The Cross Is Forever
The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church
Indian Rocks Beach, FL
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Resurrection of Jesus by Gerard Seghers, 1620
The Flag is for now;
The Cross is forever.
In other words, the flag is temporal, and the Cross is eternal.
There is a good reason why the flag flies at half-staff today. It is because a hot wind blew out of the desert, not to winnow or cleanse, to borrow the words of the prophet Jeremiah, but to conquer and destroy a great nation.
Fifteen years ago, a horrific thing happened at the Twin Towers that stood above New York City, the Pentagon of Washington D.C. and a rural cornfield outside of Pittsburgh. You may recall the images of the smoke, the fumes, the plumage, and the carnage; the sights of people running for their life, but it was the people who ran the opposite direction to which we understand those stripes. Red for the sacrifice paid by the 343 firefighters; 60 policemen; and 8 paramedics who ran the opposite direction into burning buildings to help those who were lost and trapped by the fires.
We knew that there were other unsung heroes and victims. Pilots and civilians, helpless, did not make it to their planned destinations that day. On 9/11 the sense of peace and freedom, changed forever, and people turned to the houses of worship to find eternal answers. The country came together in prayerful vigil for a few weeks. We struck back at terror. We laid plans to memorialize the sacrifices and we draped a flag. Fifteen years later, the flag still waves, we may not have forgotten, but the country has changed.
It is important that we understand how a temporal flag of cloth and color is made eternal when seen through the cross, less we forget. Today, if numbers other than 9-11 were thrown out, would you recognize them as they relate to our country? What about 4/19, 7/4, 9/2, or 12/7? Translate 7-4, if I said July 4th, 1776 and you would know it was the date when we claimed our Independence, but it was 4-19, or April 19th, the year before when the shot was heard around the world. From Concord, Lexington all of Europe heard a people who refused to live under the control of England. Our actual independence didn’t take place until 1783, seven years later. If I said, 12-7, translated December 7th, 1941 you would know that was a day that would “live in infamy” when 2,403 of our military were caught off guard at Pearl Harbor and sent to a watery death; nearly half of them alone, died on the USS Arizona; but it was 9/2 or September 2nd, 1945 when the Japanese officially surrendered, ironically, on the deck of the Missouri, four years later. Numbers, history, violence, fear and wars are observed in the red stripes of the flag, but they are temporal, for that occasion.
This 9/11 should be a day to which all Americans stop and recognize the sacrifices that were made to earn our freedom, but we are a country of free wills where people must decide. This leads us to the essence of what it means to be an American. We are people of protest, ambition and ingenuity. Most importantly we believe that every person who cannot defend themselves deserves a fighting chance and that to attack the innocent and the unguarded by striking terror is immoral. An American will go to any length to save the life of another. At least that is what it used to mean. Maybe we have disconnected and become a foolish nation because we have turned our eyes away from the Cross?
The scriptures today continuously relate to the Father who laments that his children are stupid, making foolish decisions and decree there is no God. How foolish indeed and we have history to prove it. They turn their backs on Him and decide to take for granted the peace that came, from, “In God we trust.” Today, there will be professional athletes who are refusing to pledge allegiance to that flag because it represents an America they do not respect or honor (i.e., NFL players) to make their point. If the Cross is not seen in this movement, it will not be honored and it will pass away. But if it is truly a decision made to go after the lost and the least, out of great sacrifice then it is a great deed.
Jesus gives the example in his parables today about the Good Shepherd who will do whatever it takes to go and find the one who is lost. He is not afraid to go out in the dark, to go a great distance, to make a great sacrifice to bring his little one back into safety. Sometimes it may cost the shepherd his own life. Then there is the widow who will scour the house to find the one coin out of the ninety-nine because of its worth.
The flag that waves today should be honored because it is a sign of people who went to rescue others who were given no worth. Americans have always stood up for others, to protect and defend. But this is for now, temporal if we ever lose the connection between God and country. This nation will fall into the ash heap if it turns away and rejects God’s commands. Have we gotten there yet? As long as there are those of us still standing, with the breath and the resiliency to risk it all then we should have hope; for we are all sinners and we were the lost sheep; we were the one coin and God rendered us worthy. Somewhere along this temporal line we balanced the stripes of sacrifice and the cost of peace.
We know who we are because we watched a man who was persecuted on a date, to which we have no number, and rushed onto a cross that burned with hate and guile and sin. He then rose above it, he rose above the ash and forever changed the course of human history. It doesn’t mean the hot wind will stop blowing from the desert and threaten to destroy us; on the contrary you can count on it to blow whenever there are those who are foolish enough to turn their backs and take down the flags of this great nation truly reflects the God of our fathers. When it comes again, we do not know, but it will come and like the flag whose stripes have lost their meaning, like a building that has no true foundation, it is vulnerable and will fall to the ground.
When we look upon the flag, be reminded of all the accounts of the unique character of what it means to be an American. We live not for the temporal of the flag that lives for now, but for the eternal devotion to our Lord Jesus, who lives forever.
 The Rev. Jon Roberts
 Jeremiah 4:11
 Psalm 14
 Luke 15:1-10