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Take Up Your Cross: photo What Does that Look Like?

Take Up Your Cross: photo
What Does that Look Like?

Romans 12:9-21

 Jesus, Son, Savior

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ flood your lives, enabling you to “really” love others!

 

Take up the Cross…but what does that look like?

The words of Jesus we know well, we’ve heard them before, but how often do we think through what they mean?

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.

Turn from our self-centered, self-serving, self-focused needs.  That is a real challenge, especially in a culture that jokes about what it feels to be true.  You know that saying, “It’s all about me”

That’s tough, and God’s law does convict us when we act like life is “all about me.’

But it’s the second and third actions that are required, that make it more challenging.

Taking up a cross?  Which one – the one above the altar – hey no problem.  The one Vicar Chai carried in this morning? It’s kind of heavy – but most people can carry it.  No, it is something far more than that.

Take up the cross, and follow me, Jesus says!

Are you willing? More importantly, are you able?

In order to answer that question, we have to know what does this mean: “take up your cross, and follow Jesus”.

You have to know what it looks like.

That is what the section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome describes, so let’s look there.
What it looks like

Though the description of taking up your cross and following Jesus flows through the entire twelfth chapter, I want to start with verse 11 this morning, for it is the key

11  Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 2 Rejoice in our confident hope.

Now, most of the people here are not even remotely lazy, most work hard.  We commit to serving the Lord enthusiastically. We are confident in the hope we have; that God will be faithful to His promises.  So this bearing the cross thing seems possible, and since we are good people, we can do this!

But those encouraging words are to spur us on to do that which is more challenging….

It goes on,

Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13  When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. 14  Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 

And on….

15  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! 

And on…..

17  Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. 19 Dear friends, never take revenge.

These actions and attitudes are not easy, they are indeed, what it looks like to take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  They sum as well, this idea of love, which started the reading.

9  Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.

No hypocrisy allowed, no “but they did, said, thought,” just really love them….

So how do we “really” love

This is difficult, is it not?   I mean we are supposed to really love our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, those annoying phone solicitors and even our pastor?  Really love them?  Not sure we can do that all the time, Are we sure we can bear that cross. Are we sure we want to bear that cross.

But bear it we must, if we follow Christ, if we are with Christ, if we are in Christ.

For that is what bearing our cross is, it is walking in Christ.  To give up our lives, if that is what it takes, for that is what love led Him to do.

Peter said it well,

21  For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21 (NLT)

This doing good, this bearing one’s cross, this setting aside what benefits us, what makes us happy is what happens when we are being transformed by God.  Remember – that is where the chapter started,

1  And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)

So What happens when we slip and throw a whine party?

These words cause a bit of anxiety.  Because I know that we are not always following Christ. I know we struggle to bear our cross, tossing it aside at times.

So what can we do, when we find ourselves justifying why we shouldn’t love this person, or that one?  When we want to justify tossing the cross aside, because we don’t want to love them, to really love them?  Or we are afraid to, for the pain we might go through.

Jeremiah knew that feeling.  In the Old Testament reading we find it, and God’s response to Jeremiah’s whining,

Jer 15:19  To this the LORD replied, “If you return, I will take you back, and you will be my servant again. If instead of talking nonsense you proclaim a worthwhile message, you will be my prophet again. The people will come back to you, and you will not need to go to them.

When we struggle like Jonah loving Nineveh, or Jeremiah loving the rebellious children of Israel, it is simply that, a struggle.  It is the same struggle Jesus had when he looked at the cross, and realize the shame that carrying it might bring, and that is where we find our answer, on how to love others.

Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3 (NLT)

The struggle for us is not that we can’t love them, it is that we’ve taken our eyes off what Paul told us to do, to 1Rejoice in our confident hope.”

This was Peter’s answer as well, that we should always be ready to have an answer for the reason we have hope.

You want to follow Jesus?  Take up the cross of walking in His love, keeping your eyes on Him.  The cross where He has joined you to Himself, and realize that there, you can see their need for His love, for His mercy, even as you needed it yourself.

This is what it all boils down to, our baptism, our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, our hearing that our sins are forgiven, it is all about God coming to us, uniting us to His cross, bringing us with Him…

Knowing His cross, we cling to that hope, we find the will of God, and a desire to see it come to be, that all would know His love, that all would be ministered to, no matter the sacrifice.

For that is what happens, when we allow God to transform us into people who dwell in is peace, the peace that goes beyond comprehension or explanation.  The very peace that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN?

 

 

Narcissism in the Church today….breaking it down so “they” can say AMEN!

First United Lutheran Church ca.1890

First United Lutheran Church ca.1890 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 19  “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. 20  Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. 21  It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. 22  “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. 23  If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! 24  “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both. Matthew 6:19-24 (MSG)

Saint John tells us that the other enemy is the lust of the eyes, a deep-seated avariciousness that leads us to appreciate only what we can touch. Such eyes are glued to earthly things and, consequently, they are blind to supernatural realities. We can, then, use this expression of Sacred Scripture to indicate that disordered desire for material things, as well as that deformation which views everything around us—other people, the circumstances of our life and of our age—with just human vision. Then the eyes of our soul grow dull. Reason proclaims itself sufficient to understand everything, without the aid of God. This is a subtle temptation, which hides behind the power of our intellect, given by our Father God to man so that he might know and love him freely. Seduced by this temptation, the human mind appoints itself the center of the universe, being thrilled with the prospect that “you shall be like gods.”22 So filled with love for itself, it turns its back on the love of God. (1)

When we hear the words of the gospel, we often look to our society, to the excess of things that people have.  The chasing after the faster car, the nicer home, the bigger screen.  Some of it comes as well as we think about our children or grandchildren, and we want “the best” for them as well.  The best schools, the best universities, the best spouses.  All around us is this culture of narcissism, and yes, even among us in the church as we buy into the ways of the world.

But it can slip into the church in a different way as well – when we demand that the church meet our needs, that it provides for us.  That the worship service provide what we think we need, that the beauty there is for us to enjoy, that everything in the church revolves around its members – for isn’t the church here to minister to “us”?  You want to know whether a church is healthy or narcisstic?  Look at where it’s treasures are.  Is the budget and the best resources, focused on ministering inward?  Or is it on ministering to those around us – and we the center of the church’s work.  Does the church find comfort in its own secret language, in being anti-cultural instead of counter-cultural?  What about the music – and the sermons?  Do we want the sin confronted to be the sins in our community, or are we willing to have our sins addressed, with both the law that nails them to the cross – and the grace that cleanses us of them? Is the beauty of our liturgy, our sanctuaries, our Bible translations and sermons and our music such that someone who is not familiar with the church, will perceive God’s glory during the service?  Or is it all about those within the church?

Or are we willing to be such a church, that we see what Paul is really saying to the church in Corinth,

 16  Otherwise, if you say your blessing only with the spirit, how is the uninitiated person going to answer ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, without understanding what you are saying? 17  You may be making your thanksgiving well, but the other person is not built up at all. 1 Corinthians 14:16-17 (NJB)  

Paul is telling us, that church doesn’t exist just to encourage the individual – especially the individual who already has been baptized, gifted with faith and repentance, and sealed as God’s child.  The world doesn’t revolve around the believer, nor should the church.  Instead, we are called to love as Christ loved, to submit ourselves to others our of reverence for Christ, to die to self.

For interestingly, it is then, as we willing lose our life – that we find it, and in dieing to self – we truly live.

So this week – as you receive God’s love – see who God is sending you to… to love so well – that they find themselves saying Amen….

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 475-484). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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