SERMON from 2-24-13: “Last Words From The Cross: Behold Your Son”

This is the second of a seven-part series for the Lenten and Easter season. I got the idea from my father-in-law, who serves as Senior Pastor at Mesa First United Methodist Church, downtown Mesa, Arizona.

John 19.25-27

25Jesus' mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood near the cross. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Last Words From The Cross: Behold Your Son

Due to my school schedule, oftentimes, the sermon you hear on Sunday mornings is written on Saturday. So, yesterday, I decided to go to the McDonald's in Frankfort–in order to change up my scenery and hopefully not have so many other things drawing my attention from the work at hand.

That seems silly, right? I know that seems silly, to go out into public to work on something so there isn't so much to distract you. However, when you think about it, it's perfectly normal and rational (he said in order to convince himself).

In my office, I have all the things I need to perform the tasks I need to complete. All my books for school are there and all the accoutrements of modern office life are within my grasp. This is very convenient. However, that also means that all the other things I gotta do are right there within my grasp. If I take a mental break from working on a term paper, there is a chance I could look over and see the bulletins that still need folded. Then, there's that bowl I ate soup out of the other day. I should really take that home.

As you can easily see, the possibilities for distractions abound.

On the other hand, there are plenty of distractions at your local McDonald's. There are the incessant beeps radiating from the fryer. The sound of that fancy smoothie machine pulverizing ice, and the group of local fogies gathering for their daily coffee – from which comes a raucous laughter from time to time.

What's different about McDonald's is none of that is my problem. I can just pop in the earbuds connected to my iPad, turn on my classical guitar favorites and delve into some serious writing.

And that's what typically happens…except for one thing that happened yesterday.

I pick up my tray from the front counter – working my way through a large lunch crowd as I do. Surprisingly, the fountain machine was traffic-free. So, I filled up my cup, sipping the overflow from the top of the lid, and turned to find my seat.

Luckily, I was able to find a table next to an outlet. This is super important for me, as I typically have one electronic device that needs charging on me at all times. I get settled in to my chair just in time to see the people who would be sitting next to me.

I dig into my burger just in time to look over and see one of the employees performing regular dining room cleaning duties. He's got a broom and one of those handy dustpan things that lays flat when you want, then lifts to keep everything you just swept inside – all without bending over. I love 'em.

The gentleman who sat down next to me didn't. You see, the employee diligently engaged in his duties also had Downs Syndrome. While the employee is inching closer to the area surrounding the gentleman's table, he is uttering some pretty shocking things. The least offensive of which was, “I know he's special, but I'm trying to eat.”

The employee was sweeping up crumpled straw wrappers and cold french fries from next to the table. Other than the light scratching of the broom gliding across the floor, you couldn't tell he was there. However, the gentleman sitting down fumed so much that he just had to say something. In the man's defense, he didn't say anything more than, “Could you do that somewhere else, I'm trying to eat.”

The employee said, “I'm sorry, I'll move.” He said it a few times while he continued to sweep. The gentleman got more annoyed and raised his voice while he said it again. The employee appeared to become more confused and continued to sweep. Finally, the man stormed to his feet and made a b-line for the nearest manager. I never realized what a b-line was until I saw that man storm towards that manager.

The manager came over and instructed the employee to sweep elsewhere, and that was that.

Later – out of guilt or whatever – the gentleman semi-shouted across the dining room to the employee, “You're doing a good job, buddy!”

The man ate the rest of his chicken salad in peace.

Now, it may not be altogether fair for me to judge this man by this one scenario – of which I was merely a spectator. After all, I don't know him. I don't know his history. I don't know whether of not he's a Christian. However, given the fact that statistics show that still 80 to 90 percent of Americans say they believe in God – in some form. Additionally, considering the area of the country we're in, it isn't out of the realm of possibility to assume he has proclaimed faith in God as a Christian – and he may still attend a house of faith in practice of that faith.

If I knew that for a fact, I would be well within the bounds of Christian accountability to judge this man.

What I'm saying is that I really just wanted to judge this guy. You ever feel like that? I won't make you raise your hand, because I don't want you to have to incriminate yourself.

Why do we have this desire to judge others when we see such blatant mistakes or sins in their lives?

Certainly, that's a bigger question than I want to tackle this morning. But for our insensitive friend eating his chicken salad, we feel like judging him because he was wrong. At the very least, the sweeping dining room attendant deserved patience – if not compassion – and this guy gave him none. He was wrong.

How do we know he was wrong?

