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March 29, 2020 Sermon – Journey to the Cross: Sacrifice

March 29, 2020 Sermon
“Journey to the Cross:
Sacrifice”

SERVICE OF SHADOWS READING

5TH SUNDAY IN LENT – March 29, 2020 

[Beginning – the 2 right-most candles on the cross should be lit.]

Introduction

We have entered into the season of Lent.  Our Meditation Time, our time to connect with God, will be different during Lent as a way of setting Lent apart from the rest of the year.  Each Sunday, one Shadow will be read. That is, one scripture reading about the ways people thousands of years ago contributed to Jesus’ crucifixion; one scripture reading that should guide each of us to reflect on the ways in which we fall short and need to turn back toward God.

After each reading, one more candle will be extinguished as a way of reminding us how human sinfulness contributed then and still contributes today to the extinguishing of God’s Light to this world.  And I would encourage you to spend your meditation time each week asking God about how each Sunday’s shadow is manifest in your life and what God wants you to do about it. 

Today’s Shadow – The Shadow of Selfishness.

From Luke 22:47-51

47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” 49 When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” 50 Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

Jesus did not want violence.  You could make the argument that the disciple who struck the slave of the high  priest with his sword didn’t know this…and you’d be right. But that doesn’t make the act any less selfish.  One of Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus whether or not the disciples should attack, and the disciple who attacked didn’t wait to hear what Jesus had to say, didn’t listen to God-in-the-flesh, wanted to be sure he attacked before Jesus told him otherwise.  That’s selfishness.

Don’t Jesus’ followers today exhibit some of the same kind of selfishness?  It’s inherent in the phrase, “It’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission?”  Why find out what anyone else wants to do? Why wait to find out what God wants, when you can act how you want now and ask for forgiveness later?

We extinguish a candle today to remind us of the selfishness that leads us to ask first and listen for God later, the same kind of selfishness that resulted in Jesus’  crucifiction.

[Extinguish the leftmost lit candle.]

SCRIPTURE AND SERMON

1st Scripture Reading – Luke 22:19-20

19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

2nd Scripture Reading – John 18:1-11

18 After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” 5 They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

“Journey to the Cross: Sacrifice”

Even though Jesus could have given the word and overpowered all the guards, he let himself be bound and led away.

With these words, Faith Bosland begins her commentary in the 7th station of her “Journey to the Cross”, the station about Jesus’ arrest.

It’s amazing what Jesus COULD have done.  His power was evident, on display, in this passage.  By a simple utterance of certain words, “I am he”, Jesus knocked over all his would-be captors.  They were overpowered and fell to the ground…because Jesus said a few words. How easily Jesus could have overcome the guards and escaped.  Imagine all the things Jesus could have done to evade capture:

  • Walked through the crowd unscathed while perhaps confusing them like Jesus did when a mob in the crowd at Nazareth wanted to throw him off a cliff;
  • Worked some kind of reverse miracle and blinded everyone there – temporarily, of course – while he escaped;
  • Or maybe Jesus could have simply repeated the words, “I am he” as often as was required to keep his captors on the ground while he escaped;
  • I suppose Jesus even could have converted everyone there to Christianity, by forcing them to comply or by working something so amazing – changing the weather? – that no one would even want to lay a hand upon him.

Every time I read this passage, I imagine all the things Jesus could have done to evade capture.  But that’s NOT what Jesus did.  

“This is my body, which is given for you.”

THAT’S what Jesus did.  Jesus gave his life for others.

We remember that Jesus chose the path of sacrifice over the path of selfishness.  And I’m not talking about the kind of relatively petty selfishness we see in the world today:

  • Wanting to get to the front of the line, even bypassing a line of people who’ve been waiting for a while, so we don’t have to wait;
  • Cutting people off in traffic;
  • Wanting to sing the songs we want, watch the show we want, with little concern for what anyone else might want;
  • Wanting to get out of the confines of our homes during this state-wide lockdown, even if it means putting others at risk;
  • Even wanting/demanding that Church be what we want it to be, even the minutiae, without recognizing that to get our way means 50-100 other people don’t get anything they want or desire;

Jesus chose the path of sacrifice over the path of selfishness with something as important as his very life.  God chose the path of sacrifice over the path of selfishness with the life of God’s own child.

What does this mean for us?

