Saturday, 27 August 2011

Our cross today



Matthew 16:21-28

21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Get behind me Satan.
Could Jesus really be addressing these words to Peter?
Get behind me Satan.
Peter, the disciple we read about last week to whom Jesus offered the keys of the kingdom, the disciple on whom Jesus said he would build the church.
Peter, who walked on water.
Peter. who recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Peter, now being told by Jesus: Get behind me Satan.

What on earth is going on?
I’d like to challenge us all, today, with the thought, that what was going on with Peter is what assails all of us every day.
Peter was simply not taking the challenge of following Jesus seriously enough.
Peter had not counted the cost of following Jesus.
And so, once Jesus starts to reinforce the teaching, a teaching he has promoted from the beginning, but which his disciples have not taken seriously, once Jesus starts to elaborate on that teaching - that discipleship involves hardship, his disciples try to deflect him and brush off his abrasive call to sacrifice.
It’s a very human trait – to try to make light of challenging circumstances – a useful coping mechanism – one that we all employ from time to time.
But Jesus needed his disciples to wake up and appreciate just how much was being asked of them.
Jesus needed them to fully grasp the cost of discipleship.


As I studied this text this week, I was forced to smile.
Because it struck me that, really, here in this gospel reading, is everything we try hard to steer clear of in the church.
For instance, I’m always banging on about us being a welcoming community.
An accepting community.
A community that shares joy and sorrow and that is supportive through all that life brings.
A community founded on the love of God.
A community that celebrates the joy that God gives and the light that God brings into the darkest corners of our lives.

So – if I was to write an advert for Castlehill Church – it would be along the lines of:
Come and be part of a real, fun loving, friendly bunch of people, who, together, are learning to love and serve God.
Each week, as a benediction, I exhort all of you to go to love and to serve God by loving and serving each other.

This week’s gospel, however, had me wondering about that.
For in this gospel, Jesus is not telling his disciples about the fun they’ll have.
He is not telling them about the friends they will make.
He is asking them to take up a cross.
, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
What kind of invitation is that?
It’s certainly NOT the kind of discipleship that we advertise.

And THAT, says Jesus is the problem.
Faith is NOT a walk in the park.
Discipleship is NOT easy.
And perhaps the reason Jesus was so harsh with Peter was because even Jesus, himself was tempted to take an easier route.
Even Jesus might have preferred to continue on the adventure he was embarked on with his disciples.
Surely, together, they could have sustained that for a bit longer, had some fun, retained the adulation of the crowds and upped the ante with the authorities.
But Jesus knew that that was not God’s will.
Jesus knew that there could be no happy ending.
Jesus knew that the ONLY way was the way of the cross.
And, however tempting it might be to give all that a body swerve, Jesus knew there was only one way to achieve the salvation of the world – and that was – by his death on a cross.
But, for us, that IS THE GOOD NEWS.
Jesus obedience, his persistence, his refusing to be turned aside from God’s mission, his going all the way to the cross, means that we, as Jesus’ followers today, have no need to look for a cross to carry.
Discipleship, for us today, while not an easy task, is nothing compared to what was being demanded of Jesus.
Discipleship, for us, IS encapsulated in the benediction we share every week – loving and serving God by loving and serving each other.
Discipleship calls us to obediently give of ourselves in serving our neighbour.
But we must never underestimate the cost and the effectiveness of such service.
We are not being asked to die – Jesus has already done that for all of us.
But we are being asked to live lives dedicated to serving God and those around us in love.
And, you know only too well that that is a task that is much more difficult than it sounds.
That kind of discipleship involves truly loving even the most unlovable folk we encounter in every day life.
It involves us loving and serving the grouchy, the miserable, the ungrateful, the down right awkward folk we encounter every day (and that’s just our fellow Christians!)– all in order to be obedient to Jesus’ call to take up our cross and follow him.
No, we don’t need to go looking for crosses to take up – we are presented with them every day – and Jesus calls for us to be obedient in responding with love to every challenge we encounter.
THAT is discipleship.
So, maybe the kind of advert we’d like to promote to encourage others to join us in God’s mission here in Castlehill Church doesn’t sound so bad.
Maybe it is Ok to advertise ourselves as a welcoming community.
An accepting community.
A community that shares joy and sorrow and that is supportive through all that life brings.
A community founded on the love of God.
A community that celebrates the joy that God gives and the light that God brings into the darkest corners of our lives.

But maybe you and I need to wake up to how much it takes to BE that kind of community.
It is EXTREMELY hard work.
It will not come easily.
It will take a lot of effort.
But, together, we can be obedient to Jesus’ call to be disciples.

So - Let’s write that advert for Castlehil church:
Come and be part of a real, fun loving, friendly bunch of people, who, together, are learning to love and serve God.
And let’s take that benediction seriously: to go to love and to serve God by loving and serving each other.

For the glory of God.
Amen.

1 comment:

ElastiGirl said...

Love it Liz! A gentle call to action and community. Thanks for sharing!