[Our focus for this past Sunday was the Celtic Cross which is part of our “Crosses of Jesus” sermon series during the season of Lent. The Celtic Cross is known for having a circle around the middle of it. The circle represents God’s never ending love. We are blessed to have a prominent Celtic Cross in our beautiful chapel.]
O God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thank you for your never ending love. Thank you that your love never runs out and that there is plenty for everyone including for those who feel they deserve it the least.
Help us to be your God intoxicated people who live with an intense sense of your presence. Help us to see every moment as a place of resurrection and new life and may we always devote ourselves to pray, preach, care, and worship.
Circle us Lord, keep love within, keep hatred out.Keep joy within, keep fear out.Keep peace within, keep worry out.Keep light within, keep darkness out.May you stand in the circle with us, today and always.
As we journey to the cross during this Season of Lent may we take this time to empty ourselves of our pride, our shallowness of faith, our prejudices, our quickness to pass judgment, our apathy, and our reluctance to offer forgiveness. O God, when we arrive at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday, may we be the people you have created us to be.
O God, thank you for our Celtic brothers and sisters who teach us to be keenly aware of your presence in every person and place we encounter. And so, we pray for our schools, our hospitals, our colleges and universities, our court houses, our police stations, our fraternities and sororities, our stores, our parks, our prisons and jails, our shops, our restaurants, our fields, our rivers, our Capitol, our homes. O God, we claim all of these places to be used for your glory in bringing about justice and peace for all.
Whenever we look at your cross, help us to see a circle around it so that we may always be reminded that your love is eternal and unbroken. Thank you for being the father who throws caution to the wind by running out to greet and welcome home your wayward children.
And now, as your prodigal sons and daughters, we delight in your forgiving love even as we pray the words that Jesus taught his disciples and now teaches to us to pray together saying,
During the Season of Lent, we’re spending this time focusing on six different types of crosses which have been used throughout Christian history to help people have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the meaning of Jesus’ cross.
So far, we have focused on the Latin cross, the Jerusalem cross, and last Sunday, we looked at the significance of the Tau cross.
And for this fourth Sunday in Lent, we turn to the Celtic cross.And as you can see, the Celtic cross is pretty much the Latin style of cross which we talked about on the first Sunday of this series, only there’s also a circle surrounding the middle of the cross tying the four parts of the cross together.
In preparing for this sermon today, I have been reminded of just how important the shape of the circle is for people from the Celtic faith.And by Celtic Christianity, I’m referring to the Christian Church of the British Isles which dates all the way back to the 2nd or 3rd century and continues to be an important expression of our Christian faith today.
In a few moments I want to share some brief highlights of the history of Celtic Christianity, but for now, I want to say a quick word about the powerful symbol of the circle for people who are from the Celtic Christian faith.
In Celtic Christianity, there’s a wonderful traditional prayer that goes like this:Circle us Lord, keep love within, keep hatred out.Keep joy within, keep fear out.Keep peace within, keep worry out.Keep light within, keep darkness out.May you stand in the circle with us, today and always.”
This prayer and the image of a circle are meant to help Christians remember that God is always with us no matter what we may be facing in life.We’ll get back to the meaning of the circle in a little bit, but for now, I want to briefly sketch a little of the history of Celtic Christianity to help us better understand this unique shape of the cross of Jesus and how this cross can help us prepare for Holy Week and Easter.
A lot of people don’t realize that Christianity originated in the British aisles as early as the 2ndcentury – less than 200 years after the time of Jesus.Christianity first arrived in this area because of missionaries who had been sent there from the Church in Rome.
Christianity grew and grew in this region thanks to three Christian saints in particular – St. Ninian in Scotland, St. Dyfrig in Wales, and St. Patrick in Ireland.
But around the middle of the 5thcentury, as Christianity was continuing to spread, pagan invaders, who were known as the Angles and Saxons from the northern part of Germany, and the Jutes who were from the area of Denmark, conquered the native Celtic Christians, and also drove many of the Celtic Christians north and west into Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
After some time had passed, it was from these areas of the British Isles that Celtic Christian missionaries returned to England to preach the Gospel to these pagan invaders.While these Celtic missionaries were busy evangelizing, the church in Rome decided to send Christian missionaries as well, the most famous one being Augustine, not to be confused with the more famous St. Augustine, the great theologian of the early church.
This other Augustine arrived in the southeast corner of England in the year 597 and the pagan king who was ruling that area allowed Augustine and the other missionaries to preach the Gospel which they did and they ended up being very successful.Augustine became a Bishop and established his headquarters in Canterbury.From that time to our present day, there has been an unbroken succession of archbishops of Canterbury as part of the Church of England or the Anglican Church.
It sounds like everything worked out well since the missionaries from both the Celtic Christian tradition as well as Augustine and his missionaries from Rome were able to convert the pagan tribes who had invaded England.But there was a very different kind of problem as a result of this success.
The Celtic Christians and the church from Rome didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of issues.Augustine was a big reason for this division because first of all, he didn’t have a lot of diplomatic and people skills.
Secondly, he insisted that the Celtic Christians should adopt his way of doing things.Augustine felt that the Celtic Christians were obligated to follow the way the church back in Rome did things.
There’s an interesting story about this.It is said that the Celtic Christians, before going to meet with Augustine, consulted a hermit who had a reputation for wisdom and holiness, and asked him, “Shall we accept this Augustine as our leader or not?”
And as the story goes, this wise old hermit said, “If at your meeting, he rises to greet you, then accept him and his ways, but if he remains seated, then he is arrogant and unfit to lead, and you ought to reject him.”
As it turned out and true to form, Augustine remained seated during that meeting.That wise hermit ended up being right.It took another sixty years before these two groups finally came together.It wasn’t until the famous Synod of Whitby in 664 that these two faith traditions found reconciliation and began working together.
Now, that’s just a very brief history of early Celtic Christianity but I think this background might help put their particular expression of the Christian faith in some perspective.
Before we talk more about the Celtic cross, here are some other unique features of Celtic Christianity in general which I think are really helpful for us to know.I’ll share these rather quickly.
Celtic Christianity emphasizes love of nature and of God’s creation.They have a love and respect for art and poetry.They are orthodox in their Christian beliefs with a heavy emphasis on the Trinity; God who is known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And they also have a special focus on the importance of liturgy and prayers.
Celtic Christianity has been influenced more by the Christian faith in the Eastern part of the church rather than the Western part of the church as seen in their problems with Augustine who I mentioned earlier.And maybe that’s why people today are so intrigued by Celtic Christianity because we have become so accustomed to the Western branch of Christianity, that we are just now beginning to reclaim the wonderful tradition of the more Eastern dimension of our Christian faith.Celtic Christianity helps us to reclaim this less familiar side of our Christian history and tradition.
Also in Celtic Christianity, women were given a more prominent role in the life of the church than in other Christian faith traditions.
Celtic Christianity emphasizes the need for each Christian to have a spiritual guide and to not try to be a follower of Jesus Christ on your own.
Celtic Christians tend to be great story tellers because of their wonderful oral culture tradition.
They are really big into offering Christian hospitality and they emphasize the importance of family and kinship ties.
And they also have their share of some of the greatest Christian saints who have ever lived over the course of Christian history.
