Growing up one of my favorite comic strips was “Peanuts.” Perhaps some of you remember sometimes that Lucy would play psychiatrist. She would set up shop with a sign proclaiming, “The Psychiatrist is IN.” Recently I was reminded how One day she says to Charlie Brown, “Discouraged again, eh, Charlie Brown?” “You know what your problem is? The whole trouble with you is you.” The whole trouble with you is you.
I’ve thought a lot about that this past week in the midst of the groundswell of response to the video of NFL player Ray Rice, seen physically assaulting a woman who is now his wife. First we wonder what the NFL knew and why they didn’t do more. And much condemnation of his behavior has been heard. But then his wife’s decision to stay and stand by him received just as much recrimination. Maybe even more. Why would she do such a thing? It’s foolish! Why are we so focused on chiding a victim?
Then again, I’ve thought about Lucy as we have another week of gun violence here in the city including the death of a man just blocks from here and the neighborhood concern about the shooting which seems to center around getting these people out of here more than concern for those caught in the midst of it. Shootings are bad, killing is wrong, but we can be quick to judge- I wonder if anyone has thought instead of judging, about how to help those caught in these places live?
These kinds of violence seem to be always around us. The groundswell of opinions are just one example of how we approach problems in our world- we bounce between saying we need better laws or policies all the way to the other extreme which is we need victims to be stronger. We need better policies about guns or people, or we need more guns with the right people to be safe, or we need to uparmor police even in places like schools. I saw a picture this past week of an artillery vehicle repurposed for a school. Shocking.
Unfortunately the conversations we have are only about what people should stop doing or about doing better things. And while it is about us, somehow it’s not. It’s about issues and how to fix them. As though the issues and the people are separate. It’s not about life.
Today on this Holy Cross Sunday we ask what the cross means for us in this life in the world. And we first hear about the people in Numbers who are being plagued by a different kind of death- they’ve been traveling in the wilderness with Moses and serpents are biting people who are then dying. They beg Moses to do something and he goes to see God and begs for an answer.
God tells him to take a serpent and put it on a pole for the people to look at, but when they look at it they will live. The bitten will live. The image helps them see and live, but… it takes trusting in who’s behind what the image represents.
And then we fast forward to the gospel where we hear about Jesus on the cross, born into our humanity and put up on a pole for people to see. (Brian Stoffregen) One writer noticed that there is a parallel here. Serpents on the ground kill, serpent on the pole brings life. Jesus as human on the pole in our human world brings life. So what must the problem be?
Lucy is right. Jesus is on the cross because the problem with humans is humans. The problem with us is us.
So often we can see that there are problems like domestic abuse and gun violence but the way we address it is to separate the problem from people. Better policies or laws, or better victims might bring some kind of salvation-ish kind of thing. But that kind of salvation has nothing to do with Jesus. It either doesn’t need him or reduces him to a model of behavior. Yet so often we turn not to God or the cross but to these other avenues.
And we keep getting bitten by the same old problems because of who we are. We are sinful. Sin hurts. But the cross changes that conversation. And we really do need that cross.
Because just as those surrounded by biting serpents everywhere needed to be grounded to survive, so do we. What grounds us is not just the image of the cross, but a belief in the relationship it represents. That God is a God who is involved, and healing, and forgiving. The cross shows us a God who loving, and longs for us to seek life. But we have to believe.
We hear this is in the gospel- you must believe. But I want to be clear, I don’t mean in the sense of “believe or you are damned.” Though this is often how some interpret today’s gospel. That’s not what is being said.
Believe… because life giving starts now. In this cross and this relationship. There's real life.
Belief is a key concept in the gospel of John Over and over the stories flow forth “so that you might believe.” And in coming to believe might keep on believing in the God of the cross.
Believing in what and who the symbol represents.
If you’ve ever noticed the abundance of ribbons, and wristbands and slogans, it’s proof we will believe in a policy, slogan or symbol as the next great hope with very little proof.
Believing that the cross is more than that. It's a symbol that points to a real relationship and identity. And those words “to believe” are a continual invitation to keep on.
When we look at the cross our belief is renewed- it not only shows the cost Christ paid, but also the life giving promise Christ assures us. We’re reminded that relationship is forged in baptism when we join in what that cross made on our heads menas, and stays with us all the way to the end of this life’s journey and beyond. Not just at the beginning and end, but along the way.
And along the way, we are continually invited into life. To come to believe again and again so that we are not perishing, or condemned, or being judged or feeling separated.
The good news is that while the serpents in our world still want to judge us or have us judge others, we don’t have to buy in. We really don’t.
In fact, the cross shows exactly the opposite. The cross is the place that shows us that we cannot be our own salvation.
It’s also the place where Jesus turns to those who have killed, robbed, beaten, and denied and says, “You’re forgiven and today you are with me.” Forever. Not just for us, but for those we are sure are not us.
It’s foolish to believe but there it is.
Good news for all the places where the painful, the poisonous, and the life-taking things surround us. Holy Cross day reminds us to behold the life giving cross, to look upon Jesus and remember not only the cost but the promise God in Christ assures now and forever.
Again we are invited, “ Come, believe, and continue to live into believing the power of our God.”
Because the cross is not just a symbol, it's a relationship.
Take it in and believe.
This is what we celebrate here. And what when we come here we help each other believe.
This is what we share when we lift that cross high in our world
So that when the next discouraged person comes along saying, “Ouch! I just got bit!” We don’t point in judgment and say “ How could you be so stupid to let that happen?”
But instead proclaim with all our heart, “ Let me help you see the One who will help you live.”