Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 19)

Text: Mark 8:31-32
Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer much. … He will be put to death, but three days later he will rise to life.” … Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

Crosses half price?

Some time ago I volunteered to look after two of our granddaughters while their mother and grandmother went shopping.  We had a great time visiting all the toy shops we could find, having milkshakes and looking in shop windows.  One of those shop windows was a jewellery shop which had lots of pretty things on display.  A big red ‘Sale’ sign caught my attention and underneath another it another sign that read, ‘Crosses half price’.  In the window there was a display of cross of various sizes, designs, and prices on silver and gold chains. 

If you were looking for a cross this was the day to get one.  You could go in and select the one that suited you.  You could choose the one that looked best on you; the one that complimented your own body and character; the one that particularly took your fancy; you could choose the cross that you believed was the most beautiful for you wear either every day or on special occasions.  “Crosses – half price” what a bargain.  And to be able to choose from such a wide selection one that suited the best – that’s fantastic.

Half price crosses wasn’t what Jesus had in mind in today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel.  Jesus told his disciples that there was no such thing as a half price cross, an easy cross, a beautiful cross, or even a stress-free cross in the days ahead for him as he talked about how he would suffer, be rejected by the leaders of the Jewish church and community, and die a cruel death. 

Peter wasn’t buying into this talk about a cross at all.  He had just confessed to Jesus that he believed him to be the Messiah and this talk about suffering and dying did not fit in with the kind of person he and every Jew believed the Messiah would be.

Peter was expressing the belief of every Jew.  The Messiah they longed for would be forceful and unconquerable, not gentle and vulnerable. How else could this wicked world be brought to heal?  How else could God’s rule, God’s values, be established on this earth?  The Messiah would be a strong man, a powerful somebody, not a crucified nobody.  To this day, it is unthinkable to the Jews that God would allow the Messiah to suffer at the hands of wicked men.  Nothing will be able to harm him, nothing be permitted to humiliate him. The Messiah’s strong hand will grasp a sceptre, not a cross.

One contemporary Jewish scholar, Shalom Ben-Chorim has written about Jesus, “I feel his brotherly hand which grasps mine, so that I can follow him ... but ... it is not the hand of the Messiah, this hand marked with scars.”

And so Jesus sets Peter straight on the whole idea that somehow Jesus was on some glory road and that any hardship ahead was merely a minor inconvenience.  There was to be no half priced cross or pain free journey or glory road that would somehow bring in God's glorious kingdom without any hardship or suffering.  Remember how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness with any easy path to greatness and glory.  He tried to convince Jesus that there was no need for suffering and dying and the cross. 

And after Jesus has finished saying there was no easy road for him to Jerusalem, no reduced priced cross for him, likewise there is also no cut priced cross for his disciples.  He says, “If any of you want to come with me you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me”.

What does it mean to carry a cross?

For Jesus, taking up a cross meant obedience to his Fathers’ will.
In obedience we follow Christ and whatever cross that brings.  It may not always be easy standing up for Jesus and doing what is right and show the same kindness and love that Jesus has shown to us but we do it because we want to follow Jesus and be like Christ to those around us. 
This is the commitment we make in return to Christ’s obedience for us. 
This is an act of faithfulness because of Christ’s faithfulness to us. 
This is an act of love because of Jesus’ love for us. 
Taking up our cross is the response of obedient love.

The cross for Jesus meant sacrifice.
For us following Jesus means sacrifice the least of which is the sacrifice of our old sinful and selfish ways and giving up anything that would stand between us and the love of Christ in us reaching out to others.  Jesus talks about self-sacrifice.  In other words, giving anything that would stand between us and eternal life with God.  He asks, “What’s the point of gaining the whole world – a life focussed on riches, a comfortable life, the pleasures of this life and lose what really counts – eternal life, a life right now with the one person who can truly satisfy all your needs even when worldly wealth and health give out?”

The cross for Jesus meant humility.
For us following Jesus is not a glory trip, a road to big note ourselves and our achievements or how much good we have done for Christ and the church.  Following Jesus is humbly realising how much we are dependent on our God; how much we rely on his love; how much he deeply he cares for us and forgives us even though we are no more than beggars in his sight.

