|Sermon by: The Rev. R. Casey Shobe, D.Min.
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
April 19, 2019
I have a distrust of slogans and bumper sticker religion. Anything you can boil down to fit on the back of your car or squeeze into a pithy meme is probably a gross over simplification. I’m thinking of things like “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” or “God only gives us as much as we can handle.” There are a couple of exceptions to this, of course. I really do believe that “God is love, so if it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” That’s a phrase coined by our Presiding Bishop, and I think it’s big enough of an idea to touch the beautiful complexity of our faith.
There’s another exception to my rule against over-simplified Christian slogans. And it has a lot to do with the holy day we’re observing this evening. The phrase seems to have been coined by the apostle Paul, who wrote it in his letters no fewer than eight times, and it consists of just two words: Christ crucified. It doesn’t make for a very good bumper sticker, mind you, but these two words speak volumes about who God is and who we are and what it’s all about. Because unlike so many other boiled-down or pithy religious phrases, these two words are, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “not a reduction but a concentration…not a watering down but a distillation.”
Christ crucified. We are so accustomed to wearing crosses and decorating with crosses and using the cross as a symbol of our faith that we can forget just how strange it is that we say that the savior of the world died on one. It just doesn’t fit with anything we’re taught by the world about how to win at something. Victims, by their very nature, aren’t also the victors. Success and power and glory come from defeating other people in battle, or by amassing armies and treasures and land, not by dying pitifully on an execution device. Priest and author Fleming Rutledge has written that until the accounts of Jesus’ death burst upon the ancient world, “no one in the history of human imagination had conceived of such a thing as the worship of a crucified man.” Yet at the heart of our faith, ever since that fateful day in Jerusalem we now call “Good,” is “Christ crucified.”
It’s so important that we don’t imprison the cross behind the thick glass of museum-like religion, and only bother to bring it out this one day of the year out of a sense of obligation. It’s important that we ponder the cross, ponder our crucified Christ, even if it makes us uncomfortable – perhaps especially if it makes us uncomfortable. Christ crucified is the ultimate sign that it’s not by being some generic sort of “good person” that we will inherit eternal life with God, because the way to salvation is far bigger and harder than anything we would usually associate with “being good.” Christ crucified reveals that the world really is in as big a mess as we sometimes fear, and it will take more than human ingenuity and progress to overcome and heal it. Christ crucified is the sign that while grace may be God’s free gift to us, it was bought at a price none of us could ever have paid. Yes, Christ crucified is how we remember that all our hope really is in the power of God to save us, and the reason we call this day “Good” is because God was willing to do whatever it takes – even to the point of accepting the very worst thing humanity could do to him – in order to bring us back to him.
But to profess “Christ crucified” is not just about what happened to our Lord one particularly gruesome Friday long ago. It’s not just a statement that recognizes a historical event, nor is it simply a slogan that alludes to what sort of savior he is. It’s also a statement of who and what we are called to be, too. Because when we are baptized and anointed, we are made into little Christs – that’s literally what we mean when we call baptism a “christening” – and that means our way, our truth, and our life also passes through the cross. The road to eternity for us is by the Calvary Road. “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus once taught, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
The cross, then, is more than the visual symbol of our faith, more even than the sign of the sort of God we believe in. The cross is also what we are meant to offer the world by our very lives. Because, 2,000 years later, the world still has plenty of people who are perfectly willing to nail others to crosses, but what it needs more than ever are Christians who are willing to take up their own crosses and bear that hard and holy weight of love for the sake of others. Were we to do that, well, it’s hard to even imagine how things would change.
Tanai Benard is a Texas educator and mother. Last year, she had to do what all parents have to do far too often in our nation these days, that is, talk to her child about school shootings. Her son, Dez, was in fifth grade then, and she was driving him to school one morning not long after the massacre in Parkland, with all her fears and concerns swirling in her mind, and as they rode along she decided to ask him whether his school was doing any lockdown drills.
“You mean active shooter drills, mom.”
“Yes,” she said.
“Yea, we’ve been doing that.”
“Well, how does it go?” she asked.
“Well, the teacher goes and closes door and locks it, and then puts black paper over the window. And then I and two other kids push a table against the door. And then all the other kids go put their backs against the back wall, and the three of us go and stand in front of them.”
Ms. Benard wanted to know, “Why the three of you? How did you get picked to stand in front?” After all, she knew he was one of only two African-American kids in the class, so she just wanted to know, how did this job come to you?
And he said, “Mom, I didn’t get picked. I volunteered to push the table and protect my friends.”
The mother was now getting nauseous, just thinking about it, and she asked, “Why?! Why would you volunteer to do a thing like this?”
And 10 year-old Dez, sounding a lot like Jesus, said, “If it came down to it, I would rather be the one who died to protect my friends than have an entire class die and I be the one who lived.”
My friends, we need to take the cross down off the dusty shelves of polite religious piety. Proclaiming Christ crucified is not just a slogan about what Jesus did for us back on Calvary, because the cross is not just a prop in the Passion of our Lord. It’s the key to understanding who he is, and it’s the key to understanding who we are really meant to be, too. As 10 year-old Dez shows, our whole life is meant to be about stepping up to the cross, shouldering it, and bearing it for the sake of love. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” the apostle Paul says, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but…humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross (2:5:8).”
Good Friday is when we remember that we are not called to admire the crucified Christ from a safe distance, nor to think that polite and pious veneration of the cross is enough. We are to follow him into a crucified life. We, like Dez, are called to be willing to lay down our lives for our friends, to pick up our crosses, to be willing to lose our lives, because, just like our crucified Christ, that’s how we will actually really save them.
 Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire (Waterbrook: Colorado Springs, 2017), 283.
 Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (William Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2015), 1.