  • Are there implications for what it means that Jesus told us to “take up our cross and follow” him if we would be his followers?  (Since the beginning of Jesus’ command in that instance was for us to “deny” ourselves, I’m pretty sure Jesus was talking about sacrifice…on our part.  There’s no good way to make this cross-thing as milquetoast a metaphor as many people try to make it.)
  • Are there implications for what it means that Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me” after  Jesus said “this is my body, which is given for you”?

For the rest of the sermon, I will focus on this second set of implications, the set having to do with Jesus’ telling/commanding his disciples – which includes us – to “do this in remembrance of me.”

As part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we gather at the communion table every Sunday when we gather for worship.  Oftentimes, when we gather outside of Sunday worship, we partake of communion; when we don’t, we long to do so.

A great big part of the reason we do what we do has to do with our reading from this morning (and the other scriptural recordings of what are known as Jesus’ “words of institution”); Jesus told us to “do this”, so we do it.

While I agree we should – I am an advocate of frequent trips to the Lord’s Table – today I want to address an ambiguity in Jesus’ words to which I doubt you’ve given much thought or attention: when Jesus said, “do this”, to what is the word “THIS” referring?

What?  Could it possibly be referring to more than one thing?  Obviously, it’s referring to the breaking and eating of bread, right?

Well, maybe, and maybe not.  There is another option.

Grammatically, the word Jesus used refers to the thing that precedes it.  What is the thing that precedes it? We tend to focus on the action, what Jesus was DOING: Jesus took a loaf of bread, gave thanks, and broke it.  But Jesus was speaking, and again, grammatically, what immediately precedes “this” in Jesus’ sentence was not the literal breaking of bread but the metaphor represented by the breaking of bread: “this is my body, broken for you.”  In other words, Jesus could have been telling us by the word that gets translated “this”:

  • Get together and break bread like Jesus did;

OR

  • Live sacrificial lives (breaking our bodies for others) like Jesus did.

I would actually suggest a third option:  Jesus was commanding BOTH by the words “do this in remembrance of me.”

In other words, we are supposed to partake of the communion meal regularly, breaking bread when we gather, to remember Jesus, AND we are supposed to partake just as regularly in acts of sacrifice, acts of selflessness.  In fact, I would contend that we are not fully partaking of the Lord’s Supper UNTIL we perform acts of selflessness in addition to partaking of bread and cup. To me, Jesus was communicating that sacrificial acts are every bit as necessary to proper remembrance of him as is breaking the bread and drinking the cup.

I know, this interpretation is a tough sell in the 21st century United States of America.  We’re an individualistic society. We live in a place in which we, by our Constitution, very intentionally limited the size and scope of the federal government to preserve our individual freedoms, our individual rights, our ability to live and do whatever we please.

By the way, I don’t disagree with the U.S. Constitution.  In fact, I find that the U.S. Constitution supports what Jesus said; however, somehow much of society has interpreted things differently.  Somehow, much of society has interpreted freedom as selfishness. It doesn’t have to be that way. You are free to choose to serve yourself, and you are free to choose to serve others.  Jesus understood this as well as anyone, maybe better than anyone. Jesus’ story is a story of going to people and telling them that God gives them the ability (the right?) to CHOOSE, followed by Jesus telling them in one way or another to choose well.

So…maybe this shouldn’t be such a hard sell after all.  Jesus accepts that you have the right to choose, and Jesus tells you that following HIM means choosing to live selflessly instead of selfishly.  It’s your choice.

But back to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper.  If Jesus was commanding us to do this – to live sacrificial lives – in remembrance of him, what does that look like?  What kinds of changes do we need to make in order to “do this”?

I’ll start by using what happened just a little later that night as an example of what NOT to do.  Remember our reading from John (which parallels our reading for today’s Shadow)? Living selflessly does not mean doing whatever we think Jesus might want without consulting Jesus or God first….because doing what “we think” Jesus would want without consulting Jesus or God is actually a thinly veiled attempt to do what WE want – in other words, selfishness.  Consider Simon Peter. If Peter would have consulted Jesus, we know (from what Jesus said afterward) that Jesus would have told Peter – and the rest of the disciples – to allow Jesus to be arrested. But Peter didn’t consult Jesus, and violence ensued.

We do that, don’t we?  Don’t we too often just assume Jesus would want what we want?