Saints such as Patrick who had a huge hand in preaching the gospel in Ireland.Aidan who in the 7th century, restored Christianity in Northumbria after unsuccessful attempts by previous leaders; Columba, a faithful and determined monk who in the 6th century converted pagan kings and traveled on vigorous missionary journeys throughout his seventy-six years of life.
Cuthbert, from the 7th century, who even though he preferred his own Celtic customs, was humble enough to accept some of the practices of the Church in Rome for the sake of Christian unity.He traveled by horseback all over England sharing the gospel with people who were scattered in outlying and sparsely settled areas encouraging them to not rely on their charms or amulets, but to pray to God and to put their trust in Jesus Christ, alone.
Brigid was another wonderful Celtic saint.She lived during the 5th century, left her pagan religion, and was baptized in the Christian faith at the age of fourteen.She became a nun and helped to establish a Christian community in Kildare where a pagan shrine stood that included a perpetual fire.Instead of stamping out the fire and disrespecting the Druid people, Brigid chose to allow the fire to continue but she gave it a Christian interpretation.Thanks to her sensitive and respectful approach, many of the Druid people accepted the Christian faith.
And last but not least, another saint from the Celtic Christian faith is St. Robert McDowell of Scotland.You might have read some of his outstanding poetry.
Now, back to the Celtic Cross which I mentioned briefly at the beginning of the sermon.The Celtic Cross is basically a Latin cross, which is the most popular shape of cross but this cross also has a circle in the top middle of it connecting all four points of the cross.
As the story goes, St. Patrick, who lived during the 5th century, is the one who came up with this particular style of cross.During St. Patrick’s time, the circle represented a pagan moon goddess, and by incorporating a symbol from the pagan faith with the Christian cross, it showed those he was converting to Christianity how the Christian faith connected to their religious symbols.Consequently, St. Patrick ended up ordaining many Druids to serve as Christian priests which is pretty remarkable if you think about it.
Another symbolism of the Celtic cross also comes from the circle.The circle is a symbol of eternity that emphasizes the endlessness of God’s love as shown through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.The circle reminds us that there is no end to God’s immeasurable love.And I think this particular meaning is worth stopping for a moment and giving some thought.
This means that no matter how much we have failed God in the past or in the present, or how much we will fail God in the future, that God’s love for us is always the same.As a friend of mine likes to put it, “God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.”I find this circle of love to be a great thought for us during this Season of Lent, that God’s love has no end.
When I think of Celtic Christianity’s emphasis on God’s unconditional love, I think of the story of the Prodigal Son.We’ve heard this story.It’s one of Jesus most famous parables and it’s about a father and two sons and how the youngest son demanded his share of the inheritance, left home, and squandered the money in loose living.
This son had done the unthinkable.Not only did he disrespect is father by asking for his inheritance, but he also turned his back on his own family.
After he spends all of the money on wild living, he finally comes to his senses and decides to return home to become one of his father’s servants.At least then, he would be able to eat real food and not the food of the pigs which he had been eating just to survive.
Imagine this scene as this youngest son returns home.All the way home, he is going over his apology for what he had done to bring shame to the family, knowing that his father might not even allow him to be his servant, let alone his son.
And then, picture in your mind, the way this parable ends.When the father sees his son off in the distance, this father is filled with compassion and begins running toward him.
We have lost the shock of this story because in Jesus’ day, adults never ran outside like that in public.That would have been a disgrace.
So, here’s this father, going against social protocol, throwing caution to the wind by running in public, all because he is overjoyed that his son who was lost has now come home.And he was willing to go to these great lengths even though his son had hurt him deeply.
After he embraces his son, he throws a huge welcome home party and spares no expense.And Jesus told this story because he wants us to know of God’s immeasurable love for us.The circle that is in the middle of the Celtic cross is to always remind us of God’s eternal love.There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us any less.God loves us unconditionally, and there’s nothing we can do about it.It’s just the way it is.
And this leads me to share this final thought about Celtic Christianity.Many people would often refer to those Celtic saints who I mentioned earlier as “God- intoxicated people who lived with an intense sense of the presence of God.”“God- intoxicated people who lived with an intense sense of the presence of God.”
They believed in Jesus Christ to the very core of their being and they shared this good news with everyone near and far, that all of life and creation were embraced by the triune God who walked with them throughout life’s journey.Just reading ancient Celtic prayers reveals this strong characteristic of Celtic Christianity and what they mean by the circle of God’s endless and everlasting love.
Celtic Christians often use the phrase, “Thin Place” to convey how the spiritual and natural world often intersect and overlap.These thin places are the moments when we experience a deep sense of God’s presence in our everyday, ordinary, and even mundane living.Thin places represent the razor thin distance between heaven and earth and all we need to do is to be open to these everyday holy moments.
In our day and age with its heavy emphasis upon reason, rationale thought, scientific proof, and linear thinking, Celtic Christianity offers us a breath of fresh air.Heaven is not as far away as we might have thought.Heaven is overlapping our lives in any given moment.The God of all creation, who is wholly other and transcendent, is also the God of the incarnation. God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.
And this is why we call so many of the Celtic Christians, saints.Because of their deep sense of God’s presence and of God’s overflowing love for all people, that’s why they were willing to travel on dangerous missionary journeys.They believed each place to be a place of one’s resurrection where only God could bring new life and it was their task to pray, preach, care, worship, and wait till the resurrection would most certainly come.
I wonder if people say the same things about us.That we too, are God-intoxicated people who live with the intense sense of the presence of God.And as we wait upon the celebration of Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, like our Celtic brothers and sisters, it is our primary task to pray, preach, care, and worship wherever we travel.
For this all to be said about us, we need a circle in the middle of our cross.
Crosses of Jesus: The Celtic Cross
Small Group Questions
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
March 26, 2017
Celtic Christianity is known for the phrase, “Thin Place Moments,” which describes those holy moments in our everyday lives when heaven and earth overlap and we experience God’s presence in a very real way.
Share a recent “Thin Place Moment” that has happened to you recently.
Celtic Christianity is known for love of God’s creation (nature), poetry, orthodox beliefs with an emphasis on the doctrine of the Trinity, worship liturgy and prayers, emphasis on women in leadership roles in the church, the important of having a spiritual guide, storytelling ability, and hospitality.
Share which of these Celtic Christian aspects stand out for you. Why are they important?
The circle in the Celtic cross reminds us of God’s endless love through for the world through Jesus Christ. The story of the Prodigal Son emphasizes this endless love when the father runs out to meet his son who was returning home from squandering the family inheritance.
How have you experienced God’s endless and unconditional love in your life?
Celtic Christianity is known for their beautiful prayers. Pastor Robert shared this prayer during the sermon this past Sunday. Say this prayer together as a small group:
Circle us Lord, keep love within, keep hatred out. Keep joy within, keep fear out. Keep peace within, keep worry out. Keep light within, keep darkness out. May you stand in the circle with us, today and always. Amen.
[This is a picture of my hand. I woke up Sunday morning and noticed that it was strained from moving some furniture. During yesterday’s anointing of oil, I decided to have it anointed at all 3 services! It actually felt better each time. This morning (Monday), it is feeling almost totally healed. I shared this in my sermon with the congregation to make the point that God cares about all of the little and big health issues we face from time to time. The Tau Cross has been a symbol of healing over the centuries which was our worship focus yesterday. Many people came forward to be anointed with oil and receive physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing. Some came forward to become an agent of God’s healing love to all we meet. Never forget that God loves you and cares about your well being.]
