there's no shade
in the shadow of the cross
A sermon from the 13th chapter of Luke:
In the Gospel we hear as some folks with an obsessions with morbid headlines come up to Jesus. “Did you hear about that story, ‘18 struck down in when madman Pilate sent soldiers into the temple?’”
In reply Jesus doesn’t offer any explanations, or even words of comfort. Instead, he talks about something we don’t expect given the question hanging in the air. Repentance. Repent.
And let’s be honest, these days, the word repent has a decidedly negative connotation…
Well, this Lent I haven’t had the heart to lay it on too thick…
Because I don’t have to be the one to tell you how broken things are. Do I?
We all know that already…
Which is why I’ve been thinking a lot of about how this life Jesus calls us to isn’t a another thing to do, a way to be more religious. How Jesus calls us to a lite that’s fully human. How, at it’s heart, that’s what Lent is all about. Reclaiming the life Jesus offers.
Remember; Jesus is fully divine, yes. But Jesus is also fully human. Jesus’ life is a witness of what it means to be fully human. Fully human.
What’s surprising, but probably shouldn’t be, is the life Jesus calls us to, doesn’t come naturally to us. It isn’t intuitive. That on our own, all our attempts don’t lead us to life; but rather death…
That’s the mystery of the cross, Jesus calls us from the life we’ve tried to cobble together by ourselves, to the life he comes to give. And what happens is, when Jesus gets you, you realize all Jesus called you from, can’t compare to all he’s called you to…
…Do you believe that?
I know Joseph did.
After being sold into slavery by his brothers. When a drought, of all things, reunited them. Instead of bearing a grudge, though, all Joseph could do was embrace his brothers and choke out, over tears, “what you intended for evil, God used for good.”
That’s the mystery of the cross, that when you look back on the life Jesus calls you to; you realize all the Jesus called you to repent from, can’t compare with he’s called you to…
…Do you believe that?
I know Thomas Merton did.
I’m reading his faith autobiography right now. I can’t recommend it enough. Hearing him tell his story, which is God’s story, makes me want to love Jesus more.
His parents were secular, artists. They took him with them across Europe. His mom, though, died suddenly and tragically too young. That’s when Thomas’ dad brought him and his brother back to America to live with their well-to-do grandparents.
Then his dad died suddenly too. Thomas was a young man full of potential and with means too. For all that, though, he couldn’t find the life he longed for. He went back abroad to study at Cambridge. Only to be asked to leave, because of his reckless living.
Back in America, he studied at Columbia. Not that getting kicked out of Cambridge did much to change his behavior. He kept up all his old habits. Before he could be kicked out, though, all his nights couldn’t bring him the joy they once had. So he began searching.
Eventually he found his way into the church. Even becoming a Trappist monk, eventually. (That’s the order that doesn’t speak.) And what he found was, in turning from his old life, he finally found the one he had been searching for all along. True life.
But that’s the mystery of the cross, isn't it? When you look back on the life Jesus calls you to; you realize all Jesus called you to repent from, can’t compare with all that he’s called you to instead…
…Do you believe that?
I know I do.
Now, I don’t have any patience for people who tell their conversion story, and spend all their time talking about their past life. You always get the sense they love that life, more than the life they have now.
So I’m not going to do that. Plus, I don’t like talking about all Jesus saved me from.
But as you know, I didn’t grow up Lutheran. I grew up in a really strict tradition. I didn’t go straight from that tradition to Lutheranism, though.
When I moved out, I couldn’t get away fast enough. I thought I was finally free from God. And if I was going to get mine in the end anyway, I might as well enjoy trying to get away from God.
And I suppose I did. Or at least, tried.
And all I had to show for it was a trail of brokenness. Eventually I transferred to Grand View. Not because it was Lutheran, but because of their journalism program. I was good enough at that, and it seemed like a fine job to take.
But God had other plans. I was assigned to write a story on the campus ministry team’s trip to do relief work after Hurricane Katrina.
I was struck that on campus, only the Christians were doing something about that catastrophe. That a group of college kids were volunteering to spend their spring break, not getting hangovers, but helping others…
So I wrote the story, and then I asked if I could go on the trip, too. Making it clear I wasn’t Christian, though. And riding down to Biloxi, I remember how I was struck by the joy of those kids. The way they weren’t afraid of God; but in love with God. The way the nights they could remember were more joyful than all the ones I couldn’t.
I remember being curious, and asking about church. That sunny, Sunday morning, when I went with them. The words I didn’t understand. The hymns that were boring. Unsure what I was doing there.
I remember when everyone suddenly stood up, singing “create in my a clean heart, O Lord.” And although I couldn’t have articulated it then; something inside me knew that’s what we are created to do. To pour ourselves out to God and ask God not just to take it, but to clean it too. Make it new.
That’s the mystery of the cross, though, isn’t it?
When you look back on the life Jesus calls you to; you end up realizing all the things Jesus called you to repent from, can’t compare with all that he’s called you to instead…
…Do you believe that?
Look, there’s a lot to our Gospel today, but what I want to hold before you is the beauty of what Jesus calls you to. The joy of it. The fullness of it.
I’m not trying to sell some snake oil, that it’s all easy. If I’m being honest, I still struggle to let go of all the things I’ve put my trust in but won’t save me.
If I’m really being honest, though, I also know none of those things will bring the kind of joy Jesus showed me that first spring at Grand View…
I say this because so often when we hear Jesus telling those who came up to him asking about those Galileans whose blood Pilate, or anyone else for that matter, to repent; we hear him saying, “repent; or else.”
If you read the rest of our Gospel, though, there’s no way that’s what Jesus is getting at.
After all, right after calling those folks to repent Jesus tells a parable about a fig tree. A fig that that’s been planted in a vineyard for some reason. And when the owner thinks it’s high time the tree get it’s act together, the gardener’s bright idea is to give the tree more time, a little TLC, even more care.
After that, Jesus looks over the city where he will be crucified. And instead of pronouncing a curse, he mourns over all the people who are turning from his love.
And that’s the real mystery of the cross, beloved.
Not that Jesus calls us to turn from all those things that keep us from his love; but that his love is so great that he will even die for those of us who would rather kill him than turn into the light.
Ultimately, that’s what the parable about the barren fig tree is about. It’s not about God just waiting to let us have it, and Jesus begging the big man to wait a little longer.
It’s about Jesus begging with us.
To see ourselves, one another, the whole world through his eyes.
Not as objects of judgement. But as objects of love. Loved by the great gardener. The one when Mary, at Jesus’ empty grave, thought was a gardener that morning when everything changed.
And everything did change, now you will find life by losing it. Save your life by dying to it.
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but you have a savior who isn’t waiting to let you have. But is waiting to gather you to himself. The kind of savior who wants to love you the way a mother hen does. Willing to put herself between you and all that would separate you from God.
You who have been trying to save yourself. Repent. God has saved you.
You who think God has given up on you. Repent. God loves you too much to do that.
Repent is the word of love Jesus speaks; to turn from all that would kill you. To turn to the love that will save you. Repent.