  • If I want the roof to be brown, Jesus would want the roof to be brown;
  • If I want to sing my favorite song in worship, Jesus would want everyone to sing MY favorite song in worship;
  • If I want eldership to be about seniority/tenure instead of giftedness, Jesus would want eldership to be about seniority/tenure instead of giftedness;
  • If I want God’s vision for the congregation to be the same as my vision for the congregation, Jesus would want God’s vision for the congregation to be the same as my vision for the congregation;

My friends, if we don’t consult Jesus FIRST, how can we assume Jesus would want what we want?  I mean, I’m pretty well-versed in the scriptures, and every time I read the gospels anew I find Jesus doing things and commanding things that are very different than what I would do, command, or even want Jesus to do or command – I find Jesus surprising me EVERY time I read the gospels…so how could I possibly presume I know what Jesus wants before I ask him (and listen for his answer)?  In other words, if we just assume Jesus would want what we want without checking with Jesus first, we will be wrong…most of the time. Worse, we will be selfish…ALL of the time, and we’ll proclaim our selfishness as Christianity. We will SAY we’re following Jesus when, in fact, we’re expecting Jesus to follow US.

So…doing what we want without consulting Jesus is what selfless living does NOT look like.  Which brings us to the question: what does selfless living – the kind of living that qualifies as “do this in remembrance of me” living – look like?

The answer isn’t that complicated; in fact, it’s composed of two things I’ve told you about quite often recently.

The first part of the answer is this: “seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).  And, by “seek ye first”, I don’t mean seek God’s kingdom first one day a week, or one moment a day when you’re reading your Bible; I mean seek God’s kingdom first about EVERYTHING.  Seeking God’s kingdom first is incompatible with selfishness.

  • If you consult God about what kind of food you should eat, you’re doing what God wants, not what you want.
  • If you consult God about what you should do in the evening (or throughout your day), you’ll do what God wants, not what you want.
  • If you consult God about which book you should read this week or month, you’ll do what God wants, not what you want.

Now, these things might not sound like they have much to do with the kind of sacrifice Jesus made when he allowed his body to broken for us….but they DO.  If you get in the pattern of seeking God first on the little decision of life, when it comes time to make the truly BIG sacrificial decisions – how much time and money you will give to God and the continuation of Jesus’ ministry of love versus how much time and money you will keep for yourself and things you desire – you will make those decisions sacrificially, as well. 

The second answer has to do with the kind of love Jesus said comes from God and that Jesus commanded us to have for others.  The Greek word for this kind of love is “agapé”, and I’ve told you before this word is about a preference. When used in the context of Jesus’ response to the question of which commandment is the greatest (love God and love your neighbor as yourself), this word means having a preference for God and a preference for other people.  Some scholars suggest Jesus was telling us that the way to show a preference for God is by showing a preference for other people over a preference for yourself.

What does this look like in daily life?  Think of all the decisions you make in a day that are all about what you prefer:

  • What food you prefer to eat;
  • What clothes you prefer to wear;
  • Where you prefer to spend your time;
  • Where you prefer to go for vacation;
  • What activities you prefer to engage in;
  • What words you prefer to say;
  • With whom you prefer to associate;

We make MOST of these decisions – probably most of the decisions of our lives – based on a preference for ourselves.  And why not? It’s the way we were raised; it’s what we were taught. But now, with new life in Christ, we’re supposed to live DIFFERENTLY; we’re supposed to make the bulk of these decisions on the basis of a preference for others: other people and, of course, God.

I encourage you to consider how you would make even the mundane decisions of your life differently if you made them out of a preference for others (beyond your family) and God at least as often as you make them out of a preference for yourself.  Really, try to imagine how each minute/hour/day of your life would be DIFFERENT if you made your decisions out of a preference for others. Then, after you’ve envisioned such a grand change, commit to starting by making just a few – and then a few more – decisions each day in this way.

If you don’t think this simple act on the part of one small congregation of people in Grand Junction of Colorado will make a profound difference in the world, you and I are imagining this scenario very differently.

My friends, Jesus told us to “do this in remembrance of” him.  Jesus told us to live differently from everyone else, to live differently than we already live, to live differently than we are inclined to live…all in remembrance of him.  Each time you make a decision to live differently in this way, do so with Jesus at the forefront of your mind. Do so knowing that God is making a difference through you. Do so in remembrance of Jesus.

Amen.