The Death of a Savior

April 6, 2012

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     We never really wanted what He was all about, so we killed him.  When He was brought out before us looking pretty roughed up and we had the choice between saving Him and that skunk Barabbas, we all said in one voice “Crucify Him.” Every single one of us opened our mouths against Him. So we marched Him up a hill and we pinned Him to a cross and we killed Him.
     It wasn’t always like that. At first He was a sensation and we all wanted a piece of His action. He healed sick people, cast out demons, opened the eyes of the blind, fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread. He walked on water, stopped sea squalls in their tracks, even brought a dead man out of his 4 -day grave.
     One time we wanted Him so bad that we tried to force Him to be our King! We just knew that if we hitched our stars to his wagon, we would finally rise to the top. Finally, God has sent us the Savior we’d been looking for, the One who would lead us to glory. But He didn’t, so we killed Him.
     Somewhere early on in His public life, things went south. He started doing strange things. He ate and drank with the riff raff. We even saw Him in the company of prostitutes! He chose a bunch of nobodies and even a tax collector to follow Him around. He didn’t respect the Sabbath, He touched the unclean, He let a woman caught red handed in adultery go scot-free. And get this – He had the audacity to contradict Moses! “You’ve heard Moses say this, but I say to you this…” And He was supposed to represent God? We wouldn’t stand for that, so we killed Him.
     Not only did He do strange things, He said even stranger things. He told a scoundrel hanging on the cross right next to Him, a low-down lowest of the low type, that he would be in Paradise that very day! No self-respecting God would allow such a thing. What if word got out that you could lead a terrible life and still go to heaven? So for heaven’s sake, we killed Him.
      He told a story about a son that broke his father’s heart, demanded his father’s money, took off and shot the entire wad on sex and drink, then just decided to waltz back home one day. Well, He tried to tell us that this boy didn’t get a punishment – instead he got a party! Where is the justice in that?
That boy deserved hell not a fatted calf! So, in the name of hell, where the wicked go to be punished, we killed Him.
     He kept going on and on like His feet weren’t on the ground, like He didn’t live in the real world. Forgive somebody 7 times 70 times. If you want to be first, (who doesn’t?) then you’ve got to be last. (How do you make sense of that?) If somebody begs for your coat, give him your coat and your shirt too!  Don’t save up your money, instead give it to the poor.  And finally, the kicker: if you want to save your life, you’ve got to lose it for His sake! Take up your cross and follow me, he said. Well, we made him take up a cross, and we killed Him. We didn’t want anything to do with what He was all about, so we killed Him.
     In that lengthy introduction, I deliberately used “we”, the first person, plural personal pronoun to underscore our complicity in the death of the savior. We were there when we crucified our Lord. Because our hearts are so bent on our own way, our own glory, our own justification, we marched Him up a hill, pinned Him to a cross, and killed Him.
     I heard one preacher answer the question, “Have you made a choice for Jesus Christ?” in this way – “Yes, I have chosen to drive a nail in his left hand and his right. I have chosen to punch the spear through his side and twist the crown of thorns on his brow.” And this is because we would much rather hold our own lives, our prerogatives, our rights, our dreams tightly in our bunched up fists. I always get nervous when I hear someway say at funeral, “well, like Frank Sinatra, he did it his way.”
     Though our way seems to promise life, it always ends in the death we are trying so hard to avoid. As Jim Morrison sang with prophetic clarity, “no one here gets out alive.” The Doors singer picked up a theme spun by Arthur Miller in “Death of a Salesman,” now on Broadway, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman, the prototypical salesman, a man bent on selling or justifying himself.
     From the latest New Yorker review – “In the first beat of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, the salesman Willy Loman trudges up the path to his Brooklyn house, sample cases in hand. He has returned home after falling asleep at the wheel of his car. Inside, he slouches in a kitchen chair, like a tire deflating. “Oh boy, oh boy,” he says, thrumming the table with his stubby fingers, dimly aware that something in him is going terribly
wrong. He is losing his concentration, his sales mojo, his salary, his temper, and, given his unmooring visions, maybe even his mind. “I have such thoughts, I have such strange thoughts,” he confides to Linda, his long-suffering wife. Willy has arrived at a kind of bewildering tipping point. “They seem to laugh at me,” he tells Linda about the buyers, adding, “I don’t know the reason for it, but they just pass me by. I’m not noticed.” Willy has begun to feel posthumous, or, as he puts it later, “I still feel kind of temporary about myself.”
     A blowhard of pluck and positivity (“Be liked and you will never want” is one of his mantras), Willy has always wanted to seize victory from the world and to claim the kingdom of self, to be a somebody—which is both the promise and the imperative of American individualism. In his grandiosity, he inflates the facts and figures of his hapless life; and he puffs the same optimistic smoke into his two adult sons, Biff and Happy, who bear the scars of his delusional expectations.” Willie’s self-inflicted death closes the curtains and for those with ears to hear snuffs out all hope of happiness in a life lived with self at the center.
     For, to seize victory from the world and to claim the kingdom of self is the very definition of sin. This fruitless pursuit leads to our death. It is the nail, the spear, and the thorn of our own coffins. As the scripture says, “through sin came death.”
     Our sin leads not only to our death, but to the death of a Savior. As Dave Johnson said in his Palm Sunday sermon, our sin killed Jesus. Jesus, our savior, willingly accepts the nail, the spear, and the thorn of Good Friday. He accepts defeat from the world and surrenders the kingdom of self.
     And when He has done this, when from the cross He cries out “it is finished,” He fulfills the scripture for today, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”
     For what He was all about, whether we wanted Him or not, whether we accepted Him or not, whether we drove in the left or the right nail, was to be the perfect offering for our sins, and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.
     Amen.

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