Crossed-Up: Subjective - Mark 15:16-23
There are some things that once you see them, you can’t “unsee” them. They become part of who you are and how you experience life from that point forward. One that Davey introduced to me was the “Fed-Ex” arrow. How many of you see the arrow in the Fed-Ex logo between the “E” and “x”? Once you see it for the first time, the arrow takes a predominate place in the logo and you can’t not see it anymore. How about the “g”/”face” combo in the Goodwill symbol? The “31” in Baskins Robins? Or the fact that Amazon claims to have everything from “A” to “Z” for sale on their website?
There are other things that are not so pleasant that folks have trouble unseeing? Maybe it is a visit to a poverty stricken country where families scour dumps to survive from day to day? Maybe it is a city in the wake of a natural disaster? Maybe it is a crime scene? Maybe it is discovering a loved one deceased? Maybe it is a terrorist attack? Those horrific events that we see, they become etched in our memories, and not only can we not “unsee” them, they begin shaping who we are altogether.
Last week we acknowledged that there are many in our culture, including some churches, that have an aversion to the cross of Christ, so much so that there are churches that have removed the cross from their sanctuary, or new churches which choose not to place a cross in the church, because it might turn folks off—it is seen as a negative. Now don’t get me wrong, and I didn’t acknowledge this last week, having a cross in the sanctuary does not make a church a church. You can have the most ornate cross ever imagined, or a crucifix that is true in every detail to what Jesus’ crucifixion actually looked like, but if there are no lives changed, truly changed, by what happened on the cross, the all the ornamentation and all the details, don’t amount for anything. Likewise, you can have a sanctuary that does not have a cross visible, but has the cross preached from the pulpit, and you have lives that are changed through an encounter with the God-incarnate person of Jesus who died on the cross and was raised from dead, then what’s decorating the sanctuary doesn’t matter. It is not about worshipping a golden or wooden idol placed in where we gather for worship, it is about the centrality of the theology of the cross, the centrality of the atonement, which unites us as brothers and sisters in God’s Church.
We also came to understand last week that the cross and the atonement, the reconciliation between God and humanity, that comes through the cross is not one or even two-dimensional, but as Mark Driscoal and Adam Hamilton put it, respectively, the cross is a “multi-faceted jewel”[i] and the multiple theories of what God does on the cross offer us a “powerful and profound picture of the significance of Jesus’ suffering and death for us.”[ii]
There are many theories of the atonement, and one of them by themselves really leaves us lacking in our understanding of the cross and close to heresy if we deiced to lift that one theory up as the only truth about what happened. Of the four that we are going to consider in this “Crossed-Up” series, two of them focus on what Jesus’ death does to satisfy God, in his Holy and Just nature—those being the Substitutive theory from last week, understanding that Christ died in our place, receiving the punishment that we deserved for the sins that we have committed; and the theory we are going to consider two weeks from today, the Sacrificial theory of atonement. Here, between those two we come to an understanding and theory of atonement that is not about God being appeased and changing God’s view of us, but it is about how we see the cross and how it affects us. This theory of the atonement is called the Subjective or Moral Influence Theory of Atonement.
The Subjective or Moral Influence theory takes us back to seeing something that we are no longer able to “unsee.” It suggests that as we come to look upon the brutality of the crucifixion that we are changed. The harsh violence of the crucifixion is mean to slap us in the face, forcing us to realize just how sinful we are because it is not the Jews who are to blame for the suffering of Jesus upon the cross, it is not the Romans who are at fault for crucifying Jesus, it is us…it is our sin that put Jesus to death.
We may want to argue that we had nothing to do with the crucifixion. It was millennia ago, we weren’t there. However, we look back and we see that we are not very different from those who were there.
If we pick up the scene after the Passover meal and the institution of the meal we now call Holy Communion, we find the disciples falling asleep in the garden as Jesus prays, although Jesus has charged them with staying awake and being on watch. How often have we fallen asleep or grown weary and failed to stay on the tasks to which Jesus has charged us? You know the times where we just say, “I’m tired, I’ve tried, I just give up.” “We’ve tried reaching out to those in our community, we haven’t gotten any response, there’s no use in trying any more.”
We’re like those who fled the scene when Jesus was betrayed. When we hear a racist comment or see injustice being carried out and we choose to remain quiet because we don’t want to be called a “n-lover” or be ostracized for taking up for those who won’t even learn our language, we have fled the scene. When we see child abuse or spousal abuse or elder abuse and we don’t want to get involved, and maybe even argue that is none of our business, we have taken cover. When we are unwilling to reach out a helping hand to the homeless, help an addict, or minister to someone with AIDS because we are afraid we might catch something, we have runaway in fear like all the disciples in the garden.
When we won’t hold hands in a public restaurant as we say grace because folks might look at us funny or refuse to speak up in a public forum where people of faith are being ignored or even put down because we don’t want to be seen as a fanatic, we are like Peter, denying Jesus.
When we think to ourselves that “Yeah, I know what Jesus says, but this is what I am going to do,” we are like the Sanhedrin who wanted to get rid of Jesus because He was getting in their way of doing things. When we choose violence as our preferred method of dealing with problems over love, then we are like the crowds who choose Barabbas over Jesus. When we decide that popular decision is preferred over doing the right thing we are not much different from Pilate giving in to the demands of the crowds. When we treat others as less than us because of their skin color, their ethnicity, their gender, their age, their education, their social standing, their choice of lifestyle, then we are no different that the soldiers who treated Jesus as less than human in how they tortured him.
We are meant to see the cross and its bloody agony and all the sin that surrounded it and be confronted with our own complicity and realize that we have to be different. We have to change. We have to repent of our sin and return to God. We have to be less like who we’ve been and more like the one hanging on the cross. The One who placed those who were in need, all of humanity, before his own preservation. The One who could have tried to make everyone happy, by going along with the Pharisees and keeping in what how they taught and lived, by ignoring the corruption the Temple and leaving the moneychangers alone, by making the people happy and starting an uprising against Rome, but stayed true to God’s calling. The One who refused to call for violence against those who were crucifying him and instead offered forgiveness.
My brothers and sisters, we must look upon the cross of Christ and be changed. We cannot “unsee” it. We cannot truly see the cross and remain unaffected and unchanged. It is a mirror held up for us to see ourselves as we are now and a portrait of who we are to become. Look at the cross. What do we see? “[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.