Sunday, August 28, 2005

Pentecost 15 - Year A

“Grab your electric chair and follow me.”

How’s that for an invitation?

“Here’s some rope, make a noose out of it, throw it around your neck, and walk behind me.”

Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? It didn’t make sense to the disciples either.

I can sympathize with Jesus’ disciples. Jesus and the disciples were relaxing at Caesarea Philippi – The Romans turned this spot into a sort of resort area, a place where cool breezes from the sea and mountains brush away the desert heat and dust.

Maybe Jesus saw that his team was starting to burn out. They’d been on the road for months, working hard, doing God’s work. Maybe Jesus thought that they should take a few days, kick back with some cold ones, and watch the breeze go by.

Maybe.

It was at this beautiful, relaxing, serene, setting that Jesus drops a bomb. He tells them about the upcoming trip to Jerusalem. He tells them that he won’t get out alive. He tells that that he’ll be arrested, tortured, and executed.

Peter couldn’t believe his ears. “What on earth are you talking about, Jesus? There’s NO WAY I’ll let that happen to you!”

Peter was probably forming a strategy to protect Jesus if the Jerusalem project went badly. Or maybe it was time to re-consider the whole thing. Maybe they should head in the OTHER direction.

It makes sense. They need to protect their leader. To further their cause. To keep the momentum going. If they lose Jesus they lose everything.

But Jesus twists around and the fire in his eyes almost blow them down, he blasts him, “Get thee behind me Satan! This is going to be hard enough without you getting in the way!”

A stunned silence.

Has Jesus lost his mind? He does have options. But he doesn’t seem to see them. Maybe he needs a few more days at the beach. They weren’t doing anything wrong. They were just trying to protect everything they’ve worked for.

If Jesus had listened to them his might have turned out differently. Maybe even settle down and have a family, maybe even make some money; then dying in his bed surrounded by his kids and grandkids.

He would have been remembered as a great teacher, a distinguished thinker, a celebrated philosopher. He would be placed in the annals of those who lived well, leaving behind a legacy of truth that enriched and ennobled humanity. He would have been remembered for how he lived rather than how he died.

But no. Jesus sets his sights on Jerusalem. Knowing that torture and death are waiting for him there.

His disciples desperately want to keep him from the Holy City. They want to keep him as his is – a great teacher, an inspiring preacher, and a renowned healer. They don’t want him to be a martyr. All they have worked for hinges on him.

Think about how crazy this sounds. It would be like if, after a many years of school, your buddy becomes a doctor. The doctor, one day tells you, “It’s time for me to go to the hospital to suffer, bleed, and die for my patients.” What Jesus is saying is just that bizarre.

And I’m sure that some days, the disciples had their fill of Jesus. Sure, he could heal sick folks, stop storms, and walk on water. But he was always telling stories that made no logical sense. He would offer cryptic teachings about how the kingdom of God works. And he would get downright morbid; always bringing up the subject of death. His death. Their death.

“Whoever wants to come after me must first take up their cross and follow me,” Jesus says.

Who wants that? Sometimes it’s hard enough just getting through the day. Life offers enough challenges without going out looking for them.

Some folks believe the cross that Jesus is talking about is any frustrating, annoying, or painful event in one’s life. They point to their back problems as the “cross they must bear” or the boring job that just barely pays the bill, or the teenager next door who blasts her music all night.

Others have abused this message saying that it means that people should accept cruelty with gentle good humour. They’ve told battered women to stay with their husbands because that’s the cross that Jesus gave them. They’ve told people whose children’s bellies are swelling with hunger to accept their lot in this life and they will receive great riches in the next life.

That is NOT what Jesus is talking about. But nor is Jesus talking about a grand adventure.

In seminary, a friend of mine went on an anti-poverty crusade. He used this passage to inspire him and others in their cause. He and his friends were going to end poverty in our community. He would protest and hand out leaflets. He would volunteer at the Soup Kitchen and Food Bank. He would write letters and preach in the streets.

He dreamed about getting arrested. That would be the jewel in his crown. That would show everyone just how committed he was. He was going to sacrifice his freedom for a just cause. He had this romantic notion that if he wound up in jail, just like the disciples, he would be walking the way of Jesus, the way of the cross.

But, later he told me that, if he was honest, dreaming of getting arrested wasn’t as much about walking the way of the cross as much as it was walking the way of glory. He wanted to show the world HIS commitment, not God’s commitment. His life and goal of ending poverty, as laudable as it was, didn’t have as much to do with Jesus as it had to do with presenting himself to the world in a moral crusader. But there is nothing romantic about the cross. The cross is not heroism. There’s nothing sexy about death. The cross is not a thrill ride. The cross is about living a life that matters – a life for Jesus’ sake – and about refusing to put our own comfort and safety ahead of living a life like that.

But Jesus knows the cross is never easy. The cross is making that hard phone call to your brother whom you haven’t talked to since you had that fight so many years ago. The cross is putting down that bottle and helping others to do the same. The cross is finding ways to forgive your spouse, even when forgiveness seems impossible.

The cross is discovering something worth living for, sacrificing for, struggling – even dying - for. The cross is not only a demand placed upon us, but it’s also a gift.

Have you found something in Jesus worth taking up a cross for? Jesus promises that there is something worth everything – even life itself – in following him.

When we take up our cross we discover what life is all about. We discover something worth dying for that is also worth living for. Because the cross it not an end in itself. What Jesus didn’t tell his disciples is that the cross does not end the story. The cross – suffering, even death for the sake of others – leads to new and everlasting life.

So take up your cross – I can’t tell you what shape your cross will be. You have to discover that for yourself. But when you find it you will find that – like Jesus, who gave his life for the life of the world – your cross will show the world God’s love. From the view of the cross, you will see the world as God sees it; bursting with life and joy and freedom.

May this be so among us. Amen.

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