Luke 23:33-43

33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus[a] there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.[[34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]][b] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah[c] of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,[d] “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding[e] him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?[f] Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into[g] your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Has there ever been a time in your life where you’ve wanted to be saved?  Maybe a social situation that you wanted to get out of?

The summer before my 8th grade year in school was particularly hard.  

Actually, this is my sophomore year in high school…could not find an 8th grade picture!

I can’t remember exactly why, but that can be such an awkward age.  Dealing with emotional and physical changes and sometimes even life changes…and, we all know that no matter how old we are, change can be hard, even when we embrace that change.

That summer for me was one of change.  It was also the first mission trip with our youth group that I was able to go on.  I had been looking forward to this time.  I had grown up in that church, really, my family ancestors were a part of that church since it’s beginning, in 1792!  It was the only church I knew.  We also had this rather large youth group at the time.  The mission trip that year was to Washington, DC.  We filled a school bus with kids and had simply an amazing week of service.  There were also lots of practical jokes…some even from the youth director and music director.  I wasn’t used to this kind of humor, so it took some getting used to.

One of the fun things about this trip, is that we planned to go to King’s Island on our way home from DC back to Louisville.  The night before we left, our youth director told us that we had to wear our trip t-shirts (which were 3/4 sleeve and ugly) and blue jeans or khaki long pants because we were representing the church.  Now, I’m not one for uniforms, and it was July…and unusually hot week.  I protested, a lot, but eventually gave in.

Growing up, whenever we went to Kings Island, it was a badge of honor to be the first one to see the Eiffel Tower replica.  So, on the bus, I was so excited that I sat in the front in my cool t-shirt and blue jeans…I eventually got the whole bus excited and was leading them in chant of “almost there” while looking intently for the tower.  

King’s Island, Mason, Ohio

Sure enough, I was the first one to see it!  So, I exclaimed there it is, turned around to the rest of the bus to point it out, and to my amazement, saw about 50 kids on that bus laughing, as they began to take off their youth group t-shirts, shed their hot blue jeans, to reveal light short sleeve summer shirts and shorts underneath…and, looked over at my youth director, who was doing the same.  

The joke was on me.  I laughed with them, I told them all what a great joke it was.  But, on the inside, I was humiliated.  It went deeper than the intended joke, I was 13, felt alone, hurt, and no one to rescue me.  I changed clothes when we got to the park, but that memory is still with me.

Our passage this morning from the gospel of Luke depicts humiliation.  Only on a scale that I could never imagine.  Crucifixion by the Romans was meant to be more about humiliation than pain even.  The place of the Skulls in Jerusalem was picked by the Romans for crucifixion because it was visible for all to see.  To be nailed to a tree, lifted up, often for days, while folks walked by either throwing scorn and insults, or shielding their eyes away from the cruelty.

One of my office windows at Fleming Road UCC

Luke reminds us that the Romans and the Jewish authorities formed an alliance of convenience in order to maintain the system status quo.  They viewed Jesus as a threat to their hold on power and to the way things have been that kept them on the top.  They wanted to send a message.  Even giving Jesus cheap wine with vinegar in it…not good wine fit for a king, but sour wine.  It says that the Romans mocked Jesus.  The term for mock in this passage denotes that the Romans thought of Jesus as less than human.  

This past week, I got together with a friend of mine who works for the Mayor of Cincinnati.  She’s amazing.  A true leader.  She’s a woman of color and has a different outlook that I need to listen to and learn from.  We talked about a lot of things, but especially on the humiliation of persons of color in our country’s history with chattel slavery, a form of slavery that attempted to label persons of color as less than human…and how that continued on with Jim Crow laws and even to this day in various forms.  

It’s also important to note that’s why the black church has been a powerful voice.  They have understood humiliation, and they have persevered.  In many ways, I feel like the black church is the salvation of the American church.  It is through their suffering that we, as a church universal, can have an avenue of understanding what it means in many ways to live in faith of a God with us.

We see that in the gospel lesson.  Jesus is humiliated with the scandal of the cross.  Yet, Jesus asks for God to forgive them.  They are telling Jesus, jeering at Jesus, to save himself.  Yet, Jesus has incredible agency and resolve to absorb and to suffer…to take on death in a scandalous way in order to show us a better and deeper way of living.  The people that killed Jesus were telling him to look for salvation like any other king would, by force or violence.  Jesus is responding to violence with an inner strength of love and non-violence.  Which, ultimately brings salvation to them, and to all of us, as we live into becoming people of love, resolve, and our truest selves.  

Jesus responds to persons as they begin to move towards humility.  It seems like we often look for a savior to simply come in and swoop us out of a situation. But, if we look deeper, we can possibly experience growth, humility, and salvation even in the midst of a tragedy by recognizing God’s Presence. It takes courage to confront the darkness in our lives, but oftentimes, that is where we find God.

Jesus is crucified in between two thieves.  One, wanting to be saved, but cannot recognize himself or his humiliation….the other, recognizes where he is, knows his humiliation, names it, and sees in Jesus a Presence, the presence of God.  And, Jesus follows up on God’s promise of being with us by reassuring him that they would be together in paradise that day.

Friends, Jesus remembers us, all of us.  Jesus is with us in all of life’s ups and downs.  May we own where we are, we may be looking around for someone or something else to save us…but, may we follow the example of this gospel lesson and look deep inside, as well as deep inside of others as we build genuine friendships, and recognize that God is with us and God knows what we are going through…God does not give up on us, God brings us forgiveness, brings us salvation, God brings us God’s self. 

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