given on Sunday, February 13, 2011
Cruciform. That is a new word for me. It looks rather like crucifix yet the context does not seem to fit. The source is the New Interpreter’s Bible, and I was reading was over Philippians 2, particularly verses 19-30 in which Paul explains who he is sending back to the Philippians and why. He chose to send Timothy, his closest student—almost like a son—and Epaphroditus, the very one the Philippians sent to care for Paul.
Now looking back over those verses in the bulletin, you can see that the term ‘cruciform’ is not there. In fact, I worked backward from those verses trying to make sense of this word ‘cruciform’. The first chapter Paul explained that even in suffering there is joy when one loves God. The second chapter of Philippians is identified as the chapter that tells Christians that there is joy in serving one another. The first few verses point out that all Christians should
“. . . 2Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. “
I gave up, though, and looked up this new term: Cruciform means shaped like a cross. Still the definition just does not quite fit the scripture I was studying. How in the world could a word, used as an adjective not neither a noun nor a verb, connect to Paul’s insistence that the Christians in Philippi should be of the same mind as Christ. There it is! Cruciform, literally meaning shaped like a cross, is used in the New Interpreter’s Bible in the subhead “Examples of Cruciform Living.”
Paul uses the second chapter in his letter to encourage the young church to continue in the work they were doing. He wanted them to be Christ-like, to be same-minded as Christ, to serve one another. In the verses 12-16 Paul lists what he expects of Christ’s followers:
12-13What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.
14-16Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.
These words not only tell the young church what to do, they are also praised for the work they are doing.
John Wesley’s notes on Philippians 2:12-18 also compliments Paul’s words:
Wesley’s Sermon 85: “On Working Out Our Own Salvation” offers his most mature reflections on the interaction of divine grace with human agency: “First, God works; therefore you can work. Secondly, God works; therefore you must work” (Works, SSIII.2); “With fear and trembling—With the utmost care and diligence” (Notes, 2:12). 2:14-18 Worthy conduct, which shines the light of the “word of life” into a lost world (see Dan 12:3), is a spiritual sacrifice to God (see Rom 12:1-2).
So there it is: cruciform. Paul and Wesley agree how important it is each Christian work to be like Christ in how we live our lives and how we serve.
Wesley lived that life and is quoted repeatedly, even in Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. The words should be a mantra for each one of us:
“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
Wesley’s words sound so much like Paul’s words. Paul’s followers were demonstrating that they understood the importance of teaching God’s love, healing the sick, demonstrating love for one another, and living their life as much like Christ’s as possible.
How do we right now, right here manage to follow Paul’s and Wesley’s challenge to live as Christ lived? How do we manage to live in a world that challenges our Christian ethics in so many ways? How do we love one another when we witness so much meanness, bullying, and violence? How do we manage to be ‘cruciform’?
During the past three weeks, the world witnessed a historical political change in Egypt. For me, Egypt is part of Christ’s world, therefore it must be part of my world. I watched. I listened. I applauded as I saw people challenge a government and succeed. I thanked God that such a major political change could take place in a short time without a full blown war.
Maybe I cannot be present to serve, but I can pray.
Maybe I cannot travel to Mozambique or Haiti or Guatemala, but I can learn and look for ways to send aid.
Maybe I cannot adopt an orphan alone in the world, but I can look for ways to support those brought into local families either through love, language support, or simply friendship.
Cruciform living is not always easy, but it is a goal. The more we do for others, the more we serve as Wesley has asked us to serve. The more we introdue those who do not know Christ, the more we are spreading Christ’s love. Loving one another is not costly, not difficult, and not beyond our skills.
The results of cruciform living provide the ultimate joy—life eternal. In the meantime, while we are living a Christ-like worldly existence, raising our families, working at our jobs, and enjoying ourselves we also see that our lives are happy. Life is joyful. What better argument is there that we are to love one another by serving them in order to be filled with Christian joy!
Dear Christ Lord,
We continue to learn about living as Christians. We learn how Paul encouraged the earliest Christians even while suffering in prison. We learn that Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus continue to demonstrate Christ-like work and found joy in serving others. We learn that all Christians, even today, find joy from serving one another in all means that they can.
Help us to continue to learn about Cruciform living through the scriptures, through the models of the earliest disciples and churches, and by the generations of preachers such as Wesley. Help us to find the best way for us to serve God right here, right now, so that we, too, may find joy in cruciform living. –Amen