February 25, 2018

Each week, I ask the Holy Spirit to help me know what God’s message is to us. But each week I am uncertain whether God is offering us the words of comfort or the words that challenge us to follow. Am I called to share God’s love for us, the message that gives us comfort when we have great difficulties, the knowledge that Jesus is with us during our times of trial? All of us come to church bearing burdens, seeking God’s solace. Jesus spoke about his comforting presence in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 11:28-30), “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Today’s gospel is a reminder of the love that Jesus has for us. Jesus said that he would “undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed.” All of this he did because he loves us and was willing to give his life for us. But sometimes, the gospel is sharp. It comes to us as a challenge or perhaps a warning. We are told that following Jesus is a difficult path. Today’s gospel falls into that second category. Jesus is blunt. In a more common translation, Jesus didn’t rebuke Peter, he told him to shut up. Their exchange was not friendly. Get behind me, Satan, he said to Peter. If you want to follow me, take up your cross he said to the crowd. You will gain nothing if you obtain all the wealth of this world, rather you will lose your life and I will be ashamed of you when I rejoin God the Father in heaven. Peter had the unique ability to make great pronouncements one minute and to get himself in big trouble the next minute. It makes Peter a good example for us. He tried hard to do the right thing but often he made mistakes. Jesus never gave up on Peter and Peter became the head of the church. Peter had just proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah. I think Peter’s pronouncement had a different meaning to him and the other apostles than it does to us today. Perhaps they thought that Jesus would become a king like his long ago ancestor David. That is why, when Jesus declared that he would be crucified, Peter jumped up and said, don’t be saying that Jesus. Jesus knew Peter was wrong. He didn’t come to kick the Romans out of Israel. Jesus wasn’t going to lead some army against their foes. Instead Jesus wanted them to understand his messiahship was something totally different. Jesus’ message was about how we give up the things of the earth and instead focus on the things of God. It was a hard message for the apostles to hear and it is a hard message for us to live today. What does it mean? Well I don’t think that Jesus wants all of us to live in a monastery. This past week at the clergy retreat we spent a lot of time in the prayers of those who lived in the Benedictine monastery. Benedictine monasticism proclaims communal prayers eight times each day. We offered prayers about four times on Wednesday. The prayers were wonderful but I would not be able to do that every day. Jesus often went off by himself to pray. But Jesus wasn’t a hermit. Jesus lived among the people, teaching and healing and sharing a meal. I think taking up the cross means something other than being a monk. What does it mean to say that I will take up the cross and follow Jesus? C. S. Lewis offered this “Some people when they say that a thing is meant metaphorically conclude from this point that it is hardly meant at all. They rightly think that Christ spoke metaphorically when he told us to carry the cross; they wrongly conclude that carrying a cross is nothing more than living a respectable life and subscribing moderately to charities.” We don’t have to actually carry a cross but it isn’t about being nice either. William Temple was the Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II and he offered this suggestion, “The principle of sacrifice is that we choose to do or suffer what apart from our love we should not choose to do or to suffer”. Some people use the expression “That is my cross to bear” when they refer to a difficult situation in their life. It might mean that they have a difficult relationship with another person or a job that they don’t like or an illness that will not go away. I would say Jesus wasn’t thinking that taking up your cross meant that you would experience difficult things in your life, even though we often do. When Jesus said take up your cross I think he was telling the apostles that they should be willing to die for Jesus. They would proclaim the gospel of Jesus even though others threatened them. The apostles would be killed for sharing their faith. Today, there are Christian martyrs who stand up for their faith despite the political or social environment they live in. Christians in Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan face the pressure of persecution every day. I have been a follower of Jesus since the day I was born. I have never faced persecution as a Christian. So, what does taking up our cross mean to you and I. Let’s look at Peter one more time. When Jesus was arrested and about to be crucified, Peter followed at a distance. He entered the courtyard nearby and three times he was asked if he knew Jesus. Three times he said no, I do not know the man. When Peter was with Jesus in Galilee, it was easy to follow Jesus, easy to declare him the Messiah. But Peter fell down when difficult times came. Have you ever struggled with your faith in difficult times? Have you refused to acknowledge Jesus? Have any of us stood by and let others make false statements about Jesus? Jesus told us that we are to care for the poor, the hungry, the naked, the sick and those in prison. Have we ever forgotten to help those in need? Have we ever found ourselves enjoying the fruits of the earth so much that we forget what Jesus wanted us to do? All of us want to be wealthy, to be strong, to be successful and to be able to influence others. If we let those wishes keep us from doing what Jesus taught us, we deny him. Jesus always served others. Taking up our cross is dying to our selfish wishes and living for Jesus while serving others. C. Clifton Black is a professor of Biblical Studies who wrote that “Christian faith is not a life-style choice; it is a vocation to never-ending struggle. By lying about Jesus and the truth of the gospel, we deny the truth about ourselves. Rejecting the Son of Man, desperately trying to save our own lives, we lose ourselves -- just as he assured us we would (8:35-37). Only by giving ourselves to others as Jesus gave himself for us (10:45) will we ever find ourselves.” Our other readings for today are about faith. Abraham had faith that God would be with him. Abraham fell on his face before God trusting that God would take care of him and God did, giving both Abraham and Sarah a son even in their old age. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that Abraham did not receive God’s promise because he followed the commandments, the law. Rather, Abraham received God’s promise because of his faith. Jesus strong words in the gospel about taking up our cross are for our own good. Jesus wants us to be faithful. Take up your cross means that we trust that God will lead us on the right path. Our job is to give up the things of this earth and focus on the things of God. When we follow God through Jesus Christ we are destined to have that peace which only God can give us. We are comforted. That is why we take up our cross, to receive God’s peace and to receive the hope of the resurrection. It is the promise Jesus gave to those who follow him. Amen.

Last modified on Wednesday, 28 February 2018 22:51

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