IS THE CROSS OFFENSIVE?
I was standing in Trinity’s main sanctuary showing it to some visitors. Generally people remark at its neoexpressionist beauty and majesty. They generally comment on the powerful witness of the gigantic cross that is front and center in our worship space. This person, however, had a different reaction. They commented that it looked rough, jagged and was somehow disturbing to them. At first I was taken aback by the uncharacteristic reaction. Almost instantaneously, however, I was reminded that the cross and its meaning is offensive to many, and perhaps if we are honest we too have wondered about the crucifixion of Jesus.
It is good, I think, and especially so during Lent to consider this aspect of our faith. What God did on the cross is offensive to human sensibilities. 1 Corinthians 1: 23 (NKJV) references this: “… but we reach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.” There are also whole alternate movements within Christianity that decry the apparent brutality of it, and claim that a loving God would not have specifically and intentionally required such a sacrifice. I believe, however, that the cross is instructive to the human dilemma, and points to its potential healing. Allow me to explain.
The world is full of human suffering, and our present times seem to reveal an increased intensity. On the other hand our belief is that God operates primarily from a position of profound love. “He who does not have love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8 – NKJV) Consequently it would seem that God’s going to the cross in Jesus is a profound act of love.
I believe that what the cross means is that God chose to embrace the world’s broken nature and take it upon himself to redeem us, and heal us. It is our brokenness, the world’s brokenness that God takes to the cross. We praise God for that because it is highly apparent that humanity in and of itself cannot heal itself. God has to do it if he loves us.
Christians know, consequently, that God desires to put an end to suffering. On the cross, God in the person of Jesus, actually says “no” to self-inflicted human suffering. “…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 NKJV)
This Lent let us ponder the cross and thereby ponder God’s amazing love, and share it in word and deed. It is the world’s brokenness and consequent suffering that is offensive, not the cross. The cross is the world’s hope.
Grand Island, NY
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. This constitutes fair warning for all husbands in our congregation, and all others who might want to give tangible expression of love to another.
The symbol for this day is “the heart.” This perfectly symmetrical shape looks nothing like an actual human heart. Somehow the muscle that efficiently pumps blood through our body and quickens at the sight of a lover was not quite the right shape for the graphic artists.
Instead, we have a sterile shape suitable for packaging candy and neat imprints on cards. I have thought about this and it seems to me that this shape is too perfect and uncomplicated. Nothing over which I have experienced love or been passionate about has ever been that neat or uncomplicated. Far from it.
Those ideas, experiences, and relationships have been the most complicated and most dangerous parts of my life. Some of them I thought would be the death of me. Others have given life abundantly.
My theory about the complexity of the human heart is reinforced by the story of John Wesley’s denial of communion to Lucy Cobb, a young woman with whom he had fallen in love. Apparently he proposed marriage to her and she declined the offer. He was so devastated and emotionally shaken that at the next opportunity he refused to offer her communion. Her new husband sued him. Poor John fled America for England. At the very least our methodical church father had lost his pastoral demeanor and perspective! For a time he was a fugitive with a broken heart.
And so, in the middle of winter we are beckoned by Saint Valentine to ponder matters of the heart. The human heart is a complicated thing and needs much tender loving care. If one examines the Biblical admonitions regarding it you will see that it is clear that notwithstanding its complexities, God wants all of our hearts. To me this means he wants the totality of our experience so that our lives can be redeemed, sanctified, and consequently to be made whole and holy.
As I look back over my years of experience, I can affirm that God brings order and contentment to those who offer their hearts in devotion and service to Christ. May it be so with you.
January is the first month of the yearly entrenchment of winter. Christmas and its valiant drive to bring some light and warmth to the darkness and cold is over and reality sets in. I was reminded of this recently when I went out to retrieve our daily copy of The Buffalo News from its delivery tube. As most of you know the parsonage Brenda and I inhabit is right where Whitehaven road widens out into four lanes. That means that the highway plows are nowhere near the edge of the road and simply plow in our mail box and paper tube. So there it was, “the fresh” Buffalo news slushed in without a protective wrapper, and resembling wet toilet paper. Though it was still before Christmas, something of the long winter invaded my psyche. I had visions of the annual futility of trying to keep the dense packed snow away from the mail and paper delivery points. My feelings were intensified by the reality it now takes more effort to clear such than in younger years. And yes, my dear fellow Christians, I had less than benevolent thoughts about the paper carrier who for whatever reason did not bag the paper, The Buffalo News and its liberal bent, the state snow plow driver who forgets just where the road widens, and irritation over a host of things absolutely unrelated to the precipitating event. Surely Scrooge missed the appropriate time for his exclamation “Bah Humbug!” January warrants the exclamation, not Christmas!
OK, I do feel better. Confession has a way of bringing relief to bad attitudes and less than stellar dispositions. Try it sometime. I doubt you are anymore immune to periodic bouts of grumpiness than I, and January is fertile ground for the development of these.
There is an ancient proverb that says “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.” I’m going to do that by thinking kindly thoughts of the people who drive our snowplows through terrible weather to keep our roads clear. I’ll do that by appreciating our paper carrier who must arise every morning at the earliest of hours so I can take a short walk down the driveway to find the paper. I’ll even thank the Buffalo News for including a conservative commentary on occasion.
Join me, won’t you, in lighting a candle this January. Soon we will note the lengthening of daylight, and we will look back on the good things that happened this winter. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Epiphany / Matthew 2: 1-13
Epiphany : When God’s purposes come to light.
