Take Up Your Cross

 

The text for this sermon is Mark 8:31-38.  Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on March 8, 2009, the Second Sunday in Lent.

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

You may remember the comedian Yakov Smirnoff.  When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores.  He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk – you just add water, and you get milk.  Then I saw powdered orange juice – you just add water, and you get orange juice.  And I saw baby powder, and I thought to my self, “What a country!”

 

Smirnoff is joking but we have some Christians today who think that becoming a follower of Christ should happen instantly too.  They just feel that  when someone gives his or her life to Christ, there are going to be immediate and miraculous changes in ones habits, attitudes and character.  So going to church must be like going to the grocery store.  Powdered Christians.  Just add water and voila, you are a full-fledged disciple of Jesus!  It is so easy.

 

Well, it doesn’t work that way.  Disciples of Jesus Christ are raised slowly through many trials, suffering and temptations.  We call this “the way of the cross” and  today, I believe, the Lord wants us to hear this message anew.

 

There are many churches today that shy away from the way of the cross.  Oh they certainly teach and believe that Jesus went to the cross.  But the part they fail to emphasize is what Jesus said about his followers also taking up  crosses too.  You see, crosses make folks uncomfortable.  Many would rather think about the happy times in Jesus’ life and in our own lives too.  Churches that emphasize prosperity and possibility thinking and being happy and living the good life seem to attract great crowds of folks these days.  Who wants to think about suffering and shame and persecution and rejection?  Man, that’s hard to sell.

 

Then we  hear the words of Jesus from today’s gospel reading, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” 

 

What does carrying a cross entail?  It is not just enduring pain and hardship in this life, as hard as that may be at times.  It is suffering solely from our commitment to Jesus Christ.  It’s even more than suffering for the sake of Christ; it also involves rejection for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Have you ever gone beyond your comfort zone and stood up for Jesus?  Have you ever been ridiculed by someone because you chose to act in a Christ-like way?  If you cannot say “yes” to these questions, why not? 

 

Our gospel reading today is recorded in the exact middle of the gospel of Mark.  For the first time Jesus talks about the cross and suffering that will lead to his own suffering and death.  We heard Peter’s reaction to this news.  He’s horrified and immediately rejects it.  So we hear Jesus pointedly telling Peter to either get behind him or get out of the way.  This is the way God has determined that the salvation of the world will occur.

 

One Bible commentator has called Mark’s Gospel an “Apology for the Cross.”  The word “apology” comes from the Greek, meaning “explanation of” or “defense of.”  So in this second half of Mark’s Gospel, we  hear what the cross  means for Jesus: Jesus predicts his passion/ one of his closest disciples betrays him/ the rest forsake him/ the leading one denies him/ the Jewish authorities condemn him/the crowd yells for his crucifixion.

 

I pray that you know that when we speak of the cross, we are really talking about discipleship.  When Jesus tells Peter, “get behind me, Satan,” he is really saying to Peter, “Don’t follow the ways of the devil or the popular ways of the world; follow me and I will show you the way of the Father.”  Here comes some of the call to discipleship that is evidenced in today’s readings: follow me even when it is difficult and doesn’t entirely make sense; trust me and live as if you believe that my promises are true.  If you do, I promise you this: you will have a place with me forever in my Father’s kingdom. 

 

In the Louvre in Paris, you can see one of  Rambrandt’s paintings of the crucifixion.  He did something very unusual and very memorable in that painting.  Among the faces in the crowd beneath the cross of Jesus, he painted himself.  Those who know can readily see his face.  We believe that this was Rembrandt’s way of saying that he could not envision the crucifixion without admitting he had participated in it too.  I believe that is true of all us here today.  Our continuing sins are why Jesus went through his sufferings and death.  Now we take up our crosses in grateful recognition of this sacrifice.   And we  take up our crosses in order to participate with Christ in suffering for the sake of the world.  UMC Pastor Larry Linville expresses it this way:

 

            Are you ready to bear your cross?

            Must Jesus bear the cross alone,

            And all the world go free?

            No, there’s a cross for everyone,

            And there’s a cross for me.

 

In every Lutheran church you will always find a cross that is in central position in the place of worship.  Why do you think that is?  Martin Luther said it best: “The cross is our theology.”

 

Thank you, Lord Jesus.  Amen.