Oratio, Episode 10

disarming the cross

Lectionary Reading:

Mark 8:27-38

Reflection:

The center of gravity that I focus on in this sermon is the final portion of Mark 8 in verses 34-38.

The theme of this sermon is “Disarming the Cross” because these verses have often been used as a weapon against Queer people, for the purpose of obedience. I have been told many times that this is what I must do in order to be acceptable before God: cast down your queerness and same-sex attraction, pick up your cross (in other words, suck it up) and follow Jesus.

In this sermon, I discuss what denying yourself means, but also what it does not mean. Furthermore, I discuss what the cross in this narrative means and represents.

To be very clear, the cross is not a weapon that we use to threaten people into submission with. I repeat, the cross is not a weapon that we beat people into submission with.

Part of my sermon describes an anecdotal story about when I was at a Southern Baptist conference having an interesting discussion with a woman who was non-affirming of Queer folks. I was only in this situation for a work event where I was helping to educate non-affirming folks about the medical and psychological harm caused to LGBTQ+ communities from non-affirming environments.

The woman opened up to me and explained that she struggled with overeating. She then used the verse selection we are discussing in this sermon to demonstrate to me how we are alike and how she was able to set aside what she called her “special sin” in order to follow Jesus.

I had to correct her for her comparison. She was wrong on several accounts.

  1. Nowhere in Scripture does it ever say that people are designated with “special sins.” Humanity in general all falls short of loving God and neighbor and some capacity and this can manifest in a variety of ways which puts us all on an equal playing field before God.

  2. Food is not inherently sinful. Food is a gift just as many objects are. It was her choice to overindulge with the object of food that became a hindrance to her, her health, and perhaps impacted others negatively (this falls into the category of not loving self or others properly). My being gay is also not inherently sinful, although there are actions I could take in relationships like cheating, lying, etc., which would make my behavior unloving.

  3. Her overindulgence of food does not give her permission to project her presuppositions of what this verse section means to her onto me. I told her all of these things and she seemed to reevaluate how she rendered the text which will hopefully help her not to use this as a way to “show me or others” why being gay is wrong.

Breaking down “denying of self”:

In the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-22, also in Mark and Luke) we see a similar call from Christ as the verse selection in the sermon.

A young and rich man has come to Jesus and asked him how he can achieve eternal life and states that he has obeyed Torah Law from his youth. Jesus replies that he [the young man] needs to give up his possessions and follow Jesus. The young man went away grieving.

This is a commonly misinterpreted parable and most people assume that the young man is obsessed with being rich. This is not exactly the problem. In the Hebrew Bible a concept known as Retributive Theology is why this young man is so upset. Retributive theology is the simple idea in Proverbs and other parts of the Bible that shows God rewarding the good and obedient and punishing the wicked and the evil. The rewards of riches, land, flocks, etc., were often considered blessings by God onto his followers who followed this model.

The reason the young man is so dejected is because his riches were the physical representation and reward for his performance. It was the way the rest of the world and people around him knew he was blessed by God. When the young man says to Jesus that he has followed Torah Law since his youth, he very much means this. But, Jesus knew that the young man’s challenge was that his love for God was only contingent upon his rewards. We know this is true because when Jesus asks him to give those up, the young man feels very grieved.

What Jesus was looking for was a heart condition not a performance/reward reaction. Jesus wants an internal feeling of true love for him and others that is not produced because we receive something in return, but is produced by genuine love. Being self-absorbed and concerned about our performance and achievements can hinder us from loving God and neighbor.

What the Cross truly represents:

The cross represents freedom, liberation, life, thriving, and flourishing alongside God on earth and beyond. Ultimately, the cross represents love. Paradoxically, the item used to crucify Jesus is what gives us life abundantly.

Look at what Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly [humble] in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This text does not say, “you better do this… in order to come to me.” Rather, Jesus asks us to take his yoke upon ourselves. What is a yoke? Interestingly enough, it is a large and very thick wooden beam placed onto a large animal’s neck in order for them to pull and carry items. A yoke is very much like the cross beam Jesus would have carried up to Golgotha where he was crucified. An animal who carries a yoke on its neck is often referred to as a “beast of burden.”

We all carry burdens, but Jesus tells us to find rest in him and that his yoke and his ask is light and gives us flourishing life. This yoke is ridding ourselves of anything that hinders us from loving God and loving our neighbors/ the other.

Our Queerness is a critical part of our identity that Jesus never asks us to put away or get rid of in order to follow him. He asks us to love him and to love others and his promise is to give us life to the full. Your Queer identity is a special and unique part of you that allows you to love others fully, teach others, connect with others in community, and it is a vital part of who you are.

Beloved, embrace who you are and rest in Christ’s love and peace.

With love,

Erin Green