Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

Text: Mark 8:31
Jesus began to teach his disciples: "The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. He will be put to death, but three days later he will rise to life."

Shadow of the cross*

The Gospel reading today opens with the words of Jesus, “The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. He will be put to death, but three days later he will rise to life.”  As Good Friday draws closer the references to what will happen to Jesus become more frequent and the cross looms larger and larger over Jesus’ life.  There seems to be no turning away from it.  In the Garden of Gethsemane he agonises over the events that will follow the next day when he will suffer much, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law and finally be put to death in a cruel and terrible way.  In prayer he pleads for some other way but in the end he willingly looks toward to the cross because this is the only way to fulfil his Father’s plan to save all humanity. 

When Jesus spoke of what was about to happen he said it this way, “The Son of Man must suffer much…”  Note the word ‘must’.  This is a tough road to travel, the thought of the pain and suffering and cruelty of the cross made him shudder with fear, but this is the way it must be.  There is no other way!

From the moment Jesus was born the shadow of the cross fell across his life.  As Mary lovingly held this tiny new life in her arms she is told by Simeon that there will be those who will oppose her precious child and sorrow will break her heart as she witnesses what others will do to him.  We know just how true this turned out to be.

We are told that Joseph was a man who knew his Scriptures and we know that an angel told him that the child Mary was carrying was the one foretold by the prophet Isaiah.  Did Joseph make the link between this Messianic prophecy and those later in the Book of Isaiah that told of the suffering that the Messiah would endure?  The disciple Peter certainly didn’t because he gave Jesus a good dressing down for talking such nonsense.  It was ludicrous for Jesus to even mention it and he didn’t want to hear that “the Son of Man must suffer much…”

Artists have tried to capture how the life of Jesus was lived in the shadow of the cross.

I don’t know who the artist is but here is an imaginary scene – the toddler Jesus playing in Joseph’s workshop while his father is busy.

There is light streaming through the window – you might say this is the divine light of the Father, a revealing light, shining on the small boy and creating a shadow in the form of a cross.  And what is the boy playing with – nails – three horrible dangerous looking nails – one for each hand and one for his feet?

And in the background Joseph is pounding with his hammer. Is the artist trying to say that it is his sin that will drive the nails into his own son’s hands?  Does Joseph, hammer in hand, represent all of us who are responsible for Jesus’ death on the cross? 

(Show several other pictures of Jesus as a boy and a young man with the shadow of the cross falling in the background e.g. Holman Hunt’s ‘Shadow of the cross’).

The gospel writers are always aware that the cross overshadows Jesus’ life.  At the beginning of John’s gospel we hear John the Baptist proclaiming that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the only way a lamb was able to bring about reconciliation between God and humanity was by the death of the lamb.  As Jesus said to his disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected…. He will be put to death...”

We are also told in the reading today from Mark that our lives are also overshadowed by the cross.  Jesus said, If any of you want to come with me you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).  Jesus isn’t talking about carrying about two lumps of wood in the shape of a cross or anything like that.  He is talking about being faithful to our calling as disciples of Christ.  Notice the ‘must’ again.  Like the cross that overshadowed Jesus’ life this isn’t a matter of “I’ll do it if it suits”.  There is only one way.  If you want to follow God's way, you must forget how inconvenient and cumbersome the cross is, and you must pick it up and follow Jesus.  The word ‘must’ is calling us to obedience; it is compelling, urging, persuading us to be like Christ and follow his way.

But crosses are not easy to carry.  Look how hard and harsh and horrible it was for Jesus to fulfil his calling and carry his cross; being a disciple and letting the love and forgiveness of Christ influence everything in our lives is not easy.

Let’s go back to the picture of the toddler Jesus and the divine light shining on him and forming the shadow of a cross, you might say that’s what happened to us at our baptism.  Through the simple act of water and God's Word in baptism we received the sign of the cross and now we live in the shadow of that cross. 