God of compassion, thank you for the many ways you offer your healing love to us. Thank you for the anointing of oil as a tangible symbol of how you bring about healing and call us to be healing agents in our community and world.
Thank you for the variety of ways you offer your healing through doctors, nurses, surgeons, first responders, caregivers, counselors, Stephen Ministers, therapists, sponsors, prayer partners, small groups, the Sacraments, the anointing of oil, and in so many other ways. You created us in your image and your desire is for us to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit. Thank you for this worship service where the Tau Cross reminds us that you are always reaching out to us with your healing love.
We pray for people we know who are in need of your healing touch. We pray for those in the hospital, those recovering from surgery, those who are struggling financially, those who wrestle with the demons of addiction, those who are experiencing the strain of a broken relationship, those who feel lonely, those who are wrestling in their faith. O God, whatever the brokenness or pain may be, the truth is that we are all in need of your healing grace in some area of our lives.
Thank you for the Tau Cross and for reminding us today of one of the greatest truths in all the bible, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have everlasting life.”
In the name of your Son, we pray the words that he taught his disciples and now teaches us to say together,
I was standing in the elevator of a hospital when a woman, noticing that I was wearing a suit and tie with an ID badge clipped to my suit jacket asked me, “What kind of doctor are you, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Now, I just can’t let these kinds of questions go by without having a little fun.I’m sorry, but you gotta have fun in life once in a while.Like the time when I was in a home improvement store and I was wearing khaki pants and a blue oxford shirt, the exact same thing that the employees of the store were wearing.
A customer came up to me and asked me where the power tools were.And of course, I couldn’t resist, so I said, “That would be aisle 23, across from the light bulbs.” As he was walking away, I pointed toward a real employee and said, “Actually, ask that guy there. He can help.”
So anyway, I’m on this hospital elevator and this woman asks me what kind of doctor I am.And I said, “I’m a spiritual surgeon and I operate on sinners.”She actually thought that was kind of funny.
But truth be told, I think pastors are kind of like doctors, because in a way we’re both in the health profession, and we both care about the well being of the people we see.
Think of all of the people that Jesus healed during his ministry.It seems like he was constantly laying hands on people who had infirmities and diseases so that they would be healed.You can imagine how the crowds were drawn to Jesus because of his ability to bring healing.
Today, as part of our sermon series on the crosses of Jesus, we focus on the Tau cross.Tau, spelled, “T-A-U.”And the particular meaning of this cross is that it is commonly associated with God’s gift of healing.
I’d like to have us think about three types of healing that are associated with this particular shape of Jesus’ cross.
Physical, Emotional, & Mental Healing
The first aspect of the Tau cross is that God desires for us to receive physical, emotional, and mental healing.In the Book of Numbers from the Old Testament, there’s this strange story, at least I think it’s kind of strange, where Moses is leading the people of Israel through the wilderness toward the Promised Land, but along the way, they complain and they begin to stop trusting in God and Moses, their leader. And it’s to a point where there is a real possibility that the people whom God had rescued from Egypt will turn back.
As it becomes apparent to God that the people might totally give up on following Moses through the wilderness, God sends poisonous snakes which end up killing some of the Israelites.But God also provides Moses with a remedy for these poisonous snake bites by having Moses make a bronze serpent, which he then wraps around a pole and he tells the people to look at the serpent so they can be healed.
Now, if you’re like me, that might sound like a strange way for someone to be healed from a snake bite, but this is the image that various medical organizations use even today as a sign of healing.It’s the symbol of serpents wrapped around a pole.
But it wasn’t the bronze serpent itself that brought healing to the people.The point of this story is that it was the power of God through the symbol of the bronze serpent wrapped around the pole that brought healing.This just goes to show the power of symbols.Just by looking at this serpent on the pole, the people were healed.
During the time of the bible, it was believed that the type of pole that Moses used to bring healing to the people was in the shape of a capital “T.”Just like the medical profession has picked up on this symbol to represent healing, the Tau cross also reminds us that God wants to bring physical, emotional, and mental healing in our lives.
The Tau cross can also remind us of how Jesus healed people during his ministry.In the Book of James, we are told that we are to anoint those who are sick so that they can be healed.The anointing of oil has a long history of God’s desire to bring healing in our lives.
I have a friend who’s a pastor and he told me about a time when he went to the hospital to visit a member of his church.He happened to have a little container of anointing oil with him in his car and he thought that he would take it with him and offer it to the person he was going to visit.He doesn’t always bring anointing oil with him, but for some reason, he felt nudged to do so for this particular visit.
This elderly woman ended up appreciating this opportunity to receive an anointing and a brief prayer for healing.My friend then told me that he left the hospital and he had about a twenty minute drive back to his church.When he was about halfway back to the church, he got a call on his cell phone.
It was the secretary at the church.Evidently, the son of this elderly woman who had just arrived to the hospital saw my friend’s business card which had the church phone number listed on it.This man called the church to see if my friend would be able to come back to the hospital.His mother had told him that she had been anointed with oil and because he was going through some medical problems at the time, he wanted to be anointed as well.
And even though my friend was already several minutes away, he turned around at the nearest exit and returned to the hospital and anointed this man and offered a prayer for healing.
But it’s not just about physical healing because we know that God also cares about our emotional and mental healing as well.A little later in our worship service, an invitation will be extended to come forward and receive an anointing of oil.Like this man in the hospital this might be a good opportunity for us to receive an anointing of oil from one of our Stephen Minister Leaders so that we can receive God’s healing presence and love.
The Tau cross reminds us of the pole that Moses used to bring healing to the people of Israel and of Jesus ministry of healing.God wants to bring healing in our lives as well.
A second aspect of the Tau cross is that it is a powerful symbol of God’s desire for us to receive spiritual healing.
Whenever Jesus heals someone, the word that the scriptures use for healing is the Greek word “sozo.”It’s a word that doesn’t just mean physical healing, although it can have that meaning, but it also can refer to spiritual healing.And sometimes it’s a little ambiguous as to which meaning is intended.Is it referring to physical healing or is it that the person received spiritual healing and received salvation?Or maybe even both?
One of the reasons why the word can have these different meanings is because of the Jewish and biblical understanding that we’re not just physical beings or emotional beings or spiritual beings.All of these dimensions are an important part of who we are.
So when God brings healing in our lives, it’s not only about one dimension of our lives.It’s about all of who we are.
One day, a man named Nicodemus came to Jesus to ask him some questions and Jesus ended up talking to Nicodemus about the importance of spiritual healing.Jesus said, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.”
And Nicodemus is confused by all of this, thinking that it’s impossible to go through a second birth when you’ve already been born.Guess how Jesus tries to help Nicodemus understand what it means to have a spiritual healing or a second birth?
He refers back to that story from the Book of Numbers which we already looked at a little earlier, the story about the poisonous snakes and the bronze serpent being put on a pole and lifted up to bring healing to the people.
Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
What’s Jesus talking about here?He’s talking about the time when he will be crucified on a cross.He will be lifted up on the cross and take upon himself all of the sins and the evil that the world can throw at him, and through his death, and as we place our faith in him, we can receive eternal life.We can receive a spiritual healing in which we are born again and saved from our sins.
