SENSE-ING THE CROSS – JESUS SEES!
March 11, 2018…4th Sunday in Lent
I have always considered myself to be a bit of a Trekkie – Trekkies are the nerdy fans of the original Star Trek TV series and its subsequent spin-off shows and movies. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to speed across the universe to far-away galaxies at warp drive, boldly going where no one has gone before?!
Star Trek-The Next Generation, the version of the series that ran from 1987-1994, featured an interesting character played by the very talented LeVar Burton. He was Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge. Geordi had been blind since birth, yet he saw much more than people with normal sight.
You see, Geordi had been outfitted with something called a VISOR – which stood for Visual Instrument and Sight Organ Replacement. This device, which looked like half of an air filter out of a 1969 Pontiac GTO, enabled Geordi to detect electromagnetic radio waves emitted by all objects and life forms surrounding him. He could not only distinguish whom was in his presence, but could also sense their mood and motives. His prosthetic “eyes” gave him a depth of perception way beyond the sight of normal persons.
Over these Sundays of Lent, we are seeking to grasp a deeper, transformative understanding of what the passion of Jesus is all about – what Jesus in his humanity senses on his journey to and on the Cross – what he feels, what he smells, what he hears, what he tastes and, yes, today, what he sees.
In previous Sundays, I have shared about the unimaginable cruelty of crucifixion. Jesus hangs brutalized, naked, bleeding, humiliated and dying upon the most diabolical instrument of execution ever devised in the history of humankind.
Beneath him and beside him, Jesus beholds a panorama of pathos… religious leaders screaming spiteful epithets, soldiers passing the time of day with detached indifference, fellow thieves moaning in excruciating agony, caravans of travelers passing by on the nearby highway.
But, as he squints through bruised, swollen eyelids, Jesus also has a depth of perception that goes beyond mere human eyesight. From his vantage point on the cross, we discover that…
JESUS IS PROVISIONING
In John’s gospel, we read: Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
What a tender, torturous moment!
Jesus and his mother have always had a special bond. Jesus was the oldest of the siblings in his family. His father Joseph had been dead for many years. As the eldest son, it fell upon him to take care of his mom and their family. He labored diligently as a carpenter, providing for the household.
As Jesus began his formal ministry at age 30, Mary was often dumbfounded by his words and actions. And yet, she supported him and instructed people to listen to him.
She knew that storm clouds of opposition to her son were brewing. She feared for his wellbeing. And yet, never did she imagine the evil and hatred would conspire to bring this awful day to pass.
Jesus looks out from the cross and beholds his mother, his aunt and two other women standing there in sobbing shock. It breaks his heart to see his courageous but quite vulnerable mother. He hates to see her hurting for him. He feels her pain more than his own. And he also is quite concerned about what will become of her.
You see, in Jesus’ day and in his very patriarchal society, widows live on the margins, barely eking out an existence. There is no safety net to provide for them. They are simply out of sight and out of mind, destined to live out their days in despairing destitution.
While ensuring the salvation of humankind, Jesus seeks to ensure the well-being of his very vulnerable mom. Pointing to John, Jesus says to her, “Woman, here is your son.” And then, turning to John, he proclaims, “John, here is your mother.” In an act of quiet compassion, he assigns the care of his mother to John, his close friend and disciple.
Who are the most vulnerable among us today? To whom is God leading us to show compassion, caring for their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs?
Allow me to digress a moment…
It’s been 3 1/2 weeks since the deadly high school shooting in Parkland, FL that claimed 17 lives. It is unconscionable that such mass massacres have become commonplace in our nation.
Everyone is demanding that something be done. This Wednesday at 10 am, students will be walking out of high schools for 17 minutes, honoring the 17 lives that were lost. These young folk will be voicing a demand that Congress pass legislation to keep them safe from gun violence.
Across our country, people are voicing frustration, wanting stricter gun laws, stronger background checks, increased mental health care, the hiring of additional school guards and the arming of teachers.
And yet, no one seems to be addressing the elephant in the room – What is missing down in the inner reaches of a person’s soul that would lead them to find perverse pleasure in killing mass numbers of fellow human beings?
The Nicolas Cruzes of our world are among the most vulnerable today. Kids that are growing up with no sense of God and no valuing of the lives created in the image of God. There is a deep, dark hole in their soul, a void that is being filled by a culture that has no respect whatsoever for life- from the video games they are permitted to play to the celebrities they emulate to the apathy and hostility toward faith they are indoctrinated with by their parents and friends.
I can stand here and wistfully recall my own high school days where everyone had a rifle or shotgun displayed on a gun rack in the back of a pickup truck and talk about how we would have never, in a million years, thought of discharging that firearm on a fellow student or teacher or church member.
But that’s not the reality we live in today.
How are we going to fill that deep dark hole in kids’ souls with a sense of God and goodness and life again? How are we going to reach the majority of that generation that has no God-given moral compass to guide them?
In my humble opinion, that is, above all, the question we should be wrestling with. No degree of gun legislation and school security and mental health screenings can ultimately prevent a vulnerable kid from acting upon the darkness and evil in his heart. We must find a way to reach that kid that Christ can remake and remold his heart.
Whether it be caring for his own mom to our own time and place this day, Jesus is always provisioning, seeing the vulnerable among us, and seeking to bring the light and love of God to bear upon their darkness and struggle. Let us never forget that this mission is our mission.
From our Lord’s vantage point on the cross, we also discover
JESUS IS ENVISIONING
Pointing to John, Jesus says to his mother, Mary, “Woman, here is your son.” And then, turning to John, he proclaims, “John, here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
Jesus is more than just provisioning his mom’s care here. He is envisioning a radically new family defined by the DNA of faithlines instead of bloodlines.
The most logical chain-of-command in taking care of his mother following his death would have fallen upon his brothers. And yet, none of them were believers yet. Instead, Jesus assigns guardianship of his parent to John, a devoted follower of Jesus.
Jesus always believed faithlines were more important than bloodlines. Remember that occasion we read about in Mark 3:31-35 when Jesus’ brothers, sisters and mother arrive to see him while he is teaching. He makes the statement,
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
And from the time of the Early Church until today, wherever people are gathered in Christ’s name and seeking to do his will, that is where true family is found. Many of you have told me how you feel more of a kinship to folks here than to your own flesh and blood. And that’s just fine. That is what Jesus envisions the church to be and what it should be about. We are here to support and encourage one another in the journey of life and faith.
I do find it disturbing that, in many instances, the Church today has become more into reclusion than inclusion. We are getting more and more isolated by internal squabbles and secondary, archaic doctrines and practices that erect walls around God’s primacy of grace and kill any hope of that grace ever reaching this generation.
Have we become more about guarding what we’ve gotten than embracing those who’ve been forgotten?
Jesus envisions a vision for the church that is all about constantly reaching outward to include folk from all corners of society, especially those who have been left behind and left out, peeling off the labels and piling on his life transforming love, creating a radically different kind of family. God’s family.
Allow me to share a short parable…
On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little life-saving station grew.
Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club.
Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick.
The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house build outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station. So they did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.
Ponder that parable…
Yes, Jesus’ compassionate words and actions give us a glimpse into the very heart of God.
From his vantage point on the cross, Jesus is provisioning and envisioning.
He elicits care for the most vulnerable among us, and he lays the foundation for a new type of family defined by faithlines instead of bloodlines, where all are included and introduced to God’s amazing grace.
This is what Jesus sees.
Do we see what Jesus sees?