Sunday, July 08, 2007

Crucified to the World

Proper 9 – Year C (Sixth Sunday After Pentecost)
Isaiah 66:10-16; Psalm 66:1-8; Galatians 6:(1-10)14-18; Luke 10:1-12,16-20
Sunday, July 8, 2007 –
St. Alban’s, Westwood

Have you ever heard a story that grabbed your attention, that you couldn’t stop thinking about – a story that claimed your soul? I heard just such a story a little over a week ago on NPR. It was the story of Michael Sparling from Port Huron, Michigan. Michael has a son, Joshua, who is an Army Ranger. Nearly two years ago, Joshua was stationed in Iraq. His tour of duty was about to end. He only had one more foot patrol to complete before being shipped back to the States. While on his last patrol, he came across an IED, an Improvised Explosive Device, or roadside bomb. The bomb went off, seriously damaging Joshua’s leg. Joshua was shipped back to the States, but not to Port Huron. Rather, he was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. He had been in touch with his father, and by the time Joshua arrived at Walter Reed, Michael was there to meet him. He wanted to be there to take care of his son as he underwent the numerous surgeries that would be needed to save Joshua’s leg, and during the months of physical therapy that would be required before Joshua could resume a normal life.

Two years ago, Michael quit his job in Michigan so he could be with his son. During that time, Joshua has undergone nearly 40 surgeries on his leg. About a year ago, a year after the explosion, surgeons had to amputate the damaged leg. Since then, he has undergone additional surgeries, and had to begin the long and painful process of adjusting to life as an amputee. Throughout this time, Michael has been there to help get his son to his medical appointments and the help him with his daily routine. Michael admits that it has been a financial hardship, that his savings are nearly depleted. But he quickly adds that his motto has always been that family came first, God came second, and country came third. Despite the personal hardships he has endured, Michael says that if he had to do it over again, he would not do anything different.

While giving up his job, his livelihood, to be with and to help his injured son is a noble act, that was not what really moved me about Michael’s story. Michael continues to spend his days helping his son, as well as a couple of other amputees in Joshua’s ward. But when the day is over, and there is nothing else that can be done to help his son, Michael turns his attention to the families of other soldiers being treated at Walter Reed. He spends time with these families, listening to their concerns and fears, providing encouragement, giving them information on how to obtain Social Security and other medical benefits for their injured loved ones. He runs errands for these families, making trips to the airport, getting groceries, and making himself available to do whatever else they might need to make their life a little easier as they attempt to cope with the fact that their spouses, children, or parents are seriously injured. All of his free time is devoted to helping other soldiers and their families cope with and adjust to the tragedies that have befallen them.

In his actions, Michael Sparling can stand with Paul, who in today’s lesson from Galatians says “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). Biblical scholar Richard Hayes notes that in this statement, Paul recognizes that “his previous identity has disappeared altogether, and his new identity is given him only through his participation in Christ, who animates the life he now lives” (Hays, 344).

The cross was the transformative event in human history. On the cross, Jesus took on the sinfulness of humanity. On the cross, he died for our sins, so that we would be forgiven and made whole. On the cross, he turned the world upside down and made it something entirely new – a new creation in which we, his followers, are called to take part, to be co-creators. To boast in the cross means that we recognize that we cannot go it alone, that we must rely on God’s grace, of which the cross is sign and symbol. To boast in the cross is to recognize that we have a new identity and new way of being in the world. To boast in the cross is to recognize that the world is made new, and that “we live in the presence and hope of the new creation” (Hays, 345).

As followers of Christ, living in the presence and hope of new creation means that we do our part to bring about the new creation. It means taking seriously what Paul said about the world being crucified to us, and us to the world. In his crucifixion, Christ demonstrated that the ways of the world, the ways of selfishness, self-centeredness, of looking out for number one, are no longer valid. Those ways of the world have been crucified to us, they are dead to us, they no longer have meaning for us. And because of this, we are in turn crucified to the world. The world that still believes in this way of living and being doesn’t know what to do with us. That world doesn’t understand how we can live the way we do, concerned with the other, particularly the other who is a stranger. One Presbyterian minister explains that because of this, Paul’s statement illustrates the “perennial struggle between those who view the world through rose-colored glasses and those who recognize the reality of the human predicament” (Norwood, 51). We see the reality of the pain and hurt that is in the world. But because of Christ, we see the other part of reality, as well. We see that “God has entered the human situation and redeemed it by the cross of Jesus Christ” (Norwood, 52). We see that by virtue of being crucified to the world ourselves, we also have a part to play in redeeming the world.