And right after Jesus uses this analogy of comparing his death on the cross with the serpent on the pole story from the Book of Numbers, we get this wonderful verse that many of us know by heart.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
This is the good news of the Christian faith.That in any given moment, you and I can respond to God’s invitation by looking at the cross and what Jesus did for us and be born again, and receive eternal life.
As C.S. Lewis, the great Christian thinker of the last century once said, “It can happen today, if you’d like.”
All we need to do is to look to the cross, turn from our sins, trust in Christ, and be born again.
The story is told of three men in France who were walking through the countryside together.And the one man kept going on and on how the problems of the country could be blamed on the church and the Christian faith.
Every time they would see a church, this man would point to it and say, “That’s the problem with our world today.Religion.”
As they were walking by a cathedral, the man started complaining about the Christian faith again as he pointed toward the building in disgust.
One of the men said, “Well, if you feel that way, why don’t you just go into that cathedral and tell the priest what you’ve been telling us?”And the man said, “Alright, I will.”
So he went inside the cathedral, found the priest and told him what he had been telling his friends all day long, that the Christian faith was just a bunch of superstitions and that the church was the reason the country was in such bad shape.
The priest listened patiently as the man went on and on with his complaints.When the man was finally done, the priest said, “Before you leave here today, I want to offer a challenge to you.I challenge you to go into the sanctuary and look up at the large crucifix with Jesus hanging on the cross, and I want you to say these words, ‘Jesus Christ died on the cross for me and it doesn’t mean a thing to me.’”
And the man said, “Sure, I’ll take up that challenge.”And so he went into the sanctuary as the priest instructed him to do, and he went up the full length of the aisle until he made it to the large crucifix.And after he stared at it for a few moments he said, “Jesus Christ died on the cross for me and it doesn’t mean a thing to me.”
He went back to the priest and told him that he did exactly what he had told him to do.As he was about to leave the cathedral, this wise priest said, “I dare you to do it again.”And the man shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sure, why not?”
Like the first time, this man slowly walked up the long middle aisle and when he finally made it to the foot of the crucifix, he stared into the face of the crucified Jesus again.And as his eyes were fixed on the face of Jesus with the crown of thorns and his pierced body, he began to say those same words, “Jesus Christ died on the cross for me.”He stopped for a moment and then he started over.“Jesus Christ died on the cross…for me.And, and it doesn’t…” He couldn’t continue.
He stood there motionless and then he slowly knelt down there in that huge cathedral and he began to cry.
The tau cross is a cross that reminds us that if we want to receive spiritual healing, we are to look to the cross and be born again.
The tau cross reminds us that God wants us to experience physical, emotional, and mental healing.It reminds us that God wants us to experience spiritual healing where we are born again and again and again and again.
Offer God’s Healing for the World
And number three, the tau cross reminds us that God is calling each one of us to offer the healing love of Jesus Christ to the people around us.
The Tau cross is often associated with St. Francis of Assisi who lived during the Middle Ages and who ministered to those who were sick and especially to those who suffered from the skin disease of leprosy.
St. Francis chose the Tau cross as his emblem because it represented life-time fidelity in being a servant of Jesus Christ for the sake of others.It was a reminder of his pledge to serve the least and the outcast of his day.
St. Francis even had a special habit or robe made so that every time he would stretch out his arms, his body would take the shape of the tau cross, which reminded him that he was to be the hands and feet of Christ for everyone around him.
When we look around us, we can’t help but to see the many opportunities to serve those who are in need of God’s healing.
Maybe today, the reason you decide to come forward to be anointed with oil is because of this third aspect of the Tau cross.You want to be anointed to be sent forth from this place as one who offers God’s healing presence to those around you, especially to those who need it the most.
Whatever reason you choose to come forward to receive an anointing of oil, whether it’s to receive physical, emotional, or mental healing, or if it’s to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, or if it’s to become one of God’s healing agents in a broken and hurting world, I invite you to come.
Come and experience the healing presence of Jesus Christ in your life.
Crosses of Jesus: The Tau Cross
Small Group Questions
Numbers 21:4-9 & John 3:14-21
March 19, 2017
This week in our series on the different crosses of Jesus, we focus on the TAU cross. This cross is in the shape of a capital “T” since it is believed that this was the shape of the pole that Moses used to lift into the air for people to see and be healed from their poisonous snake bikes (See Numbers 21:4-9.) The medical profession has picked up on this Old Testament story and use this as their symbol.
Have you ever felt that God healed you from an illness or disease?
The biblical word that is used for “healing” can refer to physical as well as spiritual healing.
Have you ever felt that God has healed you, “spiritually?” How has this kind of healing been a blessing in your life?
Pastor Robert shared how St. Francis of Assisi who is famous for how he offered God’s healing love to the outcasts of his day, adopted the TAU cross because it represents God’s healing for all people. He even had a special robe made so that when he would stretch out his arms, his body would form the TAU cross.
Share how you might offer yourself in the shape of the cross by offering God’s healing love to others through the church.
Our Gospel reading offers us one of the most recognizable verses in the entire bible which is John 3:16.
Read John 3:16 together out-loud:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
[Our church-wide hospitality training was held this past weekend at the OU Inn. We had over 30 people from our congregation attend! The training was led by a hospitality instructor from Hocking College. We concluded our training by offering ways for people to participate as greeters for Sunday mornings and special events at the church. We even got our church name on the big sign at OU Inn that day and each participant got a free pen! :)]
God of hope and good news, thank you for your love that is meant for the whole world and not just one small corner of it. Thank you for the people in our lives like parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, pastors, and church camp counselors who have shared the good news of Christ with us and with so many people.
On this day that we focus on the Jerusalem Cross, remind us that we are all called to share the good news of Christ with those around us and invite them to church with us. Remind us that sharing our faith with someone is as simple as sharing what a difference you have made in our lives and how we have sensed your presence in our day to day living.
Thank you for yesterday’s hospitality training and for how you are calling us to always offer a warm welcome to all who would enter our building, especially for the first time. May our church be known as a place of open hearts, open minds, and open doors.
Help us to be a Jerusalem Cross church where we share your love with people in our community and world, for we are all missionaries called and sent out to live out the good news of our faith. We lift up to you the many missionaries who are serving throughout the world. We pray for Bishop Gregory Palmer here in West Ohio and the churches throughout our conference as we lift high the cross in our communities. Thank you for the cross at the top of our church building, 130 feet from the ground which serves as a symbol of hope and healing for our community and world.
We lift up to you those in our church and community who are in special need of you this day, O God. For those with heavy hearts at the loss of a loved one, for those who are facing difficult decisions, for those who are participating in the Kairos prison ministry this weekend, for those who are caring for an aging parent, for those who are in need of healing, for those who continue to struggle following the Carriage Court fire, for those who struggle with anxiety and fear, and for those of us who really, really miss that extra hour of sleep right now.
O God, hear our prayers for all of these needs even as we pray to you the words you taught your disciples and now teach to us,
Of all the different symbolic crosses of Jesus, perhaps the Jerusalem cross is the most important one for the church.
