The Cross As Surprise

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

Luke 13.31-35; Philippians 2.1-11

In the book, The Shack, Mack is a man who encounters, after a tragedy in his life, encounters the triune God. The triune God comes to Mack as an African-American woman, a middle Eastern man and an Asian woman. At one point in the story of their conversation Mack sits with Jesus, the middle Eastern man.

“Jesus?”

“Yes, Mackenzie,” says Jesus.

“I am surprised by one thing about you.”

“Really? What?” asked Jesus.

“I guess I expected you to be more uh, humanly striking.”

Jesus chuckled. “Humanly striking? You mean handsome?” Now he was laughing.

“”Well, I was trying to avoid that, but yes. Somehow I thought you’d be the ideal man, you know, athletic and overwhelmingly good looking.”

“It’s my nose, isn’t it?” says Jesus.

Mack didn’t know what to say.

Indeed, what do we say about a Jesus with a big nose. Because we like our Jesus to be good looking. We like our Jesus to be the ideal man. We like our Jesus to be successful. Glorious. Practically glowing. Isn’t that what the pictures do for us? We like our Jesus to have a face like Matthew Mcconaughey (or substitute a hotty of your choice). We like him to have a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger (or substitute an athlete of your choice, except without the steroids). We like our Jesus to have a resume filled with success and achievement. We would prefer that Jesus be the person that we would like to be.

This is the season of Lent, and what I like about The Shack’s Jesus (having a big nose), is that it hints that Jesus is somehow not like we expect. Somehow Jesus does not fit the image that we would create for him if we were directing the movie. How many times have you seen an ugly Jesus.

But we are not sitting in the director’s chair. We are not the authors of the story. We are the hearers. The witnesses. And in this season, we hear the story not of a triumphant conquering hero, we hear the story of an accused criminal, going to the cross and dying there.

It is true that the resurrection is on the other side of that story. It is true that the story ends well as Paul says, God exalts him, giving him the name above every name, but if you read the story of scripture, if you measure the number of verses and what they deal with, there’s a whole lot more material about Jesus’ death, his story of his journey to the cross, than there is about the resurrected Jesus. The one we prefer. So if we want to struggle with the story faithfully, if we want to take seriously the wilderness of Lent and where it takes us, then we can’t jump to the end too quickly.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Affirmations of Faith

    On the last Sunday of October, ‘Mission Sunday,’ many of you helped us pack more than two hundred bags for a local school food distribution program.  Those bags of food went out to local schoolchildren, who live in food insecure settings, to keep their bellies full. The food we provided has the potential to ensure the schoolchildren are more successful in life and in their education.  In worship we sometimes use the phrase ‘Affirmation of Faith’ and then repeat a longstanding confession of the church, such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Brief Statement of Faith. I value reciting these affirmations, because they remind us of the core values we hold as Christians. But as I was thinking about this over the last few months, I believe that such mission work to the community around us is an even deeper affirmation of our faith by acknowledging Jesus’ call upon our lives, and then living out that ministry.

    I want to share information with you this month about another ministry which I believe is an affirmation of our faith. You have heard us talk about it quite a bit but may not know the details. For years now the Deacon’s Fund at First Presbyterian Church has provided financial assistance to those in our community facing immediate financial need that impacts their ability to live a healthy and productive life.

    There are social services around town, which provide supportive and meaningful resources, but there can be qualifications and restrictions associated with the access of those services. The Deacon’s Fund strives to offer judgment-free ministry to those who are facing financial challenges in life and helps people access these services.

    Barbara Troisi and Beth MacDonald are currently our two Deacon’s Fund facilitators.  They spend time each month looking at applications for assistance, and then distribute funds, which may involve multiple phone calls, trips to the store for Smith’s gift cards (useful for food or fuel), and various other tasks.  Prior to Beth and Barbara, other wonderful people contributed their efforts to this ministry: Linda Roberts, Tina Purintun, Kelly Rhea, Terry Brennand, Barbara Lutz (I am sure I have left a name or two off, please forgive me). Pam Riffe also makes contributions and supports people applying for these funds in her role as our office administrator.

    These are some of the ‘saints’ of the church. These are angels among us – superheroes, one might say – who make time in their lives to help others.

    The Deacon’s Fund recently received a large contribution from a couple in our community.  They are not part of our church, but they learned of our efforts to help local people through some friends who are church members.  They made this contribution to help those who are struggling to find sustainable and affordable housing. They wanted to make a significant contribution to help with housing issues and knew that First Presbyterian Church would be a wonderful avenue for those efforts. I am thankful for everyone who makes contributions to the Deacon’s Fund, small or large (most offerings to this ministry come in $10, $20, or $100 increments). Over the decades these dollars have helped hundreds of people in our community in moments of great need. This is truly part of the mission of the church, and one of the callings Jesus has placed upon us.

    Beth MacDonald is transitioning out of her role as a Deacon’s Fund facilitator at the end of the year (she will be plenty busy helping to organize and lead the Westminster Bell Choir). Thank you, Beth, for your efforts. This means we are looking for a new Deacon’s Fund coordinator to work alongside Barbara Troisi. If any of you would like to help, please let me know. If you have questions about this ministry, please talk to Beth, Barbara, or me. Beth has set up a nice spreadsheet to help keep track of funds received and funds dispersed. You don’t need to be a financial expert or math whiz to fill this role, only to have a caring heart.

    The ministry efforts of Mission Sunday and through the Deacon’s Fund are two of the wonderful aspects of First Presbyterian Church. Our calling as a faith community is certainly to worship and praise the Lord, but also to share the good news and make helpful, life-affirming contributions to the community and world around us. I pray that our ministry together continues to be vigorous.

    May the grace and peace of Christ be with you all,

    Pastor Derek

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