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)

This entry was posted in Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

  • Pages