Today is the second Sunday in Lent and we once again find ourselves standing in the crossroads, trying to figure out which way our path lies, what direction to take in our lives. We know that Jesus calls us to follow him as his disciples, calls us into ministry, last week the invitation was re-issued and we found out that not only are we called to follow Jesus into ministry, we are called to follow him on the road to Jerusalem. We are called to follow him to the cross. Today’s scripture kind of slaps us in the face and lets us know just exactly what going to Jerusalem means. This is not a fun road trip with Jesus and the gang. This is serious business.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[i] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words[j] in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
May God bless to our understanding the Words that we hear today.
Will you pray with me please? May the Words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
In today’s gospel lesson we hear the first of three predictions that Jesus shares with his disciples concerning his impending death. Mark lets us know how important this moment is because he tells us that Jesus did not speak to them in parables but that he spoke plainly to them. This was an important message that he needed them to hear and to understand what he is saying to them. But, as so often happens, they hear him, but they don’t understand him.
In Epiphany we heard Jesus' invitation to the disciples to FOLLOW ME. They dropped everything and followed. But now, in Lent, it seemed like Jesus is changing the rules in mid-stream. The disciples, and especially Peter, didn't really understand what Jesus was talking about when He talked about dying and rising again. That particular message was one they didn’t want to hear, and Peter was going to have none of it. We don’t know what Peter said to Jesus, only that he rebuked him, or in today’s language, he called him out.
Peter is mad and who could blame him. He left everything to follow this man and just as he and the other disciples are starting to get what is going on, really starting to believe that this man was truly the son of God, the one who could change everything for them, the one who could change the world, he starts talking about dying, and that would ruin everything! I can imagine Peter’s bewilderment; I have no problem imagining his sense of anxiety and frustration.
Now usually when Peter has one of his “take foot and insert into mouth” moments Jesus stops what he is doing and finds a way to explain what is going on. But not this time, this time Jesus gets mad and he rebukes right back! “Get behind me Satan! You don’t have in mind God’s concerns but human concerns.” In other words, Peter, shut your mouth, this is not about you and your wants and needs. This is not about you understanding or not understanding, this is not about your expectations. This is not about me, this is not about what I want. This is about God and what God wants! You need to get out of my way, either get behind me or back me up. And with that he turns to everyone else who is around, the disciples and the crowd that has followed and he issues this ultimatum, the Final word on what it means to be his follower “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
There it is? You want to know what is expected of you? Right there. But just like the disciples, and just like every other Christian down through the ages, we have trouble understanding what Jesus means when he says TAKE UP YOUR CROSS.
We talk about bad habits being a cross to bear. We laughingly lift up a friend or a child or a spouse as at particular cross to bear. A lingering illness may be mentioned as someone’s cross to bear but those aren't really crosses. They are burdens that are heavy and weigh us down, but I don’t think that is what Jesus is talking about here.
So, what does it mean to pick up your cross? Is Jesus asking for our death here, asking us to sacrifice our lives. No….and yes…we are not being asked to die. But we are being asked to sacrifice our spiritual selves…to take up our cross is to have a chance to look at the things that we value in life. To take up our cross means that we understand what it means to take on the name of Christian. That we strive to get rid of those things in our lives that are harmful and wasteful, that we are selfless instead of selfish. To pick up our cross means that we understand just exactly what our profits will be if we do and exactly what our losses will be if we don’t.
It is estimated that the cross that the Roman’s used for crucifixions was approximately 6 feet across and 11 feet tall and weighed well over 100 lbs. To pick up a cross was no easy feat. It took effort and stamina. When I started thinking about that 6 x 11 cross I started thinking about what it would mean to pick up something like that and carry it with me every day. When your hands are full of “Cross” there are just naturally things that you have to give up because you can’t hold both cross and other. When you have a cross in your hands, weighing down your shoulders, you think twice before you set it down because picking it up gets harder and harder each time. When you put it down you put it down for the important stuff, you put it down to do the things that matter to God and not to you.
What does it mean to take up your cross? To me, it means to live like the person of faith that I say that I am. We carry the cross not because it is a burden but because we can. We carry the cross not to feel put upon but to feel privileged that we have a daily reminder of how we are to act and speak and do in the world. I think that when we carry the cross we do more than offer people thoughts and prayers, we actively engage with them to find ways to make the world better. We speak up, we speak out. Last week Michael and I met up with my clergy friends and about 500 other people to stand in front of the NRA in protest and in prayer. To be a visible presence, to show that there are people demanding a change, because silence is consent.
As a Christian I struggle with the idea of profit and loss. What do I profit by remaining silent, what do I lose. Silence leads us to a nation that offers thoughts and prayers. We offer thoughts and prayers to the family of LGBTQI kids who are so bullied for their identification that they choose suicide over life. Instead of offering places of sanctuary and hope and true friendship and love. We offer thoughts and prayers to the areas of the world that are hit with wild fires and hurricanes and flooding and draught but do little to speak up and act on behalf of climate change. We offer thoughts and prayers at the death of another Black life or another Police officer, we draw lines instead of looking deeply at race relations and calling for a better way, a change in our neighborhoods, our society…The list can go on, it does go on and every word I write brings tears to my eyes because I know that all too often I offer thoughts and prayers, too focused on what I perceive to be my profit and loss instead of the profit and loss that Christ calls me to in the name of Christian.
So we are tugged, pulled, dragged into the path of that cross again this Lenten Season
This is my challenge to you this week. I would like you to imagine that right next to your bed is a 6 x11 cross with your name on it. Every morning when you get up, this week, I am going to ask you to pick up that cross before you step out of your bedroom, and I would like you to carry that cross with you all day for the week. At the end of each day, as you set your cross back down, take some time to reflect how that cross go in your way that day. Did it change what you said? Did it change how you acted? Was it a comfort or a burden? Did you lose the world and gain a kindom? Did you live into your name of Christian?
“Take up your cross and follow me” Halleluiah, Amen