The Cross. Sunday 23rd September 2018,
Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
Mark 9:30-37. Also James 3 – chapter 4:3.
What does this cross mean to you?
Jesus takes the 12 disciples away from the crowds, and tells them, once again, that he – the Son of Man – will be ”betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him and after three days he will rise.” He prophesies his death. Their response – silence.
Now this silence may be for different reasons. It could be out of safety – the previous time Jesus had shared this, Peter had taken him to the side and told him off. And Jesus response – ”Get behind me Satan, you do not have in mind the things of God but of man.” So they are silent because they didn’t want to be told off. Maybe it is denial – they could not imagine God’s promised king the Messiah – being killed. They cannot understand. They are silent.
What is your response to the cross?
Jesus and the 12 continue on their way. But the conversations among the disciples are not about how they feel about Jesus’ words about his approaching death – it is about who is to be number one. As if they have worked out – rightly he is Messiah – but now they are working out, who is greatest among them – maybe it is Peter and James and John who went up that mountain but couldn’t say what happened … they are working out perhaps, if Jesus is King, who will be his chief of staff, the head of the royal household, his ambassador. A person wrote: ”Jesus walks ahead in silence on his way to his sacrificial death while his straggling disciples push and shove trying to establish the order of procession behind him.” (Garland, Mark).
As James wrote, these disciples are giving into the desires inside them which are bringing out these arguments and quarrels. So in that house in Capernaum, Jesus sits – like a rabbi would – and teaches them about servanthood. If they seek to be first, they must be last. And that means welcoming and serving the lowest and insignificant believers. He points to a child. A child today we see its trust, love, fun. But in that culture, when Jesus shows them a child, he has in mind how a child had no status, was totally insignificant. Servanthood is not about serving only certain people, it is about serving all, no matter if they have status or not, significance or not in our eyes. For in God’s eyes they do have value – as he says, to welcome one, is to welcome Jesus and the One who sent him.
And these words take us back to the cross. Jesus walks to the cross – he goes there placing his Father’s will first, and his own last. As he prays in the Garden of Gethesemane. ”Abba Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14).
But also as Jesus says we serve all – he served all of us.
Jesus has been teaching that the core problem in humanity is what is going on deep inside us. In our heart as he put it. And out of this place, not only comes much goodness but also selfishness and even cruelty. He says it makes us unclean / defiled in God’s sight. (Mark 7:20-23). We have a heart problem he says. In another town, when he is challenged why he is spending time, with those who have been labelled as living outside the Jewish Law – sinners as the religious called them – Jesus declares. ”It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17). Those who are spiritually unwell he has come for. But there are consequences for our actions. As we hear in the gospel next week – Jesus goes on to talk about hell ”If your hand causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell.” (Mark 7:44). He suggests in very picture language, it is better to cut off something important, so to not sin, than enter hell. Hell, scripture teaches us is a place where people are eternally separated from God. There is life – through Jesus – and hell, separation from God, a place of no life.
Then before he goes finally to Jerusalem, Jesus comes back to servanthood. James and John ask to be at his right and left hands – the key places – when ”he is in glory.” The others are angry – again as James writes about – all this stuff inside comes up about envy, position – it can sit there submerged until our position is challenged! Then Jesus tells them again – ”Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10:45). Ransom is a word to set a person free from slavery. Jesus came to bring freedom. Jesus says – he came to serve – by giving his life to set us free. Free from facing the punishment that our sins deserve – for all have a heart problem – he comes as the doctor.
The cross is your place of salvation. You are forgiven.
But you are forgiven through someone dying in your place. I read a book very recently, and there was a comment by an American writer. ”When I was young my father went to the beaches of Normandy in France. My father hoisted me up on his shoulder and as we looked out across the field of crosses, he told my brother and me that all those men died for us.” As people down through the decades have given thanks to soldiers, sailors, air force for their sacrifices to bring freedom to occupied countries in the Second World War, we look at the cross and we see the one who died for me to set me free. Yes for us. But for me. You were in mind when Jesus died for you. So you see the cross and you see atonement, how a just God justified sinners, how satisfaction for sin was made, you see forgiveness for all the sins.
But as you look at that cross. It shows your immense value to our God. He did this for you. He knew you had a heart problem. He knew you lived in many good ways but also in many sinful ways – and what that all meant. There needed to be a way for your sins to be forgiven. And he made a way, he found a way, he served you, he valued you so deeply and dearly, he loved you so passionately, he was willing to suffer, be betrayed, and die for you. Just read Mark 15, and what he endured out of love for you : Jesus after his trial is flogged brutally, the soldiers then take him to the side, mock him, hit him, then lead him out to carry his own cross to the hill. Jesus is crucified between two thieves. And as he hangs there for hours, the religious mock – he saved others why can’t he save himself – the crowds throw insults, even one of those dying beside him insult him. He hangs in three hours of darkness and cries out – My God My God why have you forsaken me – the only words that Mark records Jesus saying – to show what he was experiencing… And as he dies, the curtain in the temple is tore from top to bottom, the curtain which separated the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place- which stood in front of the place where the presence of God was said to be and into which a priest could only enter once a year – torn in two, showing the way to God was open and possible and the invitation offered to all. Why did he suffer and die? All because of his love for you.
The Song ”Who Am I?” by Casting Crowns.
Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love
And watch me rise again?
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me?
Not because of who I am
But because of what you’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who you are
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As you look on the cross – as you take bread and wine and remember the cross, the body broken, the blood shed – we embrace the cost, accept the grace, and we remember the love. You come into this place, you kneel before the service, you see this cross, and you know and see you are loved by God. No matter how we may doubt people love us, we see the cross and know we are totally amazingly loved….
A story to finish. On 31st July 1941 a prisoner escaped from Auschwitz. And as a reprisal the Gestapo selected ten men randomly to die in a starvation underground bunker. One of the men who was selected to die was a man called Francis Gajinisdek, (Franciszek Gajowniczek)
And when Francis Gajinisdek was selected, he cried out:
`Ah, my poor wife and my children. They’ll never see me again.’
And at that moment, a Polish man—very unimpressive-looking in many ways, with round glasses in wire frames—stepped out, and he said, `Look, I’m a Catholic priest. I don’t have a wife and children.’ He said, `I want to die instead of that man.’ And to everyone’s amazement, his offer was accepted.
Maximilian Kolbe was the name of the Catholic priest. He was 47 years old at the time. He had been sent there in February because of hiding Jewish people.
Maximilian went with the others to the starvation bunker. He was a remarkable man—he got them all praying and singing hymns; it transformed the atmosphere, apparently, in that bunker. Two weeks later, he was the last to die —he, and the few prisoners still alive, were given a lethal injection on 14th August 1941.
41 years later, on 10th October 1982, Maximilian Kolbe’s death was put in its proper perspective. In St. Peter’s Square in Rome, present in a crowd of 150,000 people—including 26 cardinals, 300 bishops and archbishops—was that man, Francis Gajinisdek. The Pope described the death of Maximilian Kolbe in these terms. He said, ` “Maximilian did not die but gave his life … for his brother.”
Francis Gajinisdek died in March 1995. It said in his obituary he spent the rest of his life going around telling people what Maximilian Kolbe had done for him, because he’d died in his place. Francis himself wrote, remembering that moment of exchange with Kolbe in Auschwitz
“I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me – a stranger. Is this some dream?
Kolbe served others as Christ served us. Christ died in our place. To atone. To forgive. To proclaim we are loved and so precious to him.
It is not some dream. What does this cross mean to you?
Shall we pray.