There weren't that many people in church this Sunday due to a number being on vacation. (Let's just say it really lived up the old saying, "where two or three are gathered.) Here it is:
“Roses Around the Cross”
March 12, 2006
Community of Grace Christian Church
New Brighton, MN
As is the case when you prepare a sermon, you tend to go through a few ideas before one idea comes through all the clutter. I kept focusing on the idea of “taking up your cross” and what that meant. Growing up, I learned that it was all part of Christian discipleship and I still believe that, but as I thought about the text, my mind wandered to a work of art that made expanded my idea of discipleship.
It will be eight years this summer that I went on a two week vacation to Europe. It was one of the few times in my life that I had a tidy tax return and I used it to go to Spain, France and England. Of course in Europe, I went to a ton of gallaries and saw paintings and sculptures I had only seen in books before. I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris, as well as several paintings by the Impressionists, like Monet, Serrat and Van Gogh. In Spain, I went to the world famous Prado and saw all the great old masters like El Greco. I also went to the gallery Reina Sofia in Madrid which housed serveral of Spain's modern artists like Salvador Dali, Jao Gris and Pablo Piccasso. I was looking forward to seeing one particular painting, Piccasso's Guernica. It's a famous painting and as you can see, I chose it to be the bulletin cover today. I remembered seeing in Spanish class and and found it interesting, but didn't really know the context. Before I left for Europe, I had learned that Piccasso painted this in protest of the boming of the Spanish village of Guernica by the German Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War. The Germans bombed the village while many were out shopping. In that context, this painting is quite horrific. It shows the pain of the people, horses running and screaming- it just seems as if God was not present.
There's something you should know about the actual painting. It's huge; spanning from the near the floor to near the ceiling. If the Mona Lisa seems small, then Guernica is large. You feel swallowed up by this painting and feel the emotion.
As I started to think about how this related to our text in Mark, I was reminded that this gospel today is about suffering. Guernica is one of the best examples of suffering in art, and the painting reminded me that what Jesus is talking about is suffering.
The Gospel text today starts with Jesus asking the disciple what people think about him. They give him various answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Jesus then asks what who they think he is. Peter answers that Jesus was the Messiah, the Annoited One. That's when Jesus starts to tell the disciples that he would have to face a horrible ordeal: he would undergo great suffering, be rejected by the religious leaders of the day, be put to death and then rise again. Peter decided this was all crazy talk and rebuked Jesus for trying to scare his friends. What does Jesus do? He rebukes Peter tell him that attempted to not hear the truth to silence it, was satanic. The Jesus says that if anyone wants to be a follower, the need to take up their own cross and follow him.
That sounds nice.
I think that if we really knew what Jesus was talking about here, we may not want to be a follower of Jesus, or we would try to find ways to soften the message. And we do soften the message. I don't know if this is a product of the West or American society, but we don't like to focus on the suffering of Christ. Heck, we don't like to deal with suffering period. I remember in seminary a student did a presentation about the cross and about how goulish a figure the cross is. She based the presentation on a theologian who saw Christ death on the cross and Christianity's focus on it as sort of sick. The student thought that instead of seeing the cross or crucifix as the the central part of the faith, we should focus on something more pleasant, like a happy child.
I could understand the student's displeasure of the cross. It isn't pleasant, but then it's not supposed to be. It is an instrument of death, after all, a method of execution.
The fact is, like that student, and like Peter, we want to gloss over the cross. It's hard for us to wrap our minds around the fact that God, in the form of Christ, came to earth and had to face humiliation and death. This was God, after all and gods don't die.
If you talk to to people who become agnostic or atheist, they will say that the reason they lost faith was because the couldn't understand how a just God could allow suffering in the world. Like many people of faith, the expect God to be some sort of holy Superman that will come in and save the world from the evil villian.
But that isn't how God works. God in Christ, didn't come down and simply defeat evil; God in Christ entered suffering. This wasn't a god that was unaffected by the sin of the world, but chose to be treated as a common criminal and to die on a cross.
It bothers us to see Christ humiliated. We want to cover up the cross with roses and focus on the fact that there was a greater purpose or we get rid of the cross altogether. We want Christ, the wise sage, or revolutionary, or Christ the Mighty King, not the weakened person who was tortured, wrongly accused and executed. That Christ is embarrassing, troubling and scary.
And it gets even more scary because Jesus says that to become a follower of Christ, one must take up their own cross. Yikes. That means that to follow Christ, we will have to face suffering of our own. We will have to enter suffering.
Does this mean that we have to face the same fate Jesus did? I don't know. Some have, not all. It does mean that we have to be willing to enter into the suffering of the world. It does mean that we have to dare to speak out against injustice and face the consequences.
Many of us in the congregation face the daily discrmination based on sexual orientation. We know what it can be to suffer. But there is more. We need to be aware of those around the world who deal with persecution, poverty and hunger and work to end their suffering.
Like Chist, we are called to enter suffering and also trascend it, or find ways to make sure evil doesn't have the last word. Christian martyrs like Deitrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King realized the suffering of others and sought to find ways to end it.
In our community today, there are young teenagers being taunted because they are gay. Do we enter into their suffering? There are those dealing with the ravages of depression and other mental illneses. Do we enter into their suffering? There are those who have no home and are trying to find shelter from the elements. Do we enter into their suffering?
Picasso empathically felt the pain of those who suffered during the bombings and his masterpiece was the result. We need to enter the pain of the world, carry the cross, and follow Christ. It's not an easy thing to do, but remember that God is our Emmanuel, and has gone through this before us. The God who suffered and died is a God that we can relate to.
I want to leave with one thought. As many of you know, I love science fiction and especially Star Trek. I remember one episode of the Original Series called “The Empath.” Now it wasn't a great episode, in fact it was kind of hoky, but what was interesting was this one character who said nothing; she was mute. However, she had healing powers in that she could take the physical wounds of others and they would for a time show up on her own body. In short she was bearing the pain of others.
That is what we are called to do as followers of Jesus; to bear the pain of others and find ways to end suffering.
We can't escape suffering, but let us rejoice that we worship a God that knows what we go through and is with us every step of the way. Amen.