March 9, 2014: The Crosses We Carry

Posted on : Mar 6th, 2014 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

WORSHIP at 5PM!

(NO worship at 11AM, due to the LA Marathon!)

This Sunday, we begin the season of Lent. Our worship theme this Lent is “The Crosses We Carry.”  The Season of Lent is observed as a time of spiritual renewal.

One of the dominant images of the season of Lent is Jesus carrying the cross towards his place of death.  In fact, in the passion story (the story leading up to Jesus’ death) the cross becomes so heavy, that Simon of Cyrene – a super strong man like our own Leroy – is pulled from the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross to the place of his crucifixion.

As one who abhors violence, that is never one of my favorite images.  It’s also pretty antiquated, but in reality, the image is as relevant today as it was when Jesus was carrying the cross.  The Crosses we Carry today are different but as real as the one Jesus carried to his death.  And sometimes the crosses we carry are so heavy, we need help carrying them.  That’s what the community of the Church is for.

This Lent we’re going to look at five crosses that we carry based on five stories in the Gospels:

1.  Wrestling with evil:  the devils we wrestle with today
2.  Afraid to be recognized as a Christian in our Secular world?
3.  Spiritual Suspicion about the meaning of Repentance
4.  Whose fault is it that I’m the way I am?
5.  Second Life.org:  A second chance at life

On this First Sunday in Lent we will look at “the first cross” Jesus carries after his baptism which also marks the beginning of his adult ministry.  The setting is this: after Jesus’ baptism he withdrew into the wilderness and entered into a time of deep spiritual discernment marked by fasting and prayer.  At the end of the 40 days, Jesus is hungry and vulnerable.  As he transitions from “retreat mode” to “real-world mode” the first harsh reality of life he encounters is the power and presence of evil.  In the story, this “evil” is personified as “the devil.”

The other week I was having lunch with a clergy colleague who said he very much disliked this scripture because the language about “the devil” is so absurd in our 21st century world.  I agreed with him, that I don’t believe in a devil but I sure do believe in “evil” and the power it has in influencing our lives.  In the United States, we don’t have to look any farther than the vast number of innocent people who are killed by people who go into schools, movie theaters, malls, churches, and other public places and start firing guns with the goal of randomly killing as many people as they can.  That’s evil.

And then there’s the evil associated with wealth and power.  When Russian President Putin decided to invade the Ukraine last week, the first place some people went was “war!”  But the vast majority of Americans said “no!” to war this time.  We’re still trying to get out of 12 years with of war with Afghanistan and barely over the war against Iraq.  So, the next logical step was considering economic sanctions.  That was immediately a point of deep concern for Germany who now buys about 40% of their oil and natural gas from Russia.  It also became an economic concern for the whole of the European Union, because Germany is one of the few nations in the EU whose economy is working.  If Germany falls into a recession, imagine what would happen to the rest of the European Union.

Sadly, our dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels has become a contemporary devil in our world.  This devil is certainly different than the one pictured in scripture, but is just as destructive.

And then, of course, there was the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found with dead in his apartment with an injection needle still in his arm.  Hoffman was open about his addiction and celebrated about 23 years of living clean and sober, and then he had a slip, starting using again and the power of heroin and other drugs over took his life.  That’s not too different than the devil in this Sunday’s scripture asking Jesus to throw himself down from the peak of the temple, to prove who he was and to prove that God would save him.

The current devil in our world is the evil at work within ourselves and in our global politics.  The lure of power and dominance, the deception of thinking ourselves invincible, the addiction to self-destructive substances, the destruction of the fragile planet on which we live, the economic oppression and enslavement of the poor are all examples of the devils we wrestle with today.  “Wrestling with evil” is as real for us today as it was for Jesus.

So how do we survive such forces?  That’s what we’ll look at this Sunday.

Lenten Blessings,

Dan

~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  Having fasted forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to Jesus, “If you are the Child of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But Jesus answered, “It is written,

‘One shall not live by bread alone,
But by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said, “If you are the Child of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘God will give the angels charge of you,’

And

‘On their hands they will bear you up,
Lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to the devil, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Sovereign your God.’”  Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain, and showed him all the nations of the world and the glory of them; and the devil said to Jesus, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Then Jesus said to the devil, “Be gone, Satan!  For it is written,

‘You shall worship the Sovereign your God,
And God only shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left Jesus, and angels came and ministered to him.

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