A sermon by the Rev Linda S Harrison
Proper 17 (22); Sept 3, 2017
Jeremiah 15.15-21; Psalm 26.1-8; Romans 12.9-21; Matthew 16.21-28
“Take up your cross” … It is such a loaded phrase … before I move on, this is your triennial public service announcement and reminder: NEVER let any one tell you to take up your cross as a response to victimization. We do not “take up our cross” in service to and acquiescence of an oppressive system that subjugates and perpetuates inequality. We do not “take up our cross” as some sign of humble faith and obedience to abusive situations. We do take up our cross to push back against oppression, subjugation, abuse and to stand up for and with those who are oppressed, subjugated, and abused.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled sermon …
For Christians the cross signifies salvation or suffering or redemption – singularly or in any combination depending on the liturgical season and theological emphasis of the tradition in which you find yourself. The cross is central to the identity of the Christian faith.
But before ever becoming a Christian symbol or doctrinal point, the simple cross shape marked intersections, be they literal crossroads in paths or roads or metaphorical crossroads marking the place where the sacred and profane meet in myth and mythology.
In mythology, the simple cross shape, known as the axis mundi, signifies the intersection of earth and sky, of the cardinal points, of the lower realms and higher realms. The point of intersection in the cross, where the vertical and horizontal arms touch and meet, is sacred and powerful and filled with mysterium tremendum: the terrible mystery – not appalling or atrocious, but awe-filled, where the supernatural resides, where the divine is found fully in all its glory, majesty, and mystery … a holy awe that overwhelms and paralyzes in its splendor and majesty … the terrifying power I imagine the prophets meant when writing about looking into the face of God and not surviving.
The cross also marks metaphorical intersections in our lives – a place of fluidity and choice, a place of fear and opportunity … a moment or space or place when the paths in life are not fixed, and indeed are uncertain, full of promise and fear. At the crossroads of one’s life is the invitation to growth or the threat of stagnation: should I trust God and go to seminary or should I choose my version of safety and just stay home?
We all face crossroads moments filled with trepidation or fear as well as excitement and wonder. Some of these moments have the potential to be holy moments, when we but brush against the divine, catching only a glimpse of that awe. They are living moments, growing moments, moments of invitation to delve deeper, feel more fully, engage with abandon. They are moments full of fear and awe that paralyze as much us propel us forward. They can be moments that begin transformation.
As a society, we are at such a crossroads. A floodlight has been shone into the dark corners of our national consciousness. Fear, hate, prejudice have reared its ugly head. What had been festering in the secret for centuries has been brought to the light of day.
So here we are at a crossroads – a time of choices, a moment and space when the paths in life are not fixed, and indeed are uncertain – a place of fluidity full of fear and opportunity … A time in our history that pushes us to decide in what direction we will go: turn back, move in the direction with the fear and hate, move in the direction of paralyzing fear and inaction, move in the direction of love and justice? We are at a crossroads and we must choose a direction; to not choose is in itself a choice.
I am not preaching anything our faith community does not know. We know we must move and take action, and we know the direction our faith compels us to choose: the direction of God’s justice.
As a people of faith, it is incumbent upon us to not only go in that direction, but to pull society along as well. As a people who follow the love ethic of Jesus, we know it is a scary time and we are asked to step out into the uncertain and the dangerous. We can choose to view this crossroads moment with trepidation and fear that paralyzes, or we can step out in faith and trust in God and see the potential of this moment. We can be both fearful and excited, scared and trusting.
This is a crossroads moment not only for society, but also for the church. How the church chooses to respond to fear, hate, prejudice, and vitriol will define the church for centuries to come. Do we choose the direction of God’s love, standing against the prevailing forces that preach white supremacy and false biblical teachings that foment disdain toward our LGBTQ sisters and brothers? Or does the church acquiesce to social norms of power-over and the stunning declaration that wealth is evidence of blessedness. Will the church choose transformation or stagnation?
Our voices, here in our faith community, must be louder and clearer than the voices of other segments of Christianity shouting the last gasps of an antiquated faith holding onto 16th century science models.
And as we move in the direction of God’s scandalously inclusive love, we look to the Christian cross and indeed see the axis mundi – the place where the sacred and profane meet. We cling to that place where God touches earth and humanity, the place where God demonstrates that love is stronger than fear, more powerful than hate, and triumphs over death.
We look to the cross in our crossroads moment and we have the assurance that this moment, no less fearful and paralyzing, can also be filled with wonder and excitement. This moment can be a transformative moment. We look to the cross of Christ in this moment and hear the invitation to live more fully and more authentically in our faith grounded in God’s justice and love.
We look to the cross, the place where God is fully evident, fully present in the human condition and the human story, and we know we are not alone. We know the path we are to take at this crossroads. So, take up your cross and move in the transformative love of God.