Of course, all of the variety of crosses that we are looking at each Sunday during this sermon series, have a common thread – that Jesus Christ died on a cross for the sins of the world.That, in and of itself is wonderful news!It’s why we refer to our faith as good news, to know that the God of all creation has sent Jesus Christ to be our redeemer, our deliverer, and our Savior.
But the particular cross that we are looking at today, the Jerusalem Cross, is in my estimation, the most significant one of all even as important as they all are.Because, it’s the Jerusalem cross that reminds us that the good news of our faith is not meant to be kept to ourselves, but is meant to be shared and celebrated with the entire world.
You will notice that the Jerusalem cross consists of a large cross in the middle with four smaller crosses surrounding it.In this particular style of cross, the large middle cross symbolizes the presence of Jesus Christ, while the four smaller crosses symbolize the task of the church to share the good news of Jesus Christ to the four corners of the world.
And this is why this particular type of cross is called the Jerusalem cross.The Christian faith began in Jerusalem since that is where Jesus was crucified on a cross and was resurrected to new life.But then Christianity gradually extended to the whole world through the faithful witness of the early church.
This cross is also called the Jerusalem Cross because it was used on the flags of the Crusaders during the Middle Ages when they left Europe to try and recapture Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and put it under Christian control again.
The Jerusalem cross is important for us to think about during the Season of Lent, because it reminds us that our faith in Jesus Christ is too wonderful to be kept to ourselves.
Have you ever had something to say that was so wonderful that you couldn’t keep it to yourself?Have you ever wanted to shout at perfect strangers some great news?
A friend told me about a time when he stopped by Kroger to pick up a few things.As he was heading toward the aisle where soups are sold, he noticed a man going up to strangers and talking to them.He thought to himself, “Oh, I hope he doesn’t say anything to me.”
But, sure enough, he started heading right toward him!
He thought to himself, “What would cause this man, who looked to be somewhere in his mid to late 20s, to be OK with going up to complete strangers, and telling them about something without knowing what their reaction might be?What was his urgent message that he just had to share with everyone shopping at the grocery store that morning?”
Well, it turned out that he was representing a new business that had just opened in town.And this young man told him how this new business could really be helpful to him, and that if he would go to that business later in the day, he would get a free pizza!!He then handed him a piece of paper with the name of the business the address of the business, and the free pizza coupon.
My friend said that he didn’t take him up on his offer of the free pizza, but the important thing about that day for him wasn’t that he chose not to visit that new pizza business in town, the important thing for him was that this guy was willing to share something that was so important to him with complete strangers.
I see lots of people like that. How about the guy who is willing to dress up like the statue of liberty and stand outside in bone chilling wind to get you to come in and get your taxes done there? That’s dedication!
Or sometimes I see a person standing near a busy intersection, wearing a costume like a banana suit, or a big chili pepper, trying to get my attention to come and check out the store they’re representing.
Someone told me that near where he lives, one of these costume-wearing-guys stands near a road waving to the cars going by, dressed up as a large drink cup with a huge straw coming out of his head!
Now, I know, they’re not doing this for free.But, you couldn’t pay me enough to do what they’re doing.
You have to respect someone who is willing to wave his arms around while wearing a hamburger suit.I mean, that takes some courage and boldness.
And all of this reminds me of what people must have thought of those early Christians when they first started going around the city of Jerusalem telling people about a Messiah who was crucified, dead, and then raised from the dead.
In my mind, there’s no comparison between a person wearing a hamburger suit, and the early Christian on the streets of Jerusalem telling people about a crucified and risen Messiah.
The disciples of Jesus had it a lot harder in my opinion.
I mean, we’ve all seen a hamburger, and most of us eat them from time to time.
But not many people in the history of this world have even seen someone who was dead, and is now alive again.
But this is the news that those early Christians wanted to tell everyone they could, and this is what the early church did.They boldly shared the good news to all who would listen that the God of all creation had defeated sin and death at a particular time in history by sending Jesus who died on a cross, rose to new life, and ascended to heaven to rule as King over all of creation.
And of course, just like cars speeding by people wearing costumes, or shoppers who walk past people trying to get you to try a new perfume at the mall, not everyone responded to the good news that those early Christians were sharing.
Some people totally ignored them and dismissed them.
Other people laughed them off.
Some even reacted with insults, and in some cases, physical violence.
But some – — some responded and believed.
Why would people respond favorably to news like this?Our Gospel reading this morning tells us why.This passage is one of the few New Testament passages where we are told that there was an actual, audible voice from heaven.And this voice says, “I have glorified it, (meaning God’s name) and I will glorify it again.”
And the way that Jesus would glorify God’s name would be through his death on the cross.Knowing that he was about to give his life in order to glorify God’s name, the Gospel writer John tells us that Jesus’ soul was troubled, which shows us Jesus’ humanity as he anticipated what was about to happen to him.
This passage of scripture helps us have a deeper glimpse of who God is.Here we see a God who is willing to go to great lengths, indeed, the greatest length, even sending his own Son to experience death on a cross, for the sake of the world.
And because Jesus was determined to do whatever it took to glorify God’s name, even if that would mean a painful death on the cross, Jesus says in our scripture reading, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.”
Jesus’ death on the cross would mean that the powers which had usurped the world and laid it to waste — those evil forces that have trampled on the poor, and have exalted themselves as kings, lords and even as gods – all of them would be judged, condemned, and driven out.
Not because Jesus would pick up a sword and use violent means against them, but through Christ’s sacrificial death and victory over death on the cross, they would be defeated!
This is why Jesus says in our Gospel reading for today, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
The Gospel writer, John, is helping us to see that the whole point of the cross is that this would be the way that God’s name would be glorified, and how the evil and sin of the world would finally be defeated, including death itself.
And if that’s not good news, I don’t know what is.
If that’s not worth sharing with the people around us, I don’t know what is.
If that’s not worth telling complete strangers, I don’t know what is.
If that’s not worth going to the four corners of the world to proclaim, I don’t know what is.
It’s through the cross, that people are drawn to Christ.It’s through the good news of the cross, that death and sin have been defeated.The cross is the good news of our faith.And it’s meant to be shared.
One of the many reasons why I am proud to be a part of the United Methodist Church is that our denomination is presently sharing the good news of the cross of Jesus Christ in more than 125 countries around the world through our General Board of Global Ministries.
Thanks to your generous support each year throughout our denominational apportionment giving, we support missionaries all over the world, including many right here in the United States.These missionaries are sharing the good news of the cross of Jesus Christ, and thanks to your generous support, people are being drawn to Him.
But we also need to be aware that people need to hear this good news right here in our own backyard, here in Athens and the surrounding area.Our church is called to share the good news of our faith right here.
Most demographic studies indicate that well over half of the people who live in our surrounding area have no church involvement at all.
While it’s wonderful that our church shares the good news of Jesus Christ through word and deed, and we are helping to bring about transformation in our community, there are still so many more people we are being called to reach.
As we journey through this Season of Lent and think about what Jesus Christ did not only for us, but for the whole world by dying on a cross, I hope and pray that God will break our hearts as we realize just how many people in our own neighborhoods have yet to know and embrace the redeeming and unconditional love of Jesus Christ, and know the joy of being involved in authentic Christian community through a local church.
Here are a couple of very practical ways that we can share the good news of our faith with the people in our community and both are important.
