The Cross and the Perfect Candidate
There’s a myth that a lot of young people in transitional stages of life, myself included, often buy into, a myth that I call, “the perfect candidate.” When applying to Jobs, Med School, Grad School, Internships, College or even the priesthood, I find myself not alone in imagine hoards of applicants scoring in the 99th percentile, with 4.0’s, from the highest ranked schools, with the best internships, scholarships and extra-curricula’s, while somehow simultaneously maintaining mental stability. Such imaginary competition offers far more intimidation than motivation.
When I went to sit the Physics GRE in northern Indiana, one of the few testing locations at one of the only testing times I came face to face with the people with whom I am in competition with. In that moment I was forced to see them as more than just test scores and gpa’s but as real humans with lives and imperfections just like myself. Yet tragically, knowing the absurdity of something does little to calm the worries bubbling up from the more primitive regions of our brain. When left to grow and spread from host to host this pernicious myth serves to collectively disempower us.
Self worth is central to the human experience and throughout the bible there are characters wrestling with pitfalls of conceit and worthlessness. In our gospel reading tonight Simon Peter, on his knees, in the presence of Jesus’ miracle commands Jesus to leave him in his sin and despair. Peter sees his sin as an impenetrable barrier between himself and Christ. So too does Paul who takes every chance he gets to remind us of his sinful past lamenting that he, “does not even deserve to be called an apostle.” Inverting all expectations God still uses these imperfect candidates. Despite their doubts and fears Peter and Naaman commit their trust in God and are brought to new life. Leaving everything and following Jesus did not exorcise the myth of distorted self-image from Peter. His journey with Jesus and with himself is not smooth sailing once he’d taken his first steps. Finding a holy balanced perception swimming in humility, grace, determination and strength is a lifelong pursuit and Peter’s journey models the Christian faith for all of us. Such a journey inevitable leads not only Peter but all of us to the cross.
Paul’s reading tonight spells out the essence of our faith journeys. Christ died for us, was buried, and rose again on the third day. This is what Paul points us to place our trust in the way Peter and Naaman and scores of Saints and Martyrs before us have. At the heart of our church, at the heart of our faith and at the heart of life is the cross. The cross does not seek to point out our failure; we do not tell the cross to stay back for we are unworthy. The one who was, and is, and is to come, bids us come as we are. There is no perfect candidate for God. Yes there is always work to be done within ourselves so that we might more closely follow Jesus but right now God still sees us as we are. When so many aspects of life seek to undermine our value and reduce us to the sum of our value to those with power over us, the cross shows us that the image of God dwells within us, not in one of us or one group of us but in all humanity. This glimpse of God we see in each other can never be taken from us, for we were bought with a price. Knowing that God laid down his life for you and me as we are tells us that we will always be loved.
The God of our ancestors who came down from heaven and lived and died with us and for us has risen to life. The cross and resurrection are two side of the same coin that can never be separated. In the beginning the book of Genesis, our theological origin story where God dwelt with us in the Garden of Eden, there were two trees. The first was the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil of which Adam ate so that he might be like God letting sin and death into our world. The second was the tree of life. The tree of life has been planted anew in all of us through the resurrection of Christ Jesus. As death marks the cross, eternal life marks the resurrection. Who we are at our core is built on a seed of God’s love that, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from.” The image of God, fought for us at the price of Christ’s blood, who overcame the powers of death and darkness has made eternal life flower in all of us. At the lowliest of the low, when powers of this world conspire to steal our power by robbing us of all sense of worth, remember that God loves us as we are. Christ died for us as we are, not us in some other world where we are the perfect candidate, with no regrets, but as we are right now and right here. This victory through sacrifice proves that we matter even when the world tells us we don’t.
There is a power in the cross that will always be there for us, a power to change the world. Just as the cross bids us come as we are, the resurrection bids us to go forth into the broken world with a job to do. Jesus calls us, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” The same life revealed in us yearns to be sown in amidst the cracks, where death and darkness dwell. We are called to grow a forest of green in the midst of grey. We are tasked with following Jesus here in a city filled with very real and material suffering, a service that requires our very real labour and sacrifice. The cross that has taken us in points us out to be servants to all who hunger and thirst, all who weep and are hated, and all who suffer as Jesus did. Lord let us be servants so that we can be your hands and feet in this world. Lord let us be salt and light so that all at your table may taste and see that the Lord is good. And Lord as we come to your table in your presence and warmth, in remembering your sacrifice, may we be turned toward our mission in our world. Amen