Crosses and the Other Side
Rob Gieselmann, Pent. 18C, Sept. 4, 2016
I remember a poem from years ago – Only I cannot
recall the poet or the actual words of the poem – Age
seems to have eroded my memory …But the poem left
me with an image. It is winter, and a man is walking
through snowy woods late at night. He is walking
backwards, away from his cottage, staring at the light
shining through the front window of the cottage. As he
walks backwards the light disappears from his view. He stops – then walks back towards the cottage, and the light reappears. He reverses course again, and the light disappears. And he realizes, now, that there exists an invisible line dividing his sight – a perimeter beyond
which the light is no longer perceivable. A circle within
which he can see.
*Jesus is traveling from his home in Galilee towards Jerusalem, through Samaria. Somewhere along the way,
he crosses some invisible perimeter – he becomes the
man in the poem – Only he has walked inside the circle, through the perimeter of truth. The truth about his
life. That truth, though, perversely dark, remains
evanescent. Now he can see now what he could not see
in Galilee. He is going to die. On the cross. How is it nobody can see his cross. That the people would turn against him. He must have wondered. Instead, the people crowd him
like crazed fans at a rock concert, or Big Orange Volunteers at the home-game opener. Pressing in on every side. No, they don’t see the cross like he does, but it is there. Jesus tells them as much – and he tells them about their own crosses, too. Cross and death loom like a red moon rising – for all of us.
*What do you think Jesus meant when he said you’d
have to carry your cross? Give away your possessions?
The disciples once claimed they’d given up everything to follow Jesus. But they hadn’t - not really - had they? Given up everything. They had families, and, to a person, each of them abandoned Jesus at the end, Peter included. And if not these men, who then could take up their crosses?
In light of that - I don’t think I am a very good at following Jesus.
When I was young and impulsive – I promised Jesus I’d follow him wherever he would lead me. They say some people grow into faith, while others leap. I lept.
Leave it all, I had imagined, as a young man and follower of Jesus. I might just as well have been the young man who promised to follow Jesus wherever he went, to whom Jesus retorted, foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Abandon everything, only – I seem to give away my possessions – metaphorically – only to buy them back right away.
I’m older, now, and I, like Jesus, seem to have crossed some invisible perimeter into the field of the cottage light.
I will turn 58, soon, which places me on the back side of middle age. And these days it is as though I see things that were once outside my field of vision. In July, I attended my fortieth high school reunion. My old friends had aged – everybody that is, except for me – You’ve heard the old
line: I was young once, but I got over it. Reminds me of the the Simon and Garfunkel lyric - I’m older than I was,
but younger than I’ll be, that’s not unusual. Just a few years ago, when I was in my forties – and even as late as 50 – people called me the “young Episcopal priest” – I would laugh at them - only in the Episcopal Church is a priest called young at 50. But I’m no longer 50, and soon I will be 60, entering my seventh decade. And I have seen what many of you already know – that there is an invisible perimeter - a dividing line separating those who see the cottage light from those who do not. Turns out – you are young only until you aren’t. And somewhere along the way, your own cross as a cottage light comes into view. And at that point, if you haven’t done so already, you face the choice: What do I want my life to be about? Is it my possessions? Money? All that I own? The concept of ownership is actually an illusion – ephemeral. You cannot take it with you, after all. But there is something you will
take with you. And that is this: You will take with you the
very real substance of a life well-lived. Or not.
Which is why I must ask, what kind of life do you lead? What values have you purchased along the way? Now, please do not misinterpret my melancholy – I believe
deeply in resurrection. I believe that Jesus at Easter
leads to life beyond the grave. Like I said Thursday at
Chalmers Wilson’s funeral, We are Easter people!
The nineteenth century religious philosopher James Martineau said, I don’t believe in resurrection because
I can prove it, I am forever trying to prove it because I believe it. People across the world – not just Christians,
but people of all traditions – have this inalienable sense that life does not end at the termination of the physical body.
Meaning now – that how you choose to live this life now – makes a difference. Which is – what Paul is telling
Philemon – that he, too, has a choice – to do good in accepting Onesimus, his runaway slave, back as a
brother – Or not. Yes, how you choose to live, to forgive,
to be generous – or not – Brings Jesus’ imperative
into view – your cross, your possessions, laying up treasurers. These concepts are all about the soul – The quality of the soul. The care of the soul. Although they hint at the world to come, Jesus is certainly speaking about the life you live today. Whether you are young, or old. Whether your cross is yet in view, or not. And so – acquire possessions
if you must, but I’m wondering what you might purchase on your way, as you travel to Jerusalem?