Second Word Luke 23:43
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.””
Let Us Prwy
Father/Mother God, thank you for sending your only begotten son! He would not come down from the cross to save himself. He decided, O God, to die just to save me! May we learn to be so loving, so gracious, so courageous and so selfless. Change us, O God! Create in us clean hearts that we might truly be Christians who love selflessly, forgive endlessly and die to self purposefully as did the one we follow, Jesus the Christ. Amen
Story of Self (personal story)
Troubled, violent, bad-mouthed, out-of-control, hard-to- place! These are the words foster children hear carelessly and cruelly aimed at and about them. Apparently, I used to think, they also think we are death and dumb! When I was 16, I served time at McLaren Hall, which has since, thank the Good Lord, been closed. It wasn’t technically Juvey, but from what I gather, it wasn’t much better. At the time though, I didn’t know it was a harsh environment, because I was so used to abuse, it was only another form of the same. In fact, at least I was in a group institutional setting and the staff did not have as much time as foster parents had to home in on me. I was simply another case! Another teen with a bad attitude and a lack of gratitude for what the state had done for me. This makes me bleed for mercy upon the criminal on Jesus’ left. Some are blessed to find the light shining in the darkness, yet others can’t see, can’t rise and thus cannot hope. But for the grace of God go I.
That light for me came in the form of two female ministers who would come to McLaren to speak with the residents. Unlike most of the adults of my acquaintance, they seemed to see and hear us. They helped us find empowerment and constructive ways to voice and express our guilt, shame, rage and need for belonging.
In return, we gave them bad attitudes and disrespect. We challenged them, because we did not trust them or their God. If your God is real, tell him to give you something better to do and get us out of here! They warned us, as the man on the right reminded the man on Jesus’ left, not to test God, and to take responsibility for our own actions. We mocked them and God, at least I did, at least at first.
These women couldn’t save us or change us, or could they? Well, they, or rather, the Holy Spirit within them, did. I stand as a living testimony that God speaks through angels on earth, and years later, I give thanks to those ministers. We don’t know if the man on the left accepted Christ in the last moment, we are not told, and I do not know the fate of the teens I lived with at that time, but as the man on Jesus’ right, and as Jesus himself most of all caused many hearts to turn toward God, these women spoke power, truth and love into my story, and I have decided to ask Jesus to remember me when he comes into his Kingdom. Glory to God
Story of Us (scripture story)
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, today, you will be with me in paradise.” Having seen experienced the cruelty and injustice humans were/are prone to, Jesus the Christ made this astounding promise. Bloodied and beaten, already bruised for our transgressions and abandoned by many of his disciples, Jesus made his way to the Cross. Jesus is guilty of a multitude of sins. You ask how? Or perhaps you already know. Jesus, the lamb of God, the scapegoat, the Son of David has agreed to take upon himself the sins of the world! How could he stand and walk? As difficult as the walk would have been anyhow following the abuse suffered and with the physical heaviness of that old rugged cross, those burdens would have, I believe, been nothing in comparison to what Jesus the Christ carried in his spirit and in his heart; the guilt of humanity throughout history. Stoically, Jesus went on. Without protest, Jesus was hung and nailed painfully to the cross. And here, we stop to consider, the criminals hanging with him.
The words of the criminal on the left remind me of the temptation of Satan when Jesus was in the desert after receiving Baptism. Satan challenged Jesus at that time saying, “If you are the son of God, jump from this cliff. Surely, God will not allow you to stub your toe on a rock.” Jesus responds to Satan, It is written “do not put the Lord your God to the test.” The criminal on the left is definitely putting God to the test, rather or not he sees God as his God, and he is trying to tempt Jesus Christ who has been pushed to extreme limits, yet Jesus does not respond. Thanks be to Jesus, for he chose not to come down from the cross.
The man on the right is no less a criminal, yet he has the one vital key to salvation: he knows he is a criminal who deserves no less than death, and yet in faith and repentance, he asks Jesus to remember him and his acknowledgement of Jesus as an innocent man. Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom. We are all guilty and fall short of the Glory of God, but we pray nevertheless, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
We may not be able to see ourselves as worthy to sit in the seats of honor or even to enter the Kingdom. We may only ask to be remembered; remembered with compassion and perhaps affection. Yet Jesus offered the criminal on the right more. Jesus offered entry into that Kingdom. Jesus offered immediate words of forgiveness and absolution. Jesus offered immediate acceptance. He saw the heart of the criminal and Jesus sees your heart and mine!
We aren’t on the cross. Most of us aren’t on death Rowe or on a cross. Most of us are still carrying our crosses. At the same time, many of us are bearing the crosses of those who have fallen and stumbled, and some of those who have too many emotional and physical wounds to make it up life’s hills with the burden of their sins and decisions on their backs. So, we may understand a little of Jesus’ pain and understand our place in this grand story of love and sacrifice. Jesus’ has a message for us: don’t stop! Don’t let go! Just a little further! It hurts but letting go will hurt more and for longer.
Hold on my sister! Hold on my brother! Ask Jesus to remember you! Confess your crimes and acknowledge his sacrifice and the injustices done to him and countless of our powerless and marginalized sisters and brothers, and the reward may just be more than we dared hope. Jesus may turn to us and say, “today, tomorrow, whenever your time comes to end your race, you will be with me in Paradise.”
Story of Now (shared calling)
Today, we are under the shadow of coronavirus. We are not in physical churches, because we are under “shelter in place” and “stay at home” orders. Yesterday, we partook of the Lord’s Supper and observance, some of us, of Maundy Thursday, at home alone or a few family members or roommates. We hear the criminal on the left taunting us, “if you are the daughter, if you are the son of God, get down and save yourself and save us.” We have, I hope ignored that lying voice of self-centeredness, faithlessness and pride. I have heard louder the voice of my Savior saying, truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” because you have run a good race and stood firm until the end. Jesus sees my bad temper and cabin fever, and he loves me anyway. He sees every fear we allow to control us, and he loves us anyway. He is waiting for us to see our wrong-doings, confess we deserve nothing good and once we empty ourselves, we may be welcomed by him.
I don’t know how much longer I, an extrovert, and all the rest of us, will be forced to shelter in place. I do know we are invited to ask Jesus to come into our shelters and be our shelter. If we are homeless, Jesus wants to be our shelter. We have the opportunity to come out of this a more just, humble, merciful, faithful and loving community. But are we willing? We will overcome. This is my prayer.
Holy God of love and life, we are gathered from around the word via technology. We thank you for this virtual community as well as our physical communities. We thank you for the example of the criminal on the right and the criminal on the left. May we be more like the man in the middle; more like Jesus, the Christ! Thank you for the graciousness and mercy of Jesus Christ. Infuse us with the Spirit that we may come through these current struggles stronger, more faithful and ready to be instruments of healing and peace. We love you. We pray all this and more in the name of Jesus Christ by the Power of the Holy Spirit, giving you, O God, all the glory and honor forever, Amen!