Such a contrast…
As the Son of God, God’s chosen One, the Anointed, the Messiah was making the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life for the whole world, at that very moment, the Roman soldiers were rolling the dice and gambling for his clothes – having their own little “Casino at the Cross.” Such a contrast!
More than the soldiers’ indifference in the face of such suffering (after all, for them this was just another crucifixion, just another Jewish religious nut), more than their greed in the midst of such sacrifice, there is a contrast between two ways of looking at life: the casino and the cross.
The one way of looking at life says, “Life is just a roll of the dice…Sometimes you get lucky…Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.” There is no meaning to it all – life is just chance – fate – a role of the dice.
Life is just an accident. No meaning. No purpose. No design. Just chance. That attitude leads to gambling, but it also leads to despair, hopelessness, and greed. It’s like the bumper stickers I have seen on the road. On a big SUV, it said, “The one who collects the most toys before he dies, wins.”
That’s the way of the casino – life is meaningless; life is just chance; life is just a roll of the dice. Life has no design, no purpose, no direction. So…just grab all the gusto you can, accumulate all the toys you can get, roll the dice and try to get lucky.
That’s the way of the casino.
The other way of looking at life is the way of the cross. Jesus gave his life on the cross because he believed it was part of a divine plan, a divine purpose. The cross represents a way of looking at life that sees purpose, meaning, design and direction. Life is not just an accident, life is guided by God’s Spirit and God’s design.
More than that, the way of the cross is the way of giving not gambling. It is the way of offering not taking. It is the way of loving not accumulating. The way of the cross, the way of Jesus, is a way of living that believes in giving, and sharing, and loving, and caring.
Such a contrast.
The way of the casino leads people to try to beat the odds, to be a winner by making everyone else a loser. The way of the cross leads people to sacrifice, to serve, to be willing to “lose” so that everyone can “win.”
We can see this contrast all around us in our culture today.
The way of the casino is evident in the gambling industry, even in the stock market, and even in the state government. I’ve served in the Dakotas and in Indiana, and all three states are addicted to the money received from the gaming and gambling industry. The citizens of these three states are also addicted to having their taxes reduced by a government that doesn’t simply regulate gambling, it has to advocate and promote gambling so that more people will gamble, so the state will get more money!
Gambling isn’t wrong simply because it’s immoral, it’s also wrong because it is unfair – those who can least afford to be taxed are paying extra “taxes” by gambling, which the gaming industry gladly collects for the state at a 50% cost. And gambling is wrong because it teaches people a view of life that is filled with despair, hopelessness, and greed.
It is the way of the casino. It is the way of the Roman soldiers at the cross. They missed the whole meaning of the cross, and most of our culture is missing it today, too.
But we are gathered here today because we are the people of the cross, we are the people who want to follow Jesus and his way of living. We are here because we believe that life is not about taking, life is about giving. We are here because we believe that life has meaning, purpose, design, direction. We are the people who value sacrifice and service and self-giving.
We are the people who believe that the ultimate victory in life is not winning the roll of the dice. No, the ultimate victory in life comes from the cross, not the casino.
And so we gather here on Good Friday to remember One whose life was dedicated to the divine plan, to the divine purpose. We gather to remember One who willingly gave his life for others. We gather to remember One whose life demonstrates self-giving. We gather here to remember One whose life was so attuned to the plans and purposes of God that he willingly followed that plan and purpose… all the way to the cross.
We also come here hoping to fine such a plan and purpose in our lives, hoping to catch something of the self-giving attitude of Jesus, hoping to live our lives with some of his dedication and service.
I want to believe that my life has meaning and purpose – don’t you?
I want to believe that God has a plan for me; that I am here, in this place, following God’s leadership and guidance.
I have choices to make about that – and I don’t always follow God’s plan completely. But I know that God has a design, and a purpose for my life.
The soldiers missed it – they cast lots, gambled, and tried to be “winners.” But they missed it…
They missed the real victory that was happening, not at the casino, but on the cross.
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.