March 8, 2009
Carrying the Cross
Quit talking like that, Jesus. You are too negative. It is not good for the morale of the group.
Peter felt like he could say that to Jesus. After all, he and his brother Andrew had made considerable sacrifice to follow Jesus. They had left their thriving fishing business and the security of their Galilean home in response to Jesus invitation. They had staked their very lives on the assumption that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, the one who would restore the fortunes of Israel and save the people.
Everything they had seen up to this point would indicate that their sacrifices were a good investment. Evidences of the reign of God abounded in the life and work of Jesus. They had watched with excitement as Jesus cast out demons, healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, taught with authority, calmed the storm, raised a young girl to life, fed the multitude, walked on the water, opened the eyes of the blind, made the deaf hear. These were only the foretaste of the coming end of suffering, poverty and oppression of every kind.
Then Jesus began to talk in a way that must have shook Peter and the others to the very foundation. Jesus began to teach them that he would suffer, be rejected and killed and after three days be raised. I am not sure they ever really heard the part about being raised.
Peter takes Jesus aside and puts his around him. "Jesus, buddy. Let me give you a piece of advice. Suffering, rejection and death, these are not high on the agenda. Folks around here are more into the messiah having prestige, power and dominion. We signed on here for a crown, not a cross."
When we think about it, this is a sign of a true friend. We often say our friends are the ones who accept us as we are and love us. But true friends care enough to ask the hard questions, they love us enough to say so when they think we are wrong. Real love helps us grow and change even if that means rebuking us or challenging us or risking hurt feelings.
Peter had that kind of relationship with Jesus where he felt close enough and comfortable enough to set him straight. To correct him.
And Jesus argued back, "Get behind me Satan. Shut up already. You are missing my entire point."
The stakes go up drastically in this conversation. Jesus goes on to say, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
Suddenly they are confronted with the reality that there is more to being a disciple than listening to Jesus teach, watching him feed the hungry and heal the sick.
That is the thing about relationship. We sign on for the fun stuff, the good times. We never really understand what we are getting into until we are there. Did you know what you were signing on for when you said, "I do." Or when you had kids. Or when you said, "I believe."
Personally, I'm with Peter. I wish our faith would protect us from suffering, make us acceptable, give us victory over whatever threatens us? Promised suffering, bearing crosses, losing one's life ~ that will not sell. This is no way to win the world and gain followers! Why would anyone follow a Christ who is to be crucified? We have enough suffering and rejection without this! Peter's objection is as honest and personal as our own instinct for self-preservation, our own longing for security and health and life.
And Peter's personal agenda for the Messiah keeps him from seeing what the Messiah's own agenda might be. Like Peter, we often know what must be done and even a word from Jesus cannot dissuade us. Blinded by our prejudices, presuppositions and preconceptions of the way things ought to be, we cannot be convinced otherwise. Even if someone is raised from the dead.
So Jesus calls us to the cross and calls us to follow. Because only a crucified Messiah reveals God as a suffering, vulnerable God. Only those who stand beneath the cross and watch him suffer and die will be convinced that at the heart of the universe, the very center of reality, is One who enters into our suffering, our pain, our life.
But we are not always sure we really want that. We want an invincible God, a Super God, who shields us from our own vulnerability. That is the God we worship ~ invincible, self-sufficient, controlling, an all powerful one who shares divine power with us. "Immortal, invincible, God only wise" that is the God we consider worthy of worship and emulation.
The Bible bears witness to another God, a God who hears the cries of the poor, who defends the orphans and widows and the immigrants, a God who suffers with the people, a God who comes among us as a vulnerable baby, born among the homeless, spent his early years as an immigrant, lived a common life, associated with the outcasts, compared receiving the kingdom to a little child, executed as a criminal, buried in a borrowed tomb. Even when he was raised from the dead he was mistaken for a grave digger and a beach comer.
This is God! Only those who follow all the way to the cross know the depth of this God's love, the expanse of this God's presence, the power of this God's purpose!
We follow as people of hope. We live on the other side of the cross from Peter. What Jesus hinted to Peter at Caesarea Philippi happened. The Crucified One is the Risen One. We know who won!
We understand Peter's objections. They are our objections, too. But we know that the one who calls us to take up our cross goes with us all the way to the cross and beyond.
Jesus said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
When faced with overwhelming odds -- or just with our own limitations, those who take up their cross and follow Jesus do not loose heart -- because we know that there is --
a power beyond --
a power beyond the cross --
a power beyond our sin --
a power beyond our limitations, our helplessness, our weakness. It is the power of God to bring life from death, to bring healing from disease, to bring wholeness from our brokenness. We take up our cross when we embrace our sinful selves, accept our limitations and follow Christ beyond them.
Only when we accept Jesus for who he is can we understand who we are to be.
Sermon by Bishop Kenneth L. Carder, Why Follow Christ?, September 14, 1997.
Feasting on the Word. Lent 2B