Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

‘If any want to become my followers, 
let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 

Jesus has asked the disciples who they say that he is.
Peter answers that He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
He is rewarded for the answer, and is told that he is the rock on which the church will be built.

Everything is going well.

From 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. 

Imagine what is going through the disciple’s heads at this point.

He teaches us the way of God’s kingdom, he heals the sick, he feeds the hungry out of nothing. He walks on water. He can do anything. He isn’t just some guy, he is the Son of God.
Now he thinks he has to be killed by the religious leaders.
We warned him that he was causing trouble with them.
Surely he doesn’t have to be killed by them?
There must be something he can do.
There must be something we can do.

Peter, who has just been praised so highly, and given the most significant role of the disciples, thinks he must do something. He speaks for the group.
He pulls Jesus aside.
‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 
No Jesus, you’ve got it wrong. You are catastrophizing things. This isn’t what the father expects of you. You have misheard or something.

Peter thinks he is doing the right thing,
but he is in fact actually going along with the very powers that Jesus is challenging.

He is entering in on the issue on a human level not a divine level.

But Jesus turned and said to Peter,
‘Get behind me, Satan!
You are a stumbling-block to me; 

Peter is the rock on which the church will be built, but now he has become a stumbling block.
He is called Satan because what he has said is like what Satan said to Jesus in the desert.
He is pushing a human agenda, not divine one.

for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

Then Jesus told his disciples,
‘If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 
Now we get to the real tough stuff.
It was fine and well Jesus saying he was going to suffer,
but now he is saying that any who want to follow him must be prepared to do so too.

Deny themselves.

Deny themselves what exactly?
To deny oneself of oneself.
To give up your own idea of who you are and find instead who you are in Christ.

The idea of giving up an aspect of ourselves doesn’t come easy.
Jesus is calling us to give up the things that we think are important,
 and replace them with things God thinks are important.
Jesus is calling us to give up the things of the world and replace them with the things of God.
We are called to live differently than the world,
and that means not following the way of the world, but the way of Jesus.

And that is the way of the cross.
Take up your cross and follow me.
What is the cross that Jesus talks of?

Jesus he will take up his cross and he will be killed,
Revealing to everyone how the world acts in the face of love,
How power responds when it is challenged by peace.
He also reveals the futility and impotence of such powers by raising from the death they inflicted upon him.
The way of the world is no match for the power of God.

The cross we must take up is similar.
We will all have our own personal crosses,
some known to all, others between yourselves and God.

But as Christians, and as a church we have a cross to bear,
and it is borne by following in the footsteps of Christ.

When we act out of a position that seeks power and control,
we are working with the same powers that sentenced Jesus to death.

To carry the cross means to resist the allure of power and control.
It means to surrender our own desires for power,
and to not fall into the way of the world.

The world tried to kill the way of God by putting his son on a cross.
When we act to gain power, collude with power over those who are weak,
when we seek to dominate,
we are not carrying our cross,
but are carrying the nails to crucify others.

To surrender to the allure of power and control is the opposite of denying ourselves,
it is the opposite of carrying our cross,
it is the opposite of following Jesus.

We are to deny our desire for power.
When we do, we are following the way of the cross, we are following Jesus.

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