The Cross as the Tree of Jesus

Palm Sunday sermon, March 25, 2018.  This reflection is based on the middle panel of the Church f Resurrection’s stained glass window, Leawood, KS.  The scripture connections are found within the text of the reflection.

No doubt you have noticed that the trees around us are budding out and getting ready to leaf out. Not only did the rain this week knock off those buds onto our driveways, cars, and windows (thanks to the blowing wind), now just looking at the bare branches shows evidence of the green as in the willows and in the nodules of the blooms on the Bradford Pears. Add to the visual images, the allergies that hit whenever the leaves bud out.

The symbolism of the tree in its life cycle cannot be ignored as we enter spring and Holy Week. Trees become central in our lives as we move through the seasons.   Admittedly I could spend a great deal of time using trees as metaphors for life, for religion, for education. . . well the list grows.

As we began the year with the images of the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window, we looked at the trees—the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree of the cross, and the tree of life. Today, let us return to the central tree in the window, The Cross.

The cross now universally symbolizes the story of Jesus. The images that surround the window’s cross have their own messages for us this Palm Sunday. These images summarize the entire purpose of Jesus’ ministry as listed in Matthew 4:23-25:

                  23 Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing (other translations use preaching) the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. 24 News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed—he healed them all. 25 Large crowds followed him wherever he went—people from Galilee, the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan River.

 

Three verbs share the purpose of Jesus’ three years in ministry:

  1. Teaching listeners how to understand God’s message of loving one another regardless of age or gender, of education or profession, of sins or not.
  2. Announcing/Preaching God’s message Jesus asked for commitment to follow him actively living God’s message.
  3. Healing those whose physical, mental and spiritual health was separating them from God so that they may be whole.

The Old Testament is filled with stories of how the Israelites struggled to remain faithful. They made mistakes, and God forgave them. They struggled to understand. They struggled to remain committed. They became separated from God in so many different ways, yet God never gave up on them as we learned in the story of Noah. And in Joseph, we learned how to live faithfully even when life hands you a lemon.

All those early stories were in the one book of Genesis. The Old Testament contains so much more to read and to understand. Throughout it all, though, God continues to believe in us. Those faithful to him prayed for understanding, for commitment, and for wholeness. And God heard the prayers deciding to step into human form and model the life he asked from us.

Born as the human son of Mary and Joseph, God as Jesus was raised in a Jewish home, nourished and taught to be all that he was to be. Not until Jesus was almost 30 years old, did he begin his ministry. The ministry is visually summarized in the stained glass window beginning with his birth, then his baptism and the calling of his disciples.

The message in the window is a summary God delivered as Jesus Christ. Let’s review the message:

  1. Jesus welcomes the children: Mark 9:33-37

         33 After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” 34 But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

         36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

 

The story of welcoming the children is found in three of the gospels, but not in John.   Including the story or the lesson shows the importance of what Jesus was teaching—God’s love is for everybody and no one is more important than anyone else.

The all-inclusive ministry applied to everybody. The ancient culture created all types of divisions among people such as separation of men and women even in the temple, the social system had freed men and slaves, and the divisions even included geographical labels as the story of the Woman at the Well, a Samaritan.

  1. Woman at the Well: John 4:1-14

Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

         9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

         10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” . . .

         13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” . . .

Jesus was alone and the cultural standards are clear in the exchange at the well. When the disciples return and find Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman, a new lesson was given. God’s love and how we are to live with one another does not have any cultural boundary, no geographical boundary.

Maintaining a trusting, faithful relationship with God is possible for anyone, no exclusions. Such inclusion creates a society that supersedes any that humans might create that excludes others in any way.

The window includes another image that shows the enormity of God’s inclusive family. Forgiveness was a large part of the Old Testament stories and the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet echoes that tenant of God’s message, also.

  1. Woman who anointed Jesus’ feet: Luke 7:47-50

         47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

         49 The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”

         50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Jesus modeled forgiveness. Are we able to do the same? Jesus used the different experiences in his life to teach the disciples how to live a God-centered life. He forgave this woman and then explained to the Pharisees and the disciples in the room that forgiveness is another way to love one another.

Certainly the stories captured in the stained glass have more to share about Jesus’ story. The images show how God loves us through the actions of Jesus. The stories explain how faithfulness and forgiveness work to heal those struggling to manage in a sinful world.        The final image before Jesus’ Last Supper is that of Zacchaeus in the tree. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and despised by the Jewish people because he collected taxes for the Roman government. Even though he was Jewish, he was shunned because of his job. The job was equated to corruption as the tax collectors often pocketed money for themselves.

But Zacchaeus was curious and wanted to know more about Jesus and his message. Jesus acknowledged Zacchaeus against the wishes of those around him, but Jesus’ compassion healed Zacchaeus. Jesus looked past the wrongs and saw the man who wanted God’s love:

  1. Zacchaues: Luke 19:9-10

         9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

Regardless of our past, God loves us. He waits on us to ask for forgiveness. He waits on us to acknowledge his love for us.   Are we able to accept God’s grace? Are we able to follow in Jesus’ footsteps?

Today we remember how Jesus’ spent three years teaching, preaching and healing all those who came to hear God’s story. Jesus chose to enter into the city with all the pomp and circumstance of a long-awaited king. He knew the trials ahead that his human body would have to endure; but for just a little while, the celebration helped spread the message.

This week, as the rain falls, as the flowers pop open, as the trees continue to leaf out, and the world shakes off the winter, spend some time in prayer and reflection. Are you like one of the images in the window? Have you accepted God’s grace? Have you asked for forgiveness? Have you shared The Story so others, too, may experience God’s love?

Closing prayer

Dear loving, gracious Father,

What a joy it is to see Spring arrive!

What a story you have given us to share.

Let us see The Story in the window

And find ways to share it with others.

May we use this Holy Week

To hear Jesus’ story anew.

Guide us in checking our own faith.

As we look at the images of The Cross

Fill us with unconditional love

So we, too, may know the joy

Of living in full relationship with you,

Now and forever. –Amen

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