33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesusthere 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. 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 Messiahof 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“This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deridinghim and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?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 intoyour kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise
What does it mean to be saved? 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?
You’ve heard me say before, in my tradition growing up, I think I was saved at least 42 times! Every time there was what we called an “altar call”, I would get caught up in the emotion of the moment and go forward. I was so afraid of not being saved! From what, at almost 55, I’m not exactly sure anymore. Probably some sense of guilt, of loneliness, of whatever. And, always looking for something to save that was distant, an external savior to take my problems away.
Yet, over time, through so much of life, living into even the shadow sides of life…times of despair and even humiliation, something unexpected happened. I began to see, and still seeing…although sometimes dimly, that God is bigger than some euphoric moment…a bigger God that doesn’t lay a guilt trip on you…a God so intimate that this God is already in and and around you in all things and all people….and a God who does not need to be appeased by a blood sacrifice. That this Jesus does the unexpected, like forgiving someone on the cross while they are both dying…this guy did not earn forgiveness…it was given.
Our passage this morning from the gospel of Luke depicts humiliation as well as something unexpected. 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. It is also referred to as Gahenna, a garbage dump that is outside of the city…Gahenna is often used as a reference to what we call “hell”. 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.
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.
Its been an interesting week, one full of unexpected conversations. Bob Frey and I met and had a great conversation on what it means to be a church member at Fleming Road UCC and ways that we can enhance membership health. How do we grow in unexpected ways, what imagination do we have, and what is a way that we can lay the groundwork to see what it means to us, and the culture around us, what it means to be member of this particular congregation.
Later in the week, at our weekly Bible study, in our opening devotion we talked about the story of Ezekiel calling forth dry bones to life. It was an unexpected turn of events for Ezekiel, yet God reminded him that, with God, all things are possible. Dave Kleinschmidt immediately thought of the song that the community choir sang the night before, an African spiritual about bones coming to life. When all seems lost, there is a deeper faith at work un unexpected ways.
It’s important to note that’s why the black church has been a powerful voice in unexpected ways. In our recent history, like Jesus, Black folks were often considered less than human. They have understood humiliation, and they have persevered. In many unexpected ways, I feel like the Black church is the salvation of the American church. It is through their suffering and example of love in so many ways, 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. And, in unexpected ways, the Black church continues to be a much needed prophetic voice to the Church Universal…as well as a source of friendship even in the midst of persecution and racism.
We see that in the gospel lesson. Jesus is humiliated with the scandal of the cross. Yet, Jesus asks for God to forgive them, which is unexpected. Usually, you’d think that a response would be one of anger or a desire for revenge, but Jesus greats violence with non-violence. 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 in unexpected ways. It seems like we often look for a savior to simply come in and swoop us out of a situation, but, more often than not, we experience growth, humility, and salvation even in the midst of a tragedy by simply recognizing God’s Presence and embracing the moments we are in…and seeking a deeper undestanding…
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.
Today is the Reign of Christ Sunday. This is not simply a king, the Christ encompasses all people, things, creation…it is the universal presence filled with promise and relationship. This Christ, in all things, shows up in the most unexpected ways. May we live in these times looking for the unexpected.