Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

Sermon Series: What Happened on the Cross?

“Jesus Our Friend”

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Sunday, March 14, 2010

 

 

Dean

Rev. Dean Snyder

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” John 15:13

There are apparently different degrees of love. There are lesser and greater loves. The greatest love is love for something so much that you would give your life for it.

I have never been a soldier, but I have a brother who was a career army chaplain, and I know that, throughout history, there have been those who have gone to fight in wars understanding that there was a possibility they would not return. My brother told me that when he volunteered for his second tour of duty in Vietnam, he did not expect to return. He had had enough close calls his first tour that he assumed he would not survive a second tour.

There are those who have been willing to lay down their life for their country, and what they believed their country stood for. If we are going to accept that kind of sacrifice, as we are doing right now, soldiers are laying down their lives for country right now, we had best make sure our country stands for something worthy of such a sacrifice.

We are wary of religious fanaticism these days, but we shouldn’t forget that there have been those who have been willing to die for their faith. The early church theologian Tertullian, born in the second century, said: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The early church grew as a result of people of faith who chose to accept death rather than deny their deepest faith convictions. This is true of every faith.

It is also true of science. There are those who have died defending their scientific discoveries. It is even true of math. Believe it or not, there have been those who have given their lives to defend mathematic truth.

Hippasus of Metapontum was drowned in 450 BCE by the Pythagoreans after he discovered “a whole class of numbers that cannot be expressed as the quotient of two integers and whose decimal expansions never repeat and never terminate.” (That’s a quote from a blog posting by Frank Luger. I don’t even know what it means.)  Except Hippasus discovered some numbers and was not willing to deny their existence and this so offended the Pythagoreans that they killed him.

Hypatia of Alexandria, a great women mathematician was brutally killed by a Christian mob in 415 CE.

People have been willing to lay down their lives for a truth they love, whether religious or secular.

There are those who have been willing to lay down their lives for honor and obligation. The book Lone Survivor is the amazing true story of what happened to Marcus Luttrell, a Navy Seal, who was the only survivor of a Taliban attack in Afghanistan in 2005. He survived on his own for two days and then a group of Afghani villagers found him and took him in.  They were members of a tribe—the Pashtun tribe—that had a tradition called lokhay. Lokhay is a 2,000 year old Pashtun tradition of hospitality that says that the Pashtun must defend the safety of a guest to the point of their own death.

The Pashtun village fought off a week-long attack by the Taliban to save Marcus Luttrel’s life, a stranger to them, because they loved the honor of lokhay. They were willing to die for a principle… for a cultural obligation… for lokhay.

I assume that, even if we ourselves would not be compelled to do so, that we are able to understand a love so great that someone would be willing to die for country, or for faith, or for truth, or for honor.

The Gospel of John says: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.”

This little verse is a clue to the meaning and significance of the cross for the first generation of Christians.

It was written after Jesus’ death and put on his lips by his followers in the community that wrote the Gospel of John. I don’t know for sure if Jesus himself said it. I do know that the community of Christians who wrote the Gospel of John understood Jesus’ death on the cross as the greatest expression of love that they had ever known.  The reason Jesus’ death on the cross was the greatest expression of love they had ever known was because it was not a love for country or faith or truth or honor. It was an expression of love for them.

They experienced in the cross a personal and intimate love for them … not just a love for a collective, or a principle or an ideal… but a love for “me.”

In that intimate sense of love for “me” that the first Christians experience through the cross, they saw two other kinds of love.

They saw in the love of Jesus on the cross for them a glimpse of the love of the one Jesus called “Father.” (It could also have been “Mother.” Gender is not the point.)

The only time in my life I have experienced a sense that I would be willing to give my life for anything is when I have held my children in my arms. I felt I would be willing to give my life for my child if saving their lives required it. I still feel it. I feel that way with my grandchild.

It is a failing of my imagination that I feel this only with my children and grandchild, for every child is my child, but it is what it is.

The early Christians experienced in the cross of Jesus a glimpse of a divine love that was like the love of a parent who would be willing to give their life for their child. This is why they began to talk about God in parental metaphors.

So the cross was a sign and symbol of a God who loved them with the greatest love, the love of a healthy parent. 

They also saw in the cross a new possibility of a love within humanity… a love in which you and I might love each other the way Jesus loved us. John has Jesus say: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12.

The cross is a symbol of the possibility that we might love each other with such a great love that we would give our lives for one another.

Not just give our lives for a collective like a nation, not for principles like faith, truth, or honor, but for a person.

See, I can understand giving my life—I’m not talking about dying now but giving my time, energy, and talent to a cause. I understand causes. I am willing to pour myself into a cause… changing the world, defending truth, creating beauty, working for justice. I am glad to pour my life into those kinds of things. That makes sense to me.

But John’s Jesus is talking about pouring yourself into a person. Not trying to shape a person. I understand that. I understand teaching our youth values. I understand teaching.

But John’s Jesus is talking about just pouring your time and attention into somebody because that’s the way you love somebody and Jesus showed us the possibility that we could love one another. 

This is about enough for today. So many people find the cross to be oppressive, guilt-tripping, condemning these days. I just think it is a shame.

Two thousand years ago it was a sign that God loves you and me with the love of a healthy parent who would be willing to lay down their life for their child. And it was the sign of a people who were willing to lay down their lives for one another… to not just work together for a cause but to just care for each other, to become vulnerable and honest with one another, to profoundly accept one another, to root for one another with their whole beings. 

It would be great if we could rediscover that meaning of the cross, so when people saw the sign of the cross, it would be like the motel that keeps its lights on for you… they would know that here is a community where I can find profound acceptance and love.


For these and other examples see Frank Luger, “Martyrs of Science, “ Reason and Rhyme at http://reason-and-rhyme.blogspot.com/2007/08/martyrs-of-science.html.

Luttrell, Marcus, Lone Survivor (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 2007).

 

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