So What Does The Cross Really Mean 9-4-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 14:25-33, I explore some rather harsh statements from Jesus regarding the cost of discipleship. Different audiences can and likely do hear his words differently.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/so-what-does-the-cross-mean-9-4-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

If there is a single type of movie that society would consider to be the “most popular” right now…my vote would be the comic book movie. They are everywhere…you can barely turn on the tv anymore without seeing a commercial for someone flying around in a cape.

Now I’m not complaining about this in the least possible way…because I love them…and I’m a big fan about how each of the major organizations that are making these movies are working to create a shared universe…namely, that all of the different movies and characters and stories that fall under their particular brand occur within the same universe.

Now if you’re familiar with the universe, if you’ve seen the different movies…then you can typically pick up on the different little details…but on the flip side…if you aren’t familiar, then it can get really confusing.  (pause) This was on full display at my house the other night. My son Jack and I had been channel surfing and we happened to find Iron Man 3…and so we were sitting there watching it.  If you’re unfamiliar, Iron Man falls under the Marvel brand, alongside other names like Captain America, or the Hulk, and Thor…and one that I’m guessing you’ve at least heard of before…the Avengers.

There are all kinds of movies mixed in with tv shows…in short…there’s A LOT in the Marvel universe…and Iron Man 3, the particular movie we were watching, came out about 3 years ago…so there’s been a lot more story that’s developed in the mean time.

That being said, Jack and I were watching…making comments about things in this movie that set up stuff that came later on…comments about characters and settings…all kinds of stuff…and my wife…well…she was completely lost…to her credit…she was asking questions…trying to understand…but we might as well have been speaking another language…and I think that all she was really getting out the movie was a bunch of flashy explosions. (pause)

This whole deal points towards an important point.  Audience is important…different audiences will understand things differently…they’ll interpret things differently…and this is true whether we are speaking about individuals, as well as when we get a little more generic and talk about groups…in short…our experience changes how we understand something…and this is important because today’s gospel lesson puts this truth on display. (pause)

I’ve often talked before about the differences in how people in Jesus’ time would understand a particular situation…and how that can often be different from the way we do…and it’s the result of many different things…but mainly boiling down to the differences in context…and to offer even a tiny glimpse at this…within today’s story Jesus talks about a king going out to war. At that time, the notion of 10,000 men fighting 20,000 hand to hand made perfect sense…but they would have zero notion of what to make of airstrikes or nuclear submarines, something that we take almost for granted. (pause) Context determines understanding for different audiences.

And today’s story…perhaps more than any other that I’ve really come across highlights this…typically when this comes up there are two possible audiences…but today, there are 3…Those of us hearing it today, bringing with us all of our experiences and ideas…then there would have been Luke’s audience…individuals living approximately 75 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus…individuals who would be 2 or 3 generations down the line from the events described in the story….and then there would have been the audience of Jesus…standing there in the crowds actually listening to him that day…and I’m guessing that all three audiences…21st century upper Midwest Lutherans…early 2nd century believers…and early 1st Century Jews…all three probably pick up things a little differently. (pause)

Now this particular passage is often referred to as the cost of discipleship…sparked off when large crowds are following Jesus…likely for a very wide variety of reasons…and Jesus lays out some truth for them to make sure they actually understand what it means to be his disciple…now Jesus lays this out in the first portion of the reading…with these shocking words about hating parents, spouses, children, siblings…even our very lives…and then picking up our cross to follow him…the rest of the reading about building the tower and the king going to war are just illustrations intended to highlight this notion. (pause)
But for everyone who hears these words…I’m guessing something specific…and likely different…jumps out. Now admittedly, this is a hard passage…to hear Jesus, the one we are so used to hearing talk about love and acceptance…say that we are supposed to hate our family…that’s a hard pill for us to swallow…because we are so used to the big picture…we’re used to hearing those other teachings from Jesus…and because of that…this comes across really harsh.

But let’s back it up…what about the audience of Jesus that day? Most of them would have been Jewish…and I’m guessing that this was even more shocking…hate your parents? Well that breaks one of the commandments…hate your family? By no means!!! These individuals was culturally engrained to think about their family, their heritage…it was central to them.