The cross for Jesus meant service as he dedicated his life and death helping others.
For us taking up our cross means taking up that same attitude as Jesus had.  Not putting our needs first but putting the needs of others first.  Not counting the cost to ourselves but seeing to it, that what we do, can really bring about change in the lives of others.

The cross for Jesus involved suffering.
For us following Jesus means forgetting ourselves, being obedient, putting Jesus first, serving others, putting down the self-importance in us that wants to go down the glory road and avoid anything too hard and making everything all about us, will inevitably lead us to some kind of pain.  Immediately we step out of our comfort zone and totally step out in faith as Jesus stepped out on to the road to Jerusalem, you can bet that there will be some kind of suffering along the way.  It may just the agony of giving up what could have been all ours if we had been just a bit more selfish and self-centred.

I am often struck by how church people feel the necessity to project an image of the Christian life and the Christian church which plays up the power and glory, and down plays the cross and suffering of Jesus and the deep truths that it unlocks.

Have you been into a Christian Church where there isn’t a cross to be found anywhere?  You can bet the teaching of that church is about the glory of God and living victoriously!  There is no room for being reminded of suffering.  Most likely there are no worship services on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday; and you wouldn’t hear a sermon like this one; it’s all about being positive, up-beat and celebrating God’s glory and Jesus’ love.  

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating God's love but how can we even begin to celebrate God's love without first celebrating the greatest gift of God's love – the suffering and death of Jesus?  This suffering Messiah who knows human pain and brokenness; the cross carrying, sin-bearing bleeding Jesus, is the greatest expression of God’s love ever given to the world.

Some people don’t like crucifixes for whatever reason but when I see a cross with the figure of Jesus on it, I am clearly reminded of what the cross is all about.  The cross stands at the heart of what we believe about Jesus and about God's love for us.  There is nothing abstract or airy fairy about this kind of love.  It is as down to earth and as real and as personal as you can get.

Looking at a crucifix I see the obedience of Christ;
I see his suffering,
his sacrifice,
his humility,
and service all for me – all for you. 
There is nothing glamorous in a man bleeding, dying on a cross. 
There is nothing beautiful about a crucifix and yet this man on the cross did the most beautiful thing that any person can do for another person.  He gave his life so that we could live.  He gave his life graciously, without asking if we deserve it or not, without any concern for his own welfare.  His only concern as he hung nailed to those wooden beams was for us. 

Following God's ways is not easy.  You only need to meditate on the cross to see that.  To meditate on the cross is to see that following Jesus is not all about glory, success, prosperity and power or happy songs of praise.  To follow Christ and be like Christ is to go beyond the happy smiling image of the Christian faith and see that taking up the cross is inconvenient, messy, demanding and tiresome.  The cross is about sacrifice and blood and service and compassion and that flies in the face of our needs and our self-interest. 

Jesus walked the “Via Dolorosa”, “the Way of Sorrows”.  It was a hard journey but one that finally led to life, healing and glory.  Being a disciple of Christ may be hard at times, it may be a way of sorrows more than we would like, it will call us to obedience, humility, sacrifice and suffering.  We will find that cross heavy to bear.

It is when the suffering gets too bad for us to bear,
when we are deeply guilty and ashamed of our actions or words,
when we are sick and searching for comfort and something to hold onto;
or when our journey is becoming too difficult and hard,
that we look to the man on the cross.  

At times like this we become aware of Jesus bearing our cross, our guilt, brokenness and pain, as he did when he carried the cross through the streets on the day of his crucifixion. 
He knows what it’s like to walk the way of sorrows;
he knows what it means to be tempted to give up and to be tempted to walk an easier path;
he knows what pain our cross will bring us;
he knows how hard it is for us carry the cross of obedience, humility, sacrifice and service.
He knows that we would prefer a half-price cross, an easier cross than a cross that demands obedience to God's ways.

At our baptism we received the sign of the cross.  The mark made over us and on us to show that we are children of the cross; the mark that reminds us that a man on a cross died for us to give us forgiveness, life and eternal glory.  We carry that indelible mark of the cross made at our baptism with us all our lives as we seek to walk his ways. It is under the cross we give thanks and praise to God for his never ending grace.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
16th September 2012

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