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  • Writer's pictureFr. Daniel S.J. Scheid SCP

What is Father Dan Thinking? 2-26-24

Here's the manuscript of Sunday's sermon.


Fr. Daniel S.J. Scheid, SCP

Second Sunday in Lent B – February 25, 2024

All Saints’ Episcopal Church, San Francisco

“Uncle Jesus Wants You!”

 

“Uncle Sam Wants You” was the iconic recruiting poster in both World Wars. Whether you were alive then or not, I’ll bet that most of you can call it to mind.

 

There is a thought among some gospel scholars that “Take up the Cross” was a recruiting slogan of the anti-Roman Jewish rebels and home-grown zealots that Jesus adopted as his own.

 

Resistance against the Roman state meant, for the captured rebel, a cross of his very own to take up, carry, and hang from. What was, on its face, a shameful way to die, was turned by the zealots into a badge of valor – a counter-cultural “middle-finger to the man,” if you will, that liberated the cross from the terrorist-torture purpose that Rome intended it for.

 

Seen this way, the cross wasn’t imposed by the powerful; it was reached for and taken by the powerless, who in the taking took it as their own and held the moral high ground. That’s where true power lies.

 

You still died a horrible death, but not for nothing.

 

Jesus, a Palestinian Jew living under Roman occupation would have known this. So would the crowd that was following him. So would his disciples.

 

Which is why it must have been shocking for the people around Jesus to hear him use this recruiting slogan not for the sake of a sovereign Jewish state but for the sake of the gospel and for the Kingdom of God.

 

Jesus would still die a horrible death, but not for nothing. And his true followers the same.



Time and tradition have conditioned many of us, I think, to see our modern-day crosses as hardships that have been imposed on us: “That unforeseen and unpleasant circumstance fill in the blank is his cross to bear, her cross to bear, my cross to bear.”

 

And, to be sure, many people over the centuries have borne such crosses courageously and patiently, enduring illnesses of their own or caring tenderly for loved-ones who are sick. I don’t discount this interpretation of “taking up the cross” at all. I’ve seen it done throughout my life, and certainly in my priestly occupation which prompts me to pay even closer attention.

 

Yet, often, this is the cross in the passive voice. Imposed rather than taken.

 

What if, in addition to the passive voice, we were to look at taking up the cross in the active voice – not as the acted-upon but as the actor?

 

What if Christ’s own Church, the Episcopal part, for instance, dared to bring back Jesus’s upside-down appropriation of the rebels’ recruiting slogan as our own?


Instead of “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” – which is good, and I hope we do – what if we had a poster of Jesus looking us squarely in the eye, hand outstretched, index finger in our faces, saying “I want you to become my follower. Take up your cross and follow me.”

 

This prompts the question: What exactly is today’s cross? What would cost us our very lives for the sake of the gospel? For taking an active role in the insurgent inbreaking of the Kingdom of God?

 

First a counter-example. Some of the Christian Nationalists who stormed the Capitol to keep God’s anointed, as they saw him, in the White House, have paid a price – they would say a martyr’s price, a cross of their very own – for their insurgency.

 

Clearly that’s not what Jesus was talking about to his followers and disciples. Jesus wasn’t at all interested in re-establishing a theocratic Jewish state by storming the gates of Jerusalem, sitting in Pilate’s chair, and putting his sandaled feet on Pilate’s desk. Jesus wasn’t recruiting for the kingdom of this world then; nor is he through his Church now.

 

His kingdom is of a different nature. So is his cross.

 

The cross that Jesus took up became the altar upon which he was sacrificed, once and for all, for us – out of God’s deep desire and abiding love for you and for me. The Eucharist is God’s enduring way that the gift of the Incarnation, which is God’s Son taking on our mortal humanity, stays right in front of us and within us.

 

What we receive when we come to this altar is Jesus’ real self – the repeatable memorial in bread and wine of that once-mighty act – that God gives us every time we dare come forward with open hearts and open hands.

 

So for Jesus, the cross isn’t a flip of the bird or a poke in the eye. It’s not a weapon or about revenge, either. But it is about power. Not the world’s power, but God’s power: power that comes through kenosis – the self-emptying of the Son of God in obedience to the Divine Will “to the point of death—even death on a cross” as Saint Paul wrote.

 

That was Jesus’ cross – the Roman implement of torture and terror that Jesus transformed to change the world.

 

If Jesus’ cross became the sacrificial altar, I wonder if the sacrificial altar becomes our cross?

 

What is done on this altar and every other altar in Christendom is both the memorial of Jesus’ sacrificial passion and our sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. The gifts we put on the altar – bread, wine, water, money – are a representation of our whole selves.

 

In addition to these material goods, when we come to church God invites us to lay our joys and sorrows on the altar, too; our blessings and our burdens, and yes, even the crosses that we bear – those unpleasant circumstances and difficult people we endure every day.

 

All of these are sacrifice, the gifts of our very selves that the once- and still-crucified Christ takes up for us and with us, hands outstretched and heart pierced.

 

To follow Christ, then, requires a similar kind of kenosis – self-emptying – that Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, did for us.

 

We are imperfect self-emptiers, to be sure, which is why Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, and to take up our cross – daily, in Saint Luke’s account – and follow him.  

 

Jesus knows that we need his help, which is why he gives us the Church and the Sacrament of the Cross and the Altar – his Body and Blood, the very stuff we need for “solace and strength and pardon and renewal.”

 

As Jesus’ disciples, we come to the altar and take up the cross to empty ourselves of the ego that tempts us into thinking that we are a god unto ourselves; that stubborn self-reliance that separates us from God and each other.

 

As Jesus’ disciples, we come to the altar and take up the cross to die to ourselves, and sometimes it’s a horrible death – changing our lives for the better usually entails no small amount of pain.

 

But it’s not for nothing that we die.

 

It is only through living holy-Lenten-lives of self-examination and repentance and conversion that makes us partners with Jesus in the life-changing, world-changing, kingdom-building work he started and calls us to join.

 

No politician or party or platform can promise that.

 

Uncle Jesus wants you! Sign up on this altar and take up your cross today.

 

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