Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Talk of the Cross--Sermon based on Luke 9:18-36

I preached this sermon on Sunday, February 10, 2013, Transfiguration Sunday.

Let us pray: Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

For today and for the next few weeks, I’ll be drawing our scripture texts from the lectionary, but the reading we just heard actually starts well before the lectionary passage. Today is the celebration of the Transfiguration, the last Sunday before Lent, when we hear again the story of Jesus on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, transformed with the glory of God before heading back down to do the work of his ministry. That’s the lectionary story. However, for a reason which escaped me as I tried to write this sermon, I decided to start a little earlier, eight days before the Transfiguration. I think maybe I was struck by the fact that Jesus mentions the cross, although he had only just moments before declared for the first time that he would be killed. Given that the Gospels were written well after Jesus had in fact gone to the cross, perhaps no one thought much of it. Here we are, about to start our Lenten journey in a few short days, and the cross already looms in front of us.
Not only does it loom in front of us, we’re apparently supposed to go ahead and get our own to carry along the way. Here’s where my “why the heck did I pick this passage again?” question really kicks in. I have been wrestling with this passage, and particularly the line I selected as our memory verse, all week. If it wasn’t for that memory verse and the fact that it’s printed in your bulletins, I might have ditched the whole idea and just done a lovely Transfiguration story, something fun and exciting and shiny before we hit the seriousness of Lent next Sunday. But alas, it was not to be, and so here I am, preaching on Jesus telling us to take up our own cross to follow him.
To begin with, let’s get some potential misconceptions out of the way. First, taking up the cross does not simply mean to carry a burden. It is now a common term of phrase to say, “That’s my cross to bear” in reference to something painful or troublesome, whether it be a chronic illness or a difficult family member. That is not what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about something very intentional we choose to pick up and carry. Second, we need to remember what the cross represented in Jesus’ time. It has become for us a symbol of hope and faith, something with which we decorate the church and wear on jewelry. Back then, however, it was an instrument of not only death, but torture and humiliation. It was a means of execution, but more hangman’s noose or guillotine than electric chair because it was so public.
So what does Jesus mean, then, when he tells those who wish to become his disciples to each take up her or his own cross each day and follow him? Well, ask me again after another year or twenty of wrestling with it, but here’s what I’m thinking today: It’s not about you. That’s what Jesus is saying. Get over yourself. It’s not about you.
We live in a culture obsessed with self-improvement and self-esteem and self-help and self-everything. It’s all about the individual. Rugged individualism is what we called it in my anthropology classes in college. The Marlboro Man-type. Then there’s the “Me” generation. We can have just about everything personalized just the way we want it. The American dream is for a single person to overcome the obstacles and pull him- or herself up by the bootstraps to success—success, of course, being defined usually as personal wealth or achievement or status—and those who can’t do it without help are lacking somehow. We are supposed to take every advantage we can, even pushing moral and ethical limits, to come out on top. We’re also supposed to be strong, show no signs of weakness, give no one else dominance over us.
Then there’s Jesus, saying, you want to be my follower? Really? Then realize it’s not all about you. Deny yourself. Forget what the world tells you, because what good will it be to have everything in the world but not what I can give you?
We want so badly not to hear this message. We want so badly to believe those who preach the prosperity gospel, who tell us that Jesus wants us to have whatever we want. We hear the Good News that Jesus loves us and that grace can’t be earned by good works and we start letting ourselves off the hook, telling ourselves we can be self-sufficient and self-serving and still call ourselves Christians. We start looking at Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior and assuming that means we can personalize his message to make it something that works for us each as individuals.
Jesus says no. Jesus says to save our lives we must lose them. We must deny ourselves, and follow where he has led, cross and all. We must be willing to be vulnerable, like he was. Willing to offer our whole selves to God, no matter what anyone else says or does or how inadequate we feel. That’s what the cross is, I think. Vulnerability, accepting that to follow Christ is to open ourselves up to being hurt and misunderstood and ridiculed by others. It is comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Speaking truth to power and grace to brokenness. Taking up our cross and following Christ daily means loving as he loved. Forgiving when we have every reason not too. Working our tails off for people and causes which most people ignore or have forgotten or say aren’t important. Offering our time and money in ways that will not benefit us at all. Making time and space for growing our relationship with God when we really want to just do what we feel like: hitting the snooze button, zoning out in front of the TV, shopping. It means doing things that scare us and make us uncomfortable and anxious and are just not “our things” because they are the things that we should do for the least of these among our brothers and sisters just as we’d do them for Christ. Realizing that we are not rugged individuals but parts of a whole Creation and community, in relationship with one another. Acknowledging that our actions do not occur in a vacuum but affect others, and that inaction does the same. Taking up the cross means every day trying to become the person God is calling us to be, exposing more and more of our truth and light in everything we do, and in turn revealing each day a bit more of the realm of God.
Carrying the cross and following Jesus’ Way leads to death, to be sure. Death of worldly expectations, death of self-interest, death of that which holds us back from fully living into God’s desires for each of us and for all of Her creation. But that cross, that cross. An instrument of torture and humiliation and death, transformed. Transfigured by God’s glory, as Jesus was on that mountain. To carry the cross and follow Christ is to die, yes, but also to be resurrected. To be given new life. To see the realm of God.
It is not an easy task. It is a call on our lives with which I know I will continue to wrestle, which I will question and doubt and probably even grumble about. Maybe you will too. But that’s one good thing about church. We can do it together. And when those crosses we pick up each day do feel a little heavy, do begin to feel like burdens, we can help each other carry them. Even Jesus had help carrying his cross. Amen.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments:

Post a Comment