The first way is by sharing with others how God is at work in our lives. We’ve been calling these, “thin place moments,” where
heaven and earth overlap in our everyday lives creating a thin place where we experience God’s presence in a very real way.
I have asked Wendy Merb-Brown to come and share a recent thin place moment that has happened in her life.
(Wendy Merb-Brown Shares)
Sharing our thin place moments with others is a great way to witness because we are simply sharing how God is at work in our everyday lives. People enjoy hearing stories of faith.
Another way that we can share our faith with others is through serving others in practical ways. Our Athens First Saturday monthly outreach is one of those ways that we share our faith by serving others.
When we meet at the church this April, it will mark our one-year anniversary of our 1st Athens First Saturday outreach.
We have been offering God’s love by serving our community in a variety of ways like picking up litter, leading a nursing home worship service, providing flowers to the hospital, writing out positive sidewalk chalk messages for people passing by our church, providing Valentine packages for children with cancer, making blankets and giving them away to organizations in our community.
In addition to our Athens First Saturday, there are other ways that we serve in our community like through the Trimble backpack ministry where we help to provide food for low income children, the Kairos prison ministry, our Christmas Giving Tree outreach, handing out hot chocolate and donuts to college students during finals week this past December.
We will also be sending a missions team to serve people in Honduras this summer. Using our words and our hands in sharing God’s love with our community and world is how we are faithful in living out the meaning of the Jerusalem cross.
I hope and pray that our church will never turn away from our most basic and fundamental reason for existence:to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ.As William Temple, former archbishop of the Church of England once said, “The church exists for the people who are not already in it.”
So this is why we have the Jerusalem cross.So we will never forget that the message of the cross is not meant to be kept to ourselves, but to be shared with the whole world – all four corners of the world:North, South, East, and West.
Thankfully, this cross that has four crosses around it, won’t let us forget.
Crosses of Jesus: The Jerusalem Cross
Small Group Questions
Philippians 3:17-4:1 & John 12:27-36
March 12, 2017
The Jerusalem cross is known for the cross in the middle and the four crosses around it. The smaller crosses represent the four corners of the earth and our calling to share the love of Christ with the whole world.
How is the church sharing Christ’s love with people in our surrounding community and all around the world?
Most of us are part of the church because of somebody that took the time to personally invite us. Perhaps our parents encouraged us to attend church at an early age.
Who might you invite to attend church?
Our church encourages people to share their “thin place” moments. That is, the times they have experienced God’s presence in a real way in their day to day living.
Share a recent “thin place” moment in your life. Remember, it doesn’t have to be dramatic. Often times, these moments are subtle, but equally powerful.
One of the reasons Christians are willing to step out of their comfort zone to share their “thin place” moments and their faith with others is because we want others to experience the good news of Christ in their lives.
What makes the Christian faith, “good news” in your life?
[Northern Kentucky University students who are part of the Wesley Student Ministry stayed overnight at our church this past weekend on their way to Washington DC. Thanks to our Athens First Saturday Outreach this past Saturday morning, we were able to put together a continental breakfast for them to enjoy early Sunday morning. We also had a team that welcomed them to our church when they arrived late Saturday evening. (See picture below) When we made it to the church early Sunday morning, we found this styrofoam plate above with all of their names thanking us for our hospitality. They were wonderful guests!]
Thank you for the cross above our altar that reminds us of your victory over sin and death. Thank you for this powerful symbol of our faith that can bring peace to our anxious and troubled hearts.
Every time we enter our sanctuary and look up above our altar, we are reminded that your ways are so different than our ways. Your ways involve sacrifice and self-giving. Our ways involve comfort and self-interest. Teach us what it means to be a people who follow the way of the cross.
As we think about the cross today, we are mindful of those who are suffering because of hunger, homelessness, heart-ache, and hopelessness. We especially pray for those who lost their homes due to the recent fire here in Athens. Thank you for all of the community agencies, churches, and the university who provided and continue to provide shelter, supplies, food, water, clothing, and furniture to those who are in need.
O God, we pray for those in our congregation who are grieving from the loss of loved ones, who are ill, and who are facing transitions in their lives. Bless them and comfort them during their time of need.
And as we begin our journey in focusing on the cross and the season of Lent, bless our small groups as we share our faith with each other and support each other in love.
Together, we join together in praying the words you taught your disciples and now teach us to pray…
“Our Father, who art in heaven…”
[A selfie with our new friends from NKU. They were so nice!]
At seventy-eight years of age, a well known woman goes on one of the greatest journeys of all time. Her destination? The Holy Land. Her mission? To find the actual cross upon which Jesus was crucified.
After many setbacks and disappointments along the way, she at last arrives at a spot where as legend has it, she discovers three crosses upon which two thieves and Jesus himself were believed to have been crucified approximately three hundred years earlier.She is aided in her search by pagan shrines which had been erected on top of Christian holy sites back in the 2ndcentury.
As the story goes, she was able to figure out which of those three crosses was Jesus’ cross in a most interesting and unusual way.She had all three crosses placed on a girl who had recently died and was on her way to be buried.Once the cross of the Lord touched her, she was raised from the dead.This woman who had journeyed a great distance, had discovered the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
On September 14, the year 326, the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, built where Jesus had been crucified and where what was believed to be the true cross of Jesus was discovered, was officially dedicated thanks to this woman’s brave pilgrimage.To this day, on the Christian calendar, September 14 is known as Holy Cross Day.
Unlike Good Friday which is a day to reflect on Jesus’ suffering and death on that horrible instrument of execution, Holy Cross Day on September 14 is a day for Christians to see the cross as a symbol of triumph, as a sign of Christ’s victory over sin and death, and a reminder of his promise, “And when I am lifted up, I will draw all people unto me.”
That seventy-eight year old woman who made the long and dangerous pilgrimage to find Jesus’ cross was Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine who was the first Roman Emperor to confess the Christian faith.
During these next several weeks leading up to Easter Sunday, like Helena back in the 4th century, we too are invited to take a long journey during this Season of Lent to explore the meaning and symbolism of the cross of Jesus Christ.
And to do that, I have put together a sermon series that focuses on six different looking crosses of Jesus which have been widely used over the course of Christian history.My goal in this sermon series is deepen our understanding of what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross and then rose again.
This morning, I’m wearing what is probably the most common looking cross of Jesus – the Latin cross.
Next Sunday, we’ll focus on the Jerusalem Cross.And for the remaining four Sundays in the Season of Lent, we’ll turn our attention to the Tau Cross, the Celtic Cross, St. Andrew’s Cross, and on Palm/Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, we’ll conclude our series by reflecting on the meaning of the Crucifix.
So let’s get started by thinking about the cross I’m wearing today – the Latin cross. I have a hunch that many of us own a Latin cross and some of you are wearing one of these crosses even as we worship this morning. This is probably the most common of all the crosses we will be focusing on during these six weeks.
It’s known as the Latin cross but it’s also referred to as the Roman cross.And it’s very appropriate that this is the most popular cross today since it was also the most popular shape of cross during the first three centuries of Christianity.We know this because this particular type of cross has been found on ancient coins, medals, and ornaments and there are descriptions of this type of cross in Christian writings dating all the way back to the 2nd century.
If you look closely at this cross, there are a couple of other things that probably stand out.We notice that the two side arms are of equal length while the lower arm is twice as long as the other three.
