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Take Up Your Cross

Sermon for February 25, 2024 – Lent 2 – Gospel Reading: Mark 8:31-38

To be clear, Jesus did not come to die. Jesus came to bring God down to earth to show us the way of love and to bring us safely Home. It just so happens, that in order to achieve such a feat, death had to be part of the equation.

Likewise, we were not born to carry crosses. We were born to love God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength; and, to love others as ourselves. It just so happens, that in order to achieve this way of life, it will require of us to die to self and to take up our crosses. This is the way of Christ; the path that leads to Easter and beyond.

Christ never promised that His way of life would be easy but He did promise that it would be worth it in the end; that it will be worth it in the here and now. The Christian life requires a different way of thinking and living in the world.

We hear in Peter’s voice in today’s Gospel reading this conflict between the way human beings think and the way God thinks. Jesus tells His disciples that He must undergo great suffering, and be rejected, and be killed, and after three days rise again. Peter, in his humanness of preconceived notions of what a Messiah SHOULD be, rebukes Jesus. He rebukes Jesus because in his mind, a Messiah, should be a strong and mighty warrior. Someone whose wisdom and power can defeat the forces that were oppressing the Jewish people. He certainly did not expect or want, a Messiah that would be – at least in his mind – defeated.

A Messiah that suffers? Probably. A Messiah that is rejected? Sure, that’s probably part of the whole “king” package. But KILLED! No way can this be right! If their king is to be killed, where would that leave the Jewish people and where would that leave all of Jesus’ disciples – the ones who have left family and home to follow Him? “If Jesus is to be killed,” Peter was thinking, “then where does that leave me?”

Notice Peter’s selective hearing; and perhaps ours as well. In all that Jesus said in this one long densely packed sentence, Peter stops listening right after Jesus says that He must be killed. It is a bit comical, really, because of all the things that Jesus said, it would seem that the part about Him rising from the dead would have been the most shocking; perhaps the one most confusing things Peter should have questioned Jesus about. However, Peter stops listening right after Jesus says that He is to be killed because what Jesus is saying is not meeting Peter’s expectations. 

Do we do the same? That is, when we hear God’s voice speaking into our hearts and we hear God say something different than what we want to hear, do we too stop listening and immediately start objecting? Do we hear God out completely?

Can we be like Abraham in that when God proposed the impossible, he moved forward in faith that what God promises God will fulfill?

For Peter, his mind was still very fixed on the human ways of thinking and not enough on the possibilities and power of God. It is this way of thinking that compelled Jesus to turn and say, “Get behind me, Satan!”

When we stand on this side of the resurrection and look at Peter’s response to Jesus, we may be tempted to think him to be incredibly naïve or blind; however, are we really that far removed from where Peter stood that day?

For us, we KNOW – not suspect – but know that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead. We know through Scripture and 2,000 years of theological study and Christian church history that God is capable of accomplishing much more than we can ever imagine, yet, we are still prone to hold onto human behaviors and ways of thinking that are just as naïve and blind as Peter seemed to have been that day.

When Jesus said, “If any want to become My followers, let them deny themselves and take-up their cross and follow Me.” He was not only talking about patience in the sufferings that life can bring for these are our crosses to bear; what Jesus was saying also – and perhaps more importantly – was that to take up a cross we first must deny ourselves of whatever thing we hold-onto. Before the “taking up of our cross”; there first has to be an emptying of one’s hands – a letting go.

We are human so yes; we feel a full range of emotions both healthy and not so healthy. Jesus is not saying that we are not allowed to feel the negative emotions. What Jesus is saying is that we are not to take hold of them and dwell on them so much so that they soon become part of our being, part of our identity.

We were not made to hate but to love. We were not made to judge or gossip or hold grudges, we were made to reflect the glory of God and none of these toxic types of emotions actually do that for us. We are allowed the space to experience negative human emotions but we are also called to rise above them, to eradicate them from our heart and mind and trust that Christ’s ways are better than our ways; that in all things, God sees what is going on and will take care for us. This is our faith.

The letting go can certainly feel like we are sacrificing part of ourselves in the process, especially if the foreign objects of negativity have become embedded in us. However, in order to pick up our cross and follow Christ, we have to have empty hands. We must have hands that are open and available with the faith of Abraham. We have to be willing to lose our life or our way of thinking – lose our way of processing how we think life SHOULD be and be willing to follow the way Jesus has commanded us to live.

If we listen longer than Peter did, we hear, “I will rise again.” For Christians we believe for every Good Friday there is an Easter Sunday. We believe that life exists beyond the crucified self; a life that provides peace in our core being, peace in our soul. It is a kind of peace that gives us the strength and wisdom to prevail. So, when the world tries to undo us, we will not be moved. We will not be moved because when we lose our life into Christ and the gospel, we become firmly anchored in an unchanging, immoveable God.

The days can be long and challenging but we do not walk this way alone. The trench created by the cross of Jesus as it was dragged to the top of the hill is the path we follow too as we find our way beyond the crucifixion and into the grace-filled Light of Easter. We walk the way of a life made new. This is the direction we are heading with Christ and with one another – and together we will find our way safely Home.

Amen.

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Rev. Elizabeth N. Phillips

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April 2024

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St. Philip's Episcopal Church

6457 Quantico Road
Quantico, MD 21856

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PO Box 92
Quantico, MD 21856

St. Philip's is a proud member of the Episcopal Diocese of Easton