Well, everyone knows how much I cannot stand Christian platitudes, but we know this guy is wrong because the Bible tells us so.

The way this employee was treated goes against everything we believe, feel and have learned in the course of living our faith, right? Matthew 25 tells us about how important our actions toward “the least of these” are. So, whether it was a dining room attendant with Downs Syndrome or a married employee having marital problems, we should think and act with compassion.

If our Sunday School felt board characters taught us anything, it should be the importance of compassion and love.

These things are important because they are the cornerstones of healthy relationships. Relationships with human begins. Human beings, with whom we gather together in community. Community is the cornerstone of the church.

The early church would learn how true this is. They were well-regulated, but also well versed in understanding the inherent humanity in others. Certainly, it was a cultural thing to understand living and relying upon and loving those in the wider community; as they did.

It was why they had no problem holding the wealth of the community together. Acts chapter 4 recounts how Barnabas acted as the executor of this communal treasury. Everyone gave what they had and were given as they needed. Today, we call it socialism. Then, they called it Christian community.

Which brings us to the cross.

Jesus is hanging from the cross. Remembering back to movies you've seen or sermons you've heard where conditions on the cross were described in horrible detail, you can imagine that words were few and far between. And when it was time for words, you can imagine that they were important.

This makes John's account from this morning's passage a bit of a thinker. What is the point of it? This is actually a pretty good question.

There are many resources for the modern preacher to use when the preacher attempts to write a sermon. You can look to commentaries, which are books containing the thoughts of numerous different authors, about the passage or text. You can look at the sermons of others and get inspiration. One of my favorites is a website that writes sermon preparation like a magazine article – all the stories and commentaries and illustrations you might need are right there for you to put together as you choose.

I checked all those this week. There was nearly nothing. Almost bupkis. Simply semi-squat. My favorite resource – which has done nearly all passages once or twice – hadn't treated this text once.

Finally, I asked my father-in-law. Why? He's a preacher. He's the preacher responsible for making me a United Methodist. He's also the reason I'm preaching this series. See, he has a staff that sits with him to help create some of these ideas. I take some of those ideas.

After all that, what's the deal? Why is this passage important? Why are these words from Jesus significant?

They're important because of their reminder to us of the importance of community. In the midst of his suffering, Jesus decides it is so mortally important that he ensure the relationship between John and Mary was solid. What greater moment do we need to witness than to see Jesus dying words include assurances that our relationships remain important to us.

No matter how inconvenient they are. No matter how uncomfortable they are. No matter how much work or embarrassment the continuation of these relationships mean, our shared sense of community and ministry to the world should keep us engaged in the loving and caring for all.

I know no better story to help illustrate this to you than one I heard from Tony Campolo. If I'm being honest, towards the beginning of my ministry, I had trouble coming up with good illustrations. My lovely wife, Emily, helped me out tremendously. This story was one of those she shared with me. So, now, I'm sharing it with you.

“One day around noon when he was walking down Chestnut street in Philadelphia. He noticed a bum coming straight toward him. Tony was wearing his nice preacher’s suit. The bum was wearing layer upon layer of filthy clothing. His most obvious feature, however, was a tangled beard that hung nearly to his waist. Bits of rotting food were stuck in the beard. The teeth he had left were yellow and rotted. He was holding a cup of McDonald’s coffee in his hand. As he staggered toward Campolo, he said, “Hey mister, Ya want some of my coffee?” As you can imagine, Campolo really didn’t want any of the coffee but reconsidered and then said, “OK” and took a very small sip. He handed the cup back to the man and said, “You are feeling pretty generous today. What’s gotten into you?” The man answered back, “Well, I figure, if God gives you somethin’ good, you ought to share it with somebody else.” “Uh Oh,” thought Campolo, “he’s getting ready to hit me up for five dollars.” Knowing it was what he was supposed to do Campolo said, “Well, you shared your coffee with me. Is there anything I can do for you?” “Yeah, come to think of it there is,” the man said. Campolo started to reach for his wallet. “You can give me a hug!” Campolo said now he kind of wished the man had asked for five dollars! But he put his arms around the man. The man hugged him back – and didn’t let him go. There all of the business people in Philadelphia were streaming around these two men, a man in a suit and a man in rags, hugging on the sidewalk. Just as he was ready to push himself away, he sensed Jesus whispering to him, “I was hungry, did you feed me? I was sick, did you visit me? I was a bum on Chestnut street, did you hug me?”

Thanks be to God for always loving us, and for the reminder that that love is too vitally important to not share with all.

AMEN.

 

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