Whether he knows it or not, for Michael Sparling, the world has been crucified to him, and him to the world. Michael has put aside his own concerns to take care of the needs, to help diminish the pain and hurt, of his son and the numerous other soldiers and their families he has encountered in the last two years at Walter Reed. Wanting to take care of your son is one thing. That’s understandable. But to do so at the cost of his income, his savings, his financial well-being is quite another. That is a big sacrifice. But, in the time when he does not need to be helping his son, he could have gotten a job to at least help with the finances. But that is not what Michael chose to do. He chose to forego any thoughts of his own concerns, of his own well-being, to help others in need. That is not what the world says we should do. Acting in such a manner is asking for crucifixion – to have the world crucified to oneself, and to be crucified to the world. That is what it means to follow Jesus to the cross, or at least, to live in it’s shadow.

Living in the shadow of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to us, and us to the world, does not mean that we necessarily have to engage in such monumental actions and sacrifices as those undertaken by Michael Sparling. When we understand what it means to live in the shadow of the cross and to share in Jesus’ crucifixion, our actions are naturally informed by that deep understanding, one which we do not even have to consciously think about. And it happens in all sorts of ways, both large and small – most often small – in ways that we would not think extraordinary.

One such example occurred in this very parish last Sunday. Several of us were sitting in the Upper Lounge between services doing Bible study. From the hallway, I heard a woman, slightly panicked, exclaim “I need help.” I got up to see what the problem was. I found the woman, Laurie, our temporary nursery worker, in the sacristy. Her right hand and forearm were cut up and she was bleeding. She had been opening windows in the nursery, and when she pushed on one of them, it shattered, cutting her in the process. When I arrived on the scene, Vivian was already tending to the woman. When I found out what happened, I went into the Upper Lounge and summoned Helen, figuring a nurse might be needed. Vivian and Helen cleaned and bandaged the woman’s wounds and helped calm her down. And while all this was going on, Barbara got out the broom and vacuum and went down to the nursery to clean-up the broken glass.

After the 10:00 service, I saw Laurie and inquired how she was doing. She assured me that she was feeling better and appreciated everyone’s help. The next morning, I received an e-mail from Vivian giving me an update on Laurie’s situation and telling me that both she and Helen had advised her to go to a doctor for a more thorough examination, as there may have still been a piece of glass in one of her wounds. Later that morning, when I arrived at the church, I discovered that Nancy, our parish administrator, had been apprised of the situation and had already called Laurie to see how she was doing, to assure her that we would pay for her medical examination, and to suggest that she get a follow-up exam in a week or two, just to make sure that everything is okay.

I’m sure that none of these women, Vivian, Helen, Barbara, or Nancy, stopped to think, “should I help this woman?” or “what is my Christian duty or obligation in this situation?” They just knew. As Christians, they were living into the baptismal covenant and helping another of God’s children who was in need. As people who live in the shadow of the cross, they recognize, maybe not consciously, but certainly on a deeper level, that when one of God’s beloved children is hurting, all creation is hurting. As our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori writes, “Traditionally, we’ve often understood ministry or service as putting another’s needs ahead of our own, but the truth is actually bigger and more comprehensive than that, for ministry has to do with healing the world. Our own healing is bound up in the healing of all.” She then goes on to explain, “The work we do every day, our daily baptismal ministry, is about healing the world . . . Much of the time, our work focuses on the nearby and close at hand—our families, fellow citizens, co-workers, and parishioners, but we are part of a much larger whole. After all, when one is in pain, all suffer, and when one is healed, the whole world breathes a bit easier” (Jefferts Schori, 47-8).

This is what it means that the world has been crucified to us, and us to the world. We don’t stop to think about our own needs, our own concerns, our own well-being, our own schedules and agendas. We see as Christ sees. We see the pain in others and, just as Christ took our pain and suffering onto himself through his crucifixion, we take on the pain of the other, doing what we are able to relieve it, or at least, to reduce it. The world may be crucified to us and us to the world, but that does not mean the world has the last word. Freed from the constraints and expectations imposed by the world, freed through the cross of Jesus, in which we choose to share, we are freed to live in the presence and hope of new creation that God has promised us; we are freed to help make it a reality for others.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Hays, Richard B. “The Letter to the Galatians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. XI of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000.

Jefferts Schori, Katharine. A Wing and a Prayer: A Message of Faith and Hope. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2007.

Norwood, M. Thomas. Proclamation 4: Aids for Interpreting the Lessons of the Church Year: Series B Pentecost 1. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989.

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