I’d like to tell you a short story about a young successful woman walking home to her upscale apartment from work. As she approached a street corner she noticed a little girl standing there begging. As she approached her she was reminded of a scene from a Charles Dickens or Hans Christian Anderson story. The little girl’s clothes were paper thin and dirty, her hair matted and unclean, and her cheeks and runny nose red from the cold. She dropped a few coins into the girl’s bowl gave her a little smile and walked on. As she walked she started to feel guilty. How could she go home to her warm house with its full pantry and well supplied, expensive wardrobe while this little girl shivered on the street. She also began to feel a bit helpless. In her helplessness the young woman began to feel angry, angry with God. She prayed a prayer of protest saying “God, how can you let these sorts of things happen? Why don’t you do something to help this girl?” And then, to her surprise God answered. God said, “I did do something. I created you.”
The story ends with God’s call to this young woman to discipleship. It wasn’t just God’s explicit answer to her prayer but the Holy Spirit’s leading her in becoming aware of and caring about the little girl’s poverty and need.
Discipleship or following Jesus takes many forms, possibly as many as there are people called to be disciples, but they all begin in one way, by denying oneself taking up your cross and following Jesus.
In today’s Gospel, Mark pictures a scene that takes place on Jesus’ and his followers’ journey north to Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asks his disciples what they have heard people say about him. It is obvious that people have been talking about him because the disciples have something to report. Then Jesus moves to the critical question: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers based on what he has come to know of Jesus, from his teachings, and from what he has seen Jesus do
2 he affirms, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus seems to accept this title that Peter uses, but he tells them to keep quiet about it. – – – Why? Why wouldn’t Jesus want to spread the word that he is the long-awaited anointed one of God.
There are very many reasons why Jesus might not want this spread about, mostly political, but the subsequent conversation with Peter suggests at least one reason. It becomes clear that when Peter calls him the Messiah, he may have the right title but the wrong understanding of what the title means for Jesus. Jesus explains to them that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things, and to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be killed, and after three days to rise again. This is certainly not the kind of Messiah Peter was expecting but we mustn’t be too hard on Peter. he is a human being after all, and at this point can only see things from the perspective of a human being, not God’s as Jesus pointed out.
Jesus calls the crowd together along with his disciples and tells them “If any of you want to come the way I’m going, you must say no to your own selves, pick up your cross, and follow me. Yes: if you want to save your life, you’ll lose it; but if you lose your life because of me and the Good News you’ll save it.
So here we have it, our roadmap for discipleship, self-denial and cross-bearing. Self-denial and cross bearing are one action.
What does it mean to deny oneself? It’s not depriving oneself of something like my giving up ciabatta bread drizzled with olive oil for Lent, so I can lose 10 pounds. It’s not even like ascetics who deprive themselves of food and sleep to get closer to God. To deny oneself is to say “No” to yourself and “Yes” to God. To view our lives according to our fellowship with Jesus and living in God’s kingdom. Jesus calls his followers away from self-centeredness and from loyalty to the world’s
norms of status, power, and achievement. Denying oneself, occurs when one embraces Jesus as the one to follow. Self-denial and cross-bearing, losing one’s life for the sake of the gospel are key elements of a person’s following Jesus. To take up a cross is to recognize that the dominant ways our of society stand opposed to a life of self-denial and sacrifice. It displays to the world what it is to live in God’ Kingdom. The focus is not on losing one’s life for any reason but doing so because of embracing Jesus and the gospel.
WOW, if this sounds really hard and very uncomfortable, IT IS. Jesus didn’t promise us comfort as a disciple but a cross. Jesus did tell us that his yoke is easy because we don’t do this alone. Jesus helps us bear our cross when we share his faith.
So, if we respond to the calling to be a disciple of Jesus how do we accomplish this self-denial and cross bearing? How do we begin?
It begins for us in our baptism. By baptism, we receive the gift of Christ’s faith by the Holy Spirit that elevates our reason to be able to understand spiritual things, things about God that we can’t know by reason alone.
Notice that I said we are given the gift of Christ’s or Messiah’s faith not our own faith. The human Jesus’s faith in God’s Will that allowed him to empty himself, or deny his own godhood, suffer and die on his cross for our salvation. This is the faith that Jesus’ Spirit so lovingly places in our hearts.
We nourish this faith by self-examination, confession, the Eucharist and communion with God and one another. by worshiping God and living as a community of the faith of Jesus. Through this we daily die to ourselves and rise to new life in Messiah Jesus. The Good News of Christ defines our identity as it claims the entirety of our lives. Our witness to this new identity is personal, complete, and public.
By taking up our crosses and following Jesus individually and especially as a community in all its levels we are part of the Jesus Movement. As the Most Rev. Michael Curry our presiding Bishop defines it.
“The Jesus Movement is the ongoing community of people who center their lives on Jesus and following him into loving, liberating and life-giving relationship with God, each other and creation.”
“In all things, we seek to be loving, liberating and life-giving—just like the God who formed all things in love; liberates us all from prisons of mind, body and spirit; and gives life so we can participate in the resurrection and healing of God’s world.”
“As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, and followers of Jesus’ Way, we seek to live like him. We’re serious about moving out to grow loving, liberating, life-giving relationships with God (evangelism); to grow those relationships with each other (reconciliation); and to grow those relationships with all of creation (creation care).”
When we, like the young woman, cry out to God why don’t you do something about poverty, injustice, and destruction of our world God answers, pick up your cross; you are my solution. Amen.