Or you could look at it this way.  At our baptism the light of Christ came into our lives and now, everywhere we go, everything we do and say, every relationship, every trial and upset, and every victory has the shadow of the cross cast on it.  

When we are marked with the cross by the water of baptism it means that what Jesus did for us on the cross and through his resurrection so long ago is applied personally to us.  The Bible talks about being joined with Christ, being in union with Christ and sharing in his death and resurrection so that we are made holy and spotless before God.  We are saved and belong to Jesus forever (Romans 6:3-4).

The cross over our lives determines who we are and what kind of lives we live.
The cross determines how we treat and interact with others and where we place God in our lives.
The cross affects what we say and how we say it;
it changes our attitudes and values so that we see people and the world we live in with different eyes.
We live under the shadow of the cross and the cross changes us and influences us to be caring and encouraging and helpful.
Under the shadow of the cross we also become aware of our failure to be what God intends us to be and we see the sin in our lives.  The cross reminds us that Jesus came to destroy sin and restore relationships – the relationship between God and us and between one another.

At this place – St Paul’s Lutheran Community – we live under the shadow of the cross.  We see that symbolically represented in the logos of the church, the school and aged care.

On the front of this building there is the cross, on the school admin building and the aged care reception area there is the cross.

The cross is a symbol that reminds us of -
Jesus’ love,
his forgiveness,
his commitment and faithfulness to us,
his patience, kindness, compassion and care for each us,
the renewal and fresh starts that he gives us,
the change that Jesus has brought into our lives.
The cross shines like a bright light over us and we then cast the shadow of a cross over the things we do and the people around us. 
The cross changes things;
it changes people;
it changes relationships.
We want to be more like Christ.
We want the cross to change us so that we are no longer focussed on ourselves but want the love of Christ rule every word and action.

The cross gives us our meaning and purpose as St Paul’s Lutheran Community; it defines what our role is in the wider community and how we go about our task as a church, a school, aged care facility and all the other things that we do that are connected in some way to St Paul’s – the Playgroup, the Men’s Shed Group, The LOLs (Ladies group) and looking to next year – a Kindy, to name just a few. 

As we dedicate our new building this morning we are aware that this too will stand under the cross.  On the plaque on the building are the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciple Peter, “Take care of my sheep” (John 21). 
Just as Jesus
cares for us
feeds us,
provides for our welfare,
comforts us,
counsels us,
guides us,
supports us,
likewise we are challenged to do these same things for those whom Jesus sends our way.  The words “Take care of my sheep” encompasses every possible human need and meeting that need with kindness and compassion is the challenge Jesus gives us when he says, “You must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me”. 

It is true that every building on this place and every person within those buildings is dedicated to taking care of those sheep who need our love at any particular time, and this building adds to the role that St Paul’s church has in taking care of the physical needs of those who line up at the kitchen roll-a-door and the many other needs (physical, emotional, spiritual) of those who enter its front doors.

Life wasn’t meant to be easy living under the shadow of the cross.  It certainly wasn’t for Jesus and for us in the church as we are confronted with new challenges that sometimes frustrate us and sometimes make us wonder what on earth God has in mind for us now.  To fulfil Christ’s command to “take care of my sheep” will require on-going commitment of time, energy and money as the ministry of service grows.

But along with the pain of the cross there is always the grace and mercy of God.
Beyond the cross there is joy and peace that comes from knowing that we have a living Lord who is ready and willing to help us carry the cross should the weight of it feel heavy and we begin to feel worn down, weary and start despairing because the task is too big.

May we here at St Paul’s continue to live under the shadow of the cross and be guided by it in all that we do.  May we also hold high the cross that all may see the love of Christ and trust him as their Lord and Saviour and give him glory.

* preached on the occasion of the dedication of St Paul's Centre for Mission which includes an Administration Centre, kitchen and amenities

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
4th March 2012

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