We have a lot of incredible kids here at Grace, and Charlotte Schoening is one of them. She goes by Lottie sometimes, and every time I see her she waves at me and runs over for a quick hug.
A couple weeks ago, on Wednesday night at dinner, she came up to me twice to say goodbye. I couldn’t understand her the first time over the other voices as she said something, but when she came up a second time, Jimmy and Kell Owen heard what she called me.
I looked at them, as they both made that look with their faces that only comes when adults are in the presence of amazing children doing amazing things.
“She called you Cross Man,” they told me.
I looked at Lottie as she waved at me and heard her: “Bye, Cross Man!”
“Bye, Lottie. Have a good night’s sleep!” I told her.
The image has stuck with me these past few weeks as I looked over into Holy Week.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
He humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
This pivotal text from the Letter to the Philippians holds the key to understanding the fullness of what it means to practice Christianity.
When we look around us at the wider Christian family, we see some who hold out an image that is focused on success and prosperity, on gaining influence and even on weaving themselves into positions of political power.
This is not what Jesus was about.
Jesus was about emptying himself. And, he knew that, in emptying himself, he would unleash a force of love that would permeate all existence.
We think back to what we have soaked up during this Lenten season, and we remember Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness.
You’ll remember that Satan tempted Jesus with three distinct things:
– Turn this stone into bread
– Throw yourself down and have the angels rescue you
– Bow down, worship me, and gain political power and prestige
Thomas Keating, the renowned Christian monk, describes these temptations—which were not restricted to Jesus alone in that encounter but are also core temptations for us in our daily lives. Keating says that these three temptations are for:
– Safety and security
– Affection and esteem
– Power and control
Jesus shows us that true discipleship consists in resisting these temptations.
Being a Christian is not about grasping for power.
It is not about exerting ourselves or our rights over another person’s well-being.
It is not about asserting ourselves and our interests.
It is not about succeeding or having political influence.
It is about emptying ourselves, resisting our urge to control, recognizing the lure of pride and sin that seduces us into thinking that we are the center of the world.
In Jesus, we do indeed worship a Cross Man. The ultimate Cross Man, the One who embodied the path of self-denial, of diminishment, opening the door to reconciliation.
This deeper Christianity feels foreign in the face of the Westernized version we see broadcast in the world around us. For many, it seems that the practice of Christianity has no place in the world. Many no longer seem to be interested in it.
But, as G. K. Chesterton once described, “It is not that Christianity is a failure; it is just that it hasn’t really been tried yet.” Worth thinking about…
As we enter into this Holy Week, we keep our eyes on the Cross, and on Jesus the Cross Man, the one in and through whom God entered into suffering and pain, opening the way to reconciliation and hope. Jesus the Cross Man who, through his own self-denial, love was unleashed on the world.
And, as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus the Cross Man, we realize that we each are called to be Cross People, Cross Men and Women who carry forth this deep truth of our faith: that God enters into the pain and suffering of the world in order to weave us into the fullness of God’s grace and love.
This is the path we are called to walk.
Let’s get going.