The wise men worship Christ.They represent the world’s faithful of all races and of all geographical location.
Herod rejects Christ and instead plots to force his agenda on the world.
God is strongly involved just as he has been when he came to Mary and Elizabeth, and Joseph.
God intervenes but we have to respond!
Because the wisemen are worshippers and therefore open to God, they become part of God’s salvation plan.
Are you?Are we?
If so, our paths will go in a different direction, and always at the direction of God. Not our own agendas and priorities.
For me it took me on a wild and wonderful path from Lyndonville to Lycoming College to Colgate-Rochester Divinity School to Wyoming and Covington; East Bloomfield and Ionia, Westfield, Clarence, to the Southerntier, and finally to Grand Island.
Sent on another road.
Every time we respond to God we go “God’s Way” not “My Way!”
Another route for the wisemen meant they went out of their way, bypassing Jerusalem entirely and probably following the trade routes through the wilderness of Judah.
They could have traveled either north or south of the Dead Sea, but likely to the south which provided more secrecy and chance to be seen.
The word used is “anochoreo” which means “strategic direction.
"The mysterious Wise Men from the East searched deeply and diligently for what the star revealed. May my searching be so comprehensive. The Wise Men offered wildly inappropriate gifts. May my offering be so extravagant. The Wise Men departed "by another road." May my path be so drastically altered because of my encounter with Jesus." - Eric Park, Butler PA UMC
Mark 13: 24-37
Preparation for Christmas is a mix of experiences. It can be stressful as we try to produce a Christmas that lives up to our own expectations. It can be a delightful cultural experience as an odd mix of commercialism and religion gets mixed together. It can be the vehicle through which our faith is impacted in a new and refreshing way.
Today I would like to attempt to launch us into all of those things with a prayer that we will experience a meaningful Christmas.
The first I will leave somewhat to yourself.Blessings as you attempt to create a memorable holiday time.
The other two I will invite you intoby way of the Biblical theme we have before us from Mark 13: 24-37.
Today’s lesson takes us into an admonition to “stay alert” to the arrival of Jesus in the second coming. Unlike our celebration of Christmas on December 25th, the day of the arrival of the Lord, no one knows.
Mark 13: 23 – 37
So how do we stay alert in what appears to be a secular surrounding to the presence and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ? (Pittsburgh calls Christmas “Twinkle Days” to make it appealing to everyone.)
ANGELS - Angels are messengers. Every time you see an angel figure ask yourself what message do you think God has for you this season.
BELLS – Bells call us to worship. Every time you see a bell determine when next you will take a moment or hour to worship. Is it possible the whole season could be put in the context of worship?
CANDY CANES – Candy canes are a confection shaped to remind us of the Shepherd’s crook. The shepherd uses the crook to guard and guide his flock. Every time you see a candy cane remember the Good Shepherd who will guide you not only through the season, but through life.
THE COLORS RED AND GREEN – Yes, even as the popular song “Silver Bells”
Strings of street lights
Even stop lights
Blink a bright red and green
As the shoppers rush
home with their treasures
Two colors which we can embrace. Green for eternal life as evergreens stay green year around. Red the color of Jesus’ sacrifice to bring about that new life which is eternal. Every time you stop at a stop light this year I invite you to reflect.
CHRISTMAS TREES – Make sure every person you know has some kind of a Christmas tree. In early Christian plays the evergreen tree symbolized the Garden of Eden, the good creation of God to which God now strives to offer again through the work of Jesus Christ and His Church.
DOVES – The bird of peace released by Noah who returned over the water of the flood with an olive branch in its beak … a sign of God’s intent of peace and restoration of His “Good Earth.” An invitation for us to join in that work.
GIFTS – Scripture says: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 Reflect on this passage every time you give or receive a gift. God is the best giver of all!
MISTLE TOE – Most of these are a form of evergreen – reminding us of how God brings people together, and how in fact our primary relationships are meant to be one of God’s greatest gifts to us in this lifetime.
SAINT NICHOLAS – An opportunity for us to share with our children, grandchildren and nieces and nephews about generosity. Santa Claus was real person, Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myrna, known for charity and generosity. Everytime you share this season in real generosity whether it be charitable giving or an expression of your love. Know that Nicholas’ Spirit is very real and can be embodied in real people, people like you and me.
SNOWFLAKES – God save us from too many! But none the less, each unique creations. When you see the snow reflect upon God’s creative genious.
WREATHS – Symbols of eternity. Eternal life is the ultimate gift of the reception of the work of God in Jesus Christ and brought to completing by the work of the Holy Spirit.
NOW ALL THAT FOR STARTERS! KEEP WATCH FOR GOD IN THE ORDINARY CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS.
THEN EACH REMAINING SUNDAY OF ADVENT I INVITE YOU TO JOIN WITH ME IN VISITING THE FIRST FAMILY AND COMMUNITY WHO CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS. THAT WOULD BE MARY AND JOSEPH OF COURSE AND BEING WITH THEM WILL TAKE US TO THE VERY HEART OF CHRISTMAS.
AND HOPEFULLY VISITING THEM WILL ESTABLISH IN US A LIFE-STYLE OF STAYING ALERT FOR THE COMING OF CHRIST, BE IT THIS YEAR OR WHEN CHRIST COMES AND GOD’S PLAN AND PURPOSES WILL BE REVEALED IN PERFECT CLARITY.