Most scholars believe that it was on a cross that looked just like this Latin cross as far as it’s proportional dimensions go, that helps us to get a mental picture in our minds of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.
The Romans would force their prisoners who were to be executed to carry the cross beam part of the cross to the place of their crucifixion, while the vertical pole would be ahead of them waiting for the prisoner to arrive after that long and difficult walk.
And it was on a cross like this that Jesus was crucified on the day that we now call Good Friday.
The Romans used this cruel crucifixion method of having a criminal die a slow death on a cross as a way of deterring people from upsetting the status-quo of the Roman Empire.It was savage.It was brutal.And it was long and painful.As we picture the shape of this Latin cross which we believe to be the shape of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified, it might also be helpful for us to picture a sign that was put on the cross above Jesus’ head by the Romans.
And the whole point of that sign was to state the reason for the crucifixion.In Jesus’ case, the sign that was placed above him read, “Jesus, the Nazarene, King of the Jews.”This inscription was written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
If we fast forward about a thousand years after Jesus’ crucifixion, we find that the primary language of the church was Latin, and because people were very familiar with the Latin part of the phrase, “Jesus, the Nazarene, King of the Jews” it became customary for artists to abbreviate that rather lengthy Latin phrase to simply include the letters, INRI.So when you see those letters on the cross, that’s the shortened version of “Jesus, the Nazarene, King of the Jews.”
Because the Latin cross is the most proportional shape of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, there are many churches which have sanctuaries built in the shape of the Latin cross.
I remember officiating at a wedding in a church located in Indiana which was built in the shape of the Latin cross.And it was very moving for me to think of how that congregation is shaped by Jesus’ cross every time they gather for worship.
As we continue to think about the powerful symbolism of the Latin cross and how the shape of it is the closest resemblance of the actual cross of Jesus, I want to say a brief word about the meaning behind why many Christians find it helpful to make the sign of the cross.
It’s been my experience that a lot of Protestant churches, including our own United Methodist denomination, have kind of distanced themselves from this ancient and very meaningful practice which is very common among Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, as well as other Christian faith traditions.
But even if we might not use this practice on a regular basis or even at all, the symbolism behind it is very meaningful.If you might not be accustomed to this practice, I invite you to try it with me right there in your seat.Open your right hand, and with your right hand open, have your thumb, and your next two fingers touch together at their tips.
And after you have those three finger tips come together, simply have your last two fingers, fold down onto your palm.
The three fingers that come together at their finger tips remind us of the doctrine of the trinity, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.And the last two fingers that get folder down onto your palm represent the two natures of Christ – his divine nature and his human nature because we believe Jesus was both fully divine and fully human.
And to make the sign of the cross, you put your right hand in that position which I just mentioned.First three fingers together at their finger tips and the last two fingers folded down on your palm.And from there, you simply take your right hand and touch your forehead and you think to yourself, “in the name of the Father,” and then you touch your sternum in the middle of your chest, and you think to yourself, “in the name of the Son.”And then you touch your left shoulder and say, “in the name of the Holy Spirit.”And then you touch your right shoulder and say, “Amen.”
So you get something like this…(DEMONSTRATE)
Now, you might have learned how to sign the cross a little differently and that’s OK since there’s variations to this, but it basically has the same meaning.You’re making the sign of the cross and it can help you remember that Jesus died on the cross for you.
Now if you’re a little uncomfortable with making the sign of the cross because it wasn’t how you were raised or whatever, it might be helpful to remember that we use the sign of the cross more often than we might think.
For example, at our Ash Wednesday services which we held this past week, when people come forward to receive the imposition of ashes on their foreheads, the person with the bowl of ashes makes the sign of the cross on people’s foreheads as a reminder of our mortality but also as a reminder that through the cross of Jesus Christ and what Jesus has done for us, God offers us forgiveness of our sins and eternal life.
Another time that we might receive the sign of the cross on our foreheads is when we have a renewal of our baptismal vows.In our theology of baptism which we share with several denominations of the Christian faith, we believe that baptism is primarily about God’s faithfulness toward us.And since God never breaks his promise of being faithful, we believe that it’s not necessary to be rebaptized.
Instead, we offer opportunities to renew our baptismal vows.And sometimes, pastors will invite people in a worship service to come forward to a bowl of water and the sign of the cross is marked on our foreheads and we hear the words, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.”
The anointing of oil for those who are ill will also often include the sign of the cross on the person’s skin, helping us to remember that the healing presence of Jesus Christ is with us during our times of need.
So, that’s some information about the first two meanings of the Latin cross – that is, it’s the most popular shape of all the crosses and it’s the closest resemblance to the cross on which Jesus died.
But I just want to point out that this Latin cross, as you notice, is empty.Jesus isn’t on the cross.If we know the ending of the Gospels, we know that Jesus died on the cross, but that wasn’t the end of the story.We believe that after he died, he was placed in a tomb and on the third day, he was resurrected, and was given a new body that would never experience death again.
The Latin cross reminds us that we worship a risen Lord, but it also reminds us that it came with a price – the price was Jesus’ own death to take away our sins so that we might receive God’s salvation and be made whole.
If Jesus would have stayed in the tomb and there wouldn’t have been a resurrection, the cross would have little to no meaning for us.Jesus was able to do for us what we weren’t able to do for ourselves.Jesus took upon himself, the sins, the pain, the brokenness, and the shame of all humanity in that single moment as he hung on two large wooden crossbeams just outside of the city of Jerusalem.
Historically speaking, during the time of Jesus there were also several “would be Messiahs” who died like Jesus at the hands of the Romans on a cross, but they didn’t rise again like Jesus did.And it’s interesting to point out that none of the followers of these other self-proclaimed Messiahs who had died on a cross, ever continued to believe that the person they thought was the Messiah was still the Messiah following his death.
To die a cruel death at the hands of the Romans, only proved that the person you were following was really not the Messiah.Often, after the death of the person who was claiming to be the Messiah, the followers would select the closest relative of the person who had been crucified to take on the new role as the Messiah-like leader.
But this wasn’t the case with Jesus’ disciples.The death of Jesus was unique, because not only did the disciples not name a successor to Jesus after he had died on the cross, they also began proclaiming that because he had risen from the dead, he continued to be the true Messiah and the victorious King over all creation.Thanks to the empty cross, we are always reminded of Jesus’ resurrection and the empty tomb.
In I Corinthians chapter 1, the Apostle Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”And the reason that the cross can make a difference in our lives is because Jesus was raised three days later on that first Easter Sunday.
Several years ago, a man is getting ready to head off for work.He is anxious about many things and on top of that, he’s late for work.And as he stands in front of the mirror in his bedroom and puts on his necktie, he can’t help but notice, as he looks over at his closet, that his little three year old daughter has taken the shoestrings out from several of his shoes.
All he can think about is how this will make him even more late for work.As he continues to put on his tie, he feels a tug on his pant leg.Annoyed and still in a hurry, he says, “Sweetie, daddy doesn’t have time for this.We’re going to be late getting you to day-care.”
She tugs again at his pant leg and again he says, “Please, not now, honey.”She taps him on the leg yet again, and this time, she points toward the middle of the bedroom floor and with her eyes beaming, she says, “Daddy, look!I made Jesus’ cross!”
