hand and are stunningly gorgeous examples of craftsmanship and artistry. Some are more kitschy, bedazzled with carefully placed hot glued rhinestones or butterflies. All together, they are actually kinda beautiful and they hold the memories of the cherished people who gave them to me. But every now and then the thought creeps into the back of my head that reminds me…you have an entire wall covered in first century torture devices. Ultimately, the roman cross is a killing machine, a totem to imperial power, a landmark erected to remind us of what happens to those who mess with the established system.
Naturally, that frightens us. We don’t really want a God that’s bruised and bleeding , one thank makes us think of the darker side of life, and so we drift toward the shiny Jesus, the Jesus painted in Thomas Kinkade pastels, surrounded by woodlands animals like a Disney princess, the Jesus we can bring home to mama, preened and polished, shining, shimmering, splendid Jesus. The Jesus that won’t scare off our friends and let’s be honest…that one that doesn’t frighten us so badly.
There are times that I can get behind this revolutionary Jesus. I’m like, “yeah, Jesus, tell those money changer’s what’s up! Those consumerist heathens!” and then Jesus says, “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Whoa, whoa, whoa, Jesus. Let’s not overreact. What do you mean by all? Like, ALL all? I was totally ready to follow hobby Jesus, but ain’t nobody got time for all this.
When faced with the real significance of the cross, we either throw in the towel or we water it down. We have too often metaphorically and literally whitewashed the cross – turning a homeless middle eastern radical into blue-eyed do-gooder. But there’s got to be another way. My soul longs for something more than that. How do we make sense of the cross? Let’s wrestle with that for a bit. What does the cross mean to you? When you really see it?
Real quick though, before we dive in, I want to offer two parameters. First, this isn’t a multiple choice question with a single correct answer. Each of us are likely to see it a little differently. After all, the cross means something different to each of the four gospel writers. So, even in the Bible, there’s no one uniform answer. Second, I want us to be honest with ourselves and each other.
What does the cross really mean to you?
In your day to day life…not just the Sunday School answer you think I want to hear.
What are your gut reactions to the cross?
Has your answer changed over time?
I want to suggest another way of looking at the cross. Jesus uses the examples of financial cost – a building project, the wages of soldiers – but these things are also matters of awareness, looking at the world with clear eyes not just rose-colored glasses, taking time to contemplate the very real implications of our choices. I often say that Christianity is pretty simple, but its implications are complex. The cross is a light to the world, and so it brings to light some things we wish would have remained in the shadows. The Cross gives us sight to see the intimate brokenness AND beauty of the world God loves. God gives us eyes to see and it cannot be unseen. Like, once you’ve seen the images of toddlers washing up on Mediterranean shores, you can’t think of refugees as some faceless issue over there. Once you’ve seen a homeless person bring their food back to camp and share it with those who have even less…they can no longer be an amorphous blur as we drive by. Once you’ve seen your annoying co-worker stop to invite that person who always gets left out, out to lunch…you see generosity in a new way. Once you see wildflowers taking over that abandoned eyesore of a lot, or whimsical dandelions breaking through cold concrete…you recognize beauty in barren places.
Once we’ve heard the good news that God loves us even with our messy truth, we see God’s love in so many other unexpected places and can’t help but follow in a new way. And that’s the key. If you hear nothing else, hear this. The Gospel comes first. We receive grace overflowing first and foremost. The cross isn’t about suffering our way to God, but God’s dogged commitment to transform even the dark dank dismal pits of this world into something entirely new and full of life.
So, what if the cross were about awareness? Some in the church call that revelation, others call it being woke. And it changes the way we live. What if we were to look at the cross as something that opens our eyes and can’t be unseen?
Now, with that framing, what does the Cross mean to you?
Jesus wants us to know that kind of life is tough. Jesus is not interested in bait-and-switch discipleship and neither am I. This way will not be always smooth. It may cause some people to think you’re strange, or too opinionated, too political, or a bleeding heart do-gooder. It will cause you to make choices that put the needs of others above your own. In many ways this kind of life will cost you, taking up the cross will weigh you down and sometimes you’ll wish you could go back to the blissful ignorance you enjoyed before…but even more powerfully, it has liberated you. On the journey to the cross and through it, Jesus liberates us from fear, from hiding, from crippling shame, from oppression, from sorrow, from ulcerating stress, from impotence, from avoidance, from consuming hatred, from hunger, from pain, and from ultimate death. We will never be the same. Jesus calls to us, “Take up your cross, stay woke, and follow me.” The gospel is on the move, let’s go. Amen.