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the sermon for

the Sunday of the Passion

25 March, 2018

Mark 14:1-15:47
Jesus didn't die to get us into heaven,
but to get us onto the cross... just like him!

03252018It's impossible to live in this part of the country for any length of time and not see this image at one time or another. Printed on the back of a t-shirt. Stuck on the rear window of a pickup. Hanging on a fence post on the other side of a bar ditch. The silhouette of a cowboy kneeling at the foot of a cross. Or some variation of the theme. Sometimes it's a cowboy; other times a cowgirl. One time with a horse; another without. Hat on; hat off. The one thing I've never seen, though, is Jesus hanging on the cross! I've never seen that cowboy kneeling before a crucifix. Always nothing more than a plain, old, empty cross. So this morning, since it's the Sunday of the Passion, I took a little artistic license and PhotoShopped him in! But either way, with Jesus or without, for most of us, this is what faith looks like! This is believing! Quietly humbling ourselves beneath the mighty hand of god! Getting down off our high horse, taking off our hats, bowing our heads, and taking a knee. Respectful. Reverent. Adoring. Just like when Old Glory passes by. Something like the twenty-four elders in the book of the Revelation who fall on their faces and throw their crowns before the throne of god.

Chances are, this is what we have in mind when we come here, on any given Sunday morning. Lost in wonder, love, and praise. Thoughtful. Somber. Restrained. And it feels strange when we shuffle the pews around and the cross isn't there, right in front of our eyes. Worship seems much more genuine, more authentic, when we – just like that cowboy – can face the cross hanging on the wall. Hats off. Heads bowed. All the while kneeling, whether we're standing or sitting.

And since this is the Sunday of the Passion, since this is the first day of the week in which Jesus will suffer and be crucified and die and be buried and descend to the dead, this image has special significance. Rather than, simply, taking a knee, we read the story! The entire story! Beginning to end! Start to finish! All one hundred nineteen verses! All two thousand five hundred or so words! And even though you were sitting, I know – in your hearts – you were kneeling. This morning, especially, we get off our horse and take a knee or two. And we pay our respects to the cross! To the cross and to the crucified! However... I know you were waiting for that word! However, if this is all there is... If this is all we see... us kneeling... us bowing... before the cross. We know only half of the story. We understand only part of what believing is all about.

Truth is, the story of the cross, the story of the passion, of the suffering, isn't, just, Jesus' story! It's our story, as well! This week, this holy week, isn't, simply, about what happened to Christ. It's what happens, also, to us! To god's people! To the church! The cross isn't something we, merely, adore. It's something we adorn! We don't just kneel before it. We hang on it! Hang on it just like Jesus!

That's what Christ was talking about when he said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me!" That's what he meant when he said, "Those who want to save their life will lose it and those who loe their life will save it!" What Dr. Bonhoeffer had in mind when he wrote, "When god calls, god bids us die!" Jesus didn't die to get us through the pearly gates! He didn't die to get us into heaven. He died to get us onto the cross!

It's that cross that shows us that love comes only at a cost! Love has a price that must be paid. And unfortunately, most of us – me included – aren't willing, able, to pay it. But that price, that cost, isn't in the getting; it's in the giving! Love doesn't cost the one being loved anything. But it costs the one loving, it costs the lover, everything. Grace, to the one who receives it, is cheap! It's free! That's what makes it grace! But that same charity, that same love, required, demanded, of Jesus his very life! His last ounce! His last drop! His last breath!

That's why we bow down before the cross! That's why we take a knee! It's out of gratitude, out of appreciation! But that cross, then, changes us! It makes us different! New! It sets us free to go and do the same! We're not here to kneel at the foot of the cross. We're not, even, here to worship god! Or love Jesus the way Jesus loves us! We're not here to read our bibles or say our prayers or sing our songs. We're here to love the people Jesus loves! We're here to die for them just like Jesus did! Just like Jesus does! No one can love without paying a price! When Jesus loves, he carries our cross! When we love, we carry theirs! No one can love any other way. When we turn the other, we hang on a cross. When we go the extra, we hang on a cross. When we do unto and forgive not just seven times but seventy-seven times, we hang on a cross! Just like Jesus! It's expensive! It's costly! But we'd have it no other way! After all, that's the only way love exists! At least here in the church!

So, there are two sides to the cross. On the one side is Jesus. But on the other side, on the dark side, hidden there among the shadows, there's us! There's us! Back-to-back with Jesus! Hanging on the same cross! Suffering under the same Pilate! Dying! Being buried! Descending! And of course, rising! Always rising! God so loved the world that god gave the Son! And god so loves the world that god gives us, as well! In Christ, on the cross, a new age began. And my friends, in us, on that same cross, that new age continues!

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