And sure enough, there in the middle of the floor were two of the shoestrings she had taken out of a pair of his shoes.She had one over top of the other, forming the shape of Jesus’ cross.
Thanks to a little girl who reminded her daddy of the importance of Jesus’ cross, somehow, all of those many distractions and worries didn’t seem as important anymore.In that unexpected holy moment, that shoestring cross reminded him that Jesus Christ was his Lord and Savior.
And you know what? That day ended up being one of the best days of my life.
Crosses of Jesus: The Latin Cross
Small Group Questions
I Corinthians 1:18-25 & Matthew 4:1-11
March 5, 2017
During the season of Lent, we are focusing on six different crosses of Jesus. These include the Latin Cross, the Jerusalem Cross, the Tau Cross, the Celtic Cross, the St. Andrew’s Cross, and the Crucifix.
Do you own a cross necklace or keep a cross symbol with you? Why do you think people like having a cross with them?
Pastor Robert shared three important aspects of the Latin cross. 1) It is the most popular cross shape. 2) It is probably the shape of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. 3) It is empty.
Which of these three meanings of the Latin cross is most important to you? Why?
The phrase, “King of the Jews” was placed over the cross when Jesus was crucified.
What does it mean for Jesus to be “king?” What impact can this have in the way we live our lives? What impact can this have for the church?
Pastor Robert closed his sermon with a personal story of how his daughter formed the Latin cross with two shoestrings. That was a “thin place moment” for him as he was reminded that Jesus was present with him during the beginning of a stressful day.
Share a “thin place” moment where God was made present to you in a real way. How did it help you feel closer to God?
This past December, I came across somebody’s Facebook post that caught my attention. Let me read it to you.
It said, “To the punk who tried to steal our Christmas lights last night…you dropped your phone dummy while you were till logged into Facebook and didn’t even have a lock on your phone…I’m not going to the cops if you come back and let me talk to you…I’d rather just find out why and avoid putting someone in jail for a failed attempt at theft.”
And then the guy writes this in his post: “Here’s the profile link to their Facebook…Does anyone know who this is??? I have a lot of friends who are mutual friends with this person.” And then he provides the Facebook profile link that you can click on to see who stole this guy’s lights.
I was reluctant to click on the link, but I was curious to see who the guy was. I remember thinking to myself, “I just got to see who this fool is.” So I clicked the link and to my surprise, it was a link to my own Facebook page! It looked like I was the guy who stole his Christmas lights! In that split second, my heart sank.
And that’s when I realized that this whole think was a joke because everyone who clicked on that link, was sent to their own Facebook page, as if we were the ones who stole this guy’s Christmas lights.
I laughed as I stared at my own profile. I knew in that moment that this would make it into a future sermon and Ash Wednesday seemed to be the most appropriate time to use this.
Rusian novelist and historian, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has said, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
Sometimes we need a season like Lent to look carefully at our own profile and think about who we are and who God is calling us to be. But it’s not always easy to look within for any length of time. It can be a painful experience because we might not like what we see.
If we look at our profile, we might have forgotten about our lack of forgiveness toward that person who harmed us, or the gossip that we recently shared about someone we know, or the stranger who asked for a few bucks to help him out and for whatever reason, we turned him away, or how we didn’t keep a promise that we made, or when we could have been more generous and instead gave the smaller amount.
The point is that we all need Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent to look within ourselves and get right with God.
Isn’t it amazing that we can buy a number of things that help us to look outside of ourselves, but there really is nothing that we can buy that can help us look inside our own souls?
Think about it. If we want to look at something beyond ourselves, we can buy prescription glasses, binoculars, and telescopes. But what is there that can help us look into our own souls?
The season of Lent reminds us that there is something that can help us with that. It’s called prayer and confession.
John Wesley who was the founder of Methodism was known for asking those early Methodists this very important question, “How is it with your soul?” We probably don’t hear that question enough. “How is it with you soul?”
Not, “how is your day going?” or “how’s life?” but “how is it with your soul?”
This question encourages us to go deeper in thinking about who we are, who God is, and where we are in our spiritual journey. I know it’s a deep question, but it really is a game changer when we ask that particular question of ourselves.
Lent helps us to plumb the depths of our inner most being. Lent is what helps us to exercise our soul. And like any exercise or activity that involves a muscle of our body that we typically don’t use, we shouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves a little sore after giving our souls a little workout.
How is it with your soul? Think about the possible answers in answering this question. Here are just a few examples.
“Well, to tell you the truth, right now I feel really close in my walk with Christ, and I want it to continue.” Or this…
“Actually, I’m going through a time of darkness in my life and it’s been really hard to feel God’s presence.” Or…
“I know that God has forgiven me for a terrible thing that I did, but I just can’t forgive myself.”Or…
“I am just now realizing that I’m not living life my fully. I’m just kind of going through the motions, like I’ve hit a plateau. I want to take my faith to a whole new level.”
This is what you get when you ask the “soul” question. You come face to face with the very core of your being.
Today marks the beginning of Lent, a stretch of six weeks where we designate this time leading up to Easter as a time to focus on this question, “How is it with our soul?” Lent is a long season, even longer than it’s liturgical cousin, “Advent” which is a four week stretch.
These two seasons on the church calendar have something in common. They both involve waiting. Not a passive waiting for a baby to be born or for a tomb to be found empty. No, these seasons encourage us to observe an active waiting. It’s a time for us to be alert, awake, alive. Did I just come up with a future three point sermon?! I like that! Alert, awake, alive.
Say that with me. “Alert – Awake – Alive!”
Remember when the disciples were in the garden with Jesus and he had asked them to watch and pray while he went off to pray by himself? And remember how they stayed awake that whole night praying for him? Trick question. They didn’t. They fell asleep when Jesus needed them the most.
That story reminds us that being alert, awake, and alive is hard work. We need some time to live into that kind of deeper faith journey. And this is why the church offers us this six week time frame. One day won’t cut it. Not even one week. We need a whole season. We need Lent.
One of the ways that the church can help us think about the question, “how is it with your soul?” is by asking each other that question in a small group setting.
Our church is blessed to have several small groups to help us do this hard work. Our small groups will be meeting every week during the Season of Lent. You’ll notice our small group listing in the bulletin that includes the day, time, location, and name of the small group facilitator for each of our small groups.
These groups aren’t designed to be bible studies. They are designed to give each person the opportunity to think about the question, “How is it with your soul,” based on the previous Sunday’s worship theme which will be based on six different types of crosses that Christians have used over the centuries. These crosses include the Latin Cross, the Jerusalem Cross, the Celtic Cross, The Tau Cross, St. Andrew’s Cross, and the Crucifix.
Our season of Lent focus on these six types of crosses will help us dig deeper in our faith as we explore the question, “How is it with our soul?”
And yes, this can be done alone as well as in a small group since these questions are always printed at the bottom of Sunday’s sermons that can be found on our church website. The advantage of answering these questions in a small group is that we can encourage and learn from each other.
In a few moments, we will be coming forward to receive ashes on our forward as a reminder of our mortality and of our dependence on God. The sign of the cross on our foreheads and sometimes on our noses depending on how shaky my hand is, is a sign to the people we see the rest of the day that we have just begun a holy journey.
It’s a journey that begins with the words, “how is it with your soul,” but remember, this six week journey will also conclude with these great words of good news making it all worth it.