But then what about Luke’s audience…those 2nd century believers who had very likely experienced this sort of thing first hand…Remember just how divisive the gospel was at THAT time…these would have been individuals that were cast out of community…out of their synagogues…they would have been disowned by family members that could NOT tolerate this new belief…and so for those people…hearing these words of Jesus, while painful, would have served as more of a reminder of the life they were living…the choices that they had made to follow Christ. (pause)
And there’s another statement that Jesus makes that really falls under this whole situation as well…Anyone who does not carry the cross ad follow me cannot be my disciple. (pause)

Now how do we hear that? I fear that the first thought that enters our head is the very common statement “that’s my cross to bear” which if you’re family is typically used to describe some uncomfortable situation…but we think of it as our personal cost…the thing that we have to endure simply because we are believers in Christ…but perhaps at the same time…our Lutheran theology always makes us think about the cross as a symbol of hope…and the notion of what God accomplished through the death of Jesus on the Cross and his subsequent resurrection…2000 years of history and interpretation lead us to that…that’s what we think of.
But let’s back up…and what would the other audiences hear? For Luke’s audience…those 2nd century Christians…those people who lived under the threat of being martyred…those individuals who had likely watched friends or family be tortured and killed, perhaps even crucified…because of their faith?  Well that’s going to mean something dramatically different than it does for us won’t it? (pause) And finally, what about Jesus’ audience that day…those people in the crowds who hear “carry the cross.” What would they think?

Because keep in mind…at that point…the Cross as we think of it…it hadn’t happened yet…The crucifixion of Jesus…hadn’t happened yet…His death and resurrection was not yet a reality…and so for those people there THAT day…all they could possibly think of is who they’ve seen carrying a cross.

And that…is the one who has been condemned…remember that crucifixion in general was VERY common…it was the Roman’s favorite form of public execution…intended to send a message…and the worst part of it…when you were condemned to die by crucifixion, you had to carry your own cross. How horrible is that? (pause) And so, for Jesus’ audience…they would hear “those who do not willingly recognize that they are condemned cannot be my disciple.” (pause)

Let me say that one more time…those who do not recognize that they are condemned cannot be my disciple. (pause) Think about that for a moment…Harsh? Utterly devoid of hope or promise?  Shocking…you better believe it.

But that…that right there…that is precisely how we need to hear these words today…Now there are times when we look for the gospel in the midst of Jesus’ words…and there are times when we look towards the greater overarching story…but then again…sometimes the Holy Spirit smacks us directly with his…exact…words. To be a disciple of Christ is to see ourselves as the one who is already condemned. (pause)
Now I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently…likely because of the fact that our congregation has experienced 2 deaths…2 funerals in the past 2 weeks…and one of the themes that emerge in and around funerals is the truth of death within our reality…and additionally that death is the result of sin.

This is the reality for each and every one of us…each of us experiences 1 death…it is inevitable and it is the result of the presence of sin within our individuals lives…the apostle Paul reminds us that the wages of sin is death…and there are no exception…we are each subject to it…you might say that we are each condemned. (pause)

That’s the reality that Jesus’ audience would have heard that day…that to be his follower is to recognize that you are condemned…and there was no joy to be found in the cross yet…and so that raises the question of what does it mean to be people of the cross in the here and now…while we are in the midst of this life…and that’s a great question…perhaps one that we cannot truly answer…because that is not our reality.

We live in a reality where the cross…the crucifixion…the death AND the resurrection of Jesus HAS already happened…and we are shaped by the history that has occurred…and we cling to the hope that the cross represents for us…and we call things what they are. YES…we are condemned by the presence of sin in our lives…but through the cross…through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the power of sin and death has been overcome…and so when Jesus reminds us to carry our cross as his disciples, we are simply acknowledging that alone, I am as good as dead…but thanks be to God that God didn’t leave it there.  (pause)

So what does the cross really mean? Well…it means something different to everyone…but the hope that we cling to…the hope and the faith that we express each and every week here in worship…is that through the cross…through the death of Jesus followed by his resurrection, our lives today are lived in the promise of life everlasting…and we live in that freedom right here, right now. (pause)

Now that being said, this does not mean that our lives as disciples of Christ are going to be easy…often times far from it…and that’s where the rest of Jesus’ words today are still important for us to hear…there is cost to discipleship…and its different for every single individual…for some it might be the loss of family connections…it might even be the loss of our very lives…and yes there are parts of the world, even today, where this is still a very real thing.

Our faith in Christ is both unbelievable easy…because we don’t have to do anything to get it…but at the same time it comes with extraordinary cost…because through it, your life will never be the same…so keep that in mind as you follow where Christ leads. Amen.

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