The Cross as a Way of Life

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August, 28 2011; Year A
Jeremiah 15.15.21; Psalm 26.1-8; Romans 12.9-21; Matthew 16.21-28
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

The cross is not an object, but rather a way of life that eventually leads to eternal life in and through death. The cross we carry is the same mark of promise we have sealed on our foreheads. Life is not about self-service, but about opening ourselves up to God and to one another, even if it means we’re going to suffer.

Grace and peace to you from the One who beckons us to follow in the way of the cross, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I have a book called, “Would You Rather?” Essentially it has numerous scenarios, which asks people to choose one or the other. For example, a question might be: Would you rather eat vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Vanilla, raise your hands…Chocolate, raise your hands. Simple enough, right? But sometimes the questions are really gruesome or hard, like: Would you rather freeze to death or be burned alive? Unfortunately, “neither” is not an acceptable answer for the game.

So, I thought we could play a couple rounds of “Would You Rather” this morning. Would you rather have a money tree or have to work for every dime you earn?

Would you rather live in a 5 bedroom home on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River or a card-board box on the street in the winter? 5-bedroom home…box?

Would you rather have a constant supply of your favorite food or not know where your next meal will come from? Food…no food?

Would you rather live forever with good health or undergo great suffering and death? Live forever…suffering and death?

I wonder what ‘would you rather’ question Jesus might have asked Peter. “Would you rather try and save your life and lose it, Peter, or would you rather lose your life, for my sake, and find it?”

I often speculate why anyone would want to be a follower of Jesus. He goes to dangerous places and talks about up-lifting things like great suffering and death. I have yet to find in Scripture where Jesus promises a worry-free life absent of suffering. Jesus is always clear that if anyone wants to follow him, there will most certainly be suffering and eventually death.

I am clearly overexagerating with the ‘would you rather’ questions, and life is certainly not a game. I would imagine if we could choose to not have suffering in our lives we would. I’m going to take a wild guess here, but I don’t think Peter wanted a future with suffering either. Peter had a different future in mind for him, Jesus, and the Jewish people. The Jews were under the occupation of the Romans, who were the world power at the time. Jews believed that God would send a Messiah, a savior, to free them from people who oppressed them.
When the word, Messiah, shows up in Scripture, it has the meaning of savior, king, and/or anointed one. Last week you heard Peter’s confession in verse 16: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16.16).” Jesus commended Peter in his true statement and confession, but this week, Jesus calls Peter Satan. What is going on here?

Well, for Peter, being a Jew and waiting his whole life for the Messiah who was to be king and drive out the Romans from their land, Jesus words of great suffering and death did not sit well with him. For Peter, Jesus was supposed to be the one to be the next king of Israel and bring peace and prosperity. Who wants a king who is going to suffer and die?

Nearly every time I read the Gospel reading for today I ask the question: “Could God have brought salvation to the world and to us another way?” Well, God is God…so perhaps. However, when I posed this question with Shera and Peder this week in text study I had to agree with Peder’s answer. If you don’t mind, Peder, I’m going to share it. Peder said, “No, I don’t think so. For me, a God who dies for me is the only God I can believe in. Then God is the God of even the forsaken and for me.”

The God of Christianity, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, is not usually our first perception of God. It is quite difficult to imagine God, battered and bloody hanging on the cross and about to take his last breath. It is disturbing and I suppose it should be. Death is disturbing…and we can do an awfully good job at pretending that it’s never going to happen to us. What Jesus calls us to recognize in his words about cross bearing and death is the reality of human life.

This is a heavy word to us this morning. Sometimes we want religion to shield us from the nastiness of life, but what is so incredible about God is that God has already entered the junk of life, even death, and then beckons us to follow.

I have thought about suffering and cross bearing more than I ever have in the past two years. There are two themes that have come up again and again and again.

The first is that suffering is individual and most often, if not always, we get shoved into it. It can come with a tough cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, the loss of a home or job, or the situation and abuse systems one is born into, just to name a few scenarios. In my own suffering, especially with the death of my husband, sometimes the only thing that would give me comfort and have any weight in my life was that Jesus also suffered and died and could relate to my pain and the feeling of being forsaken.

I know all of you have suffered in various ways and have known death all too closely. God doesn’t promise to take away your pain, but rather, God promises to go ahead of you and meet you where life hurts the most.

The second way I think about suffering and the Gospel text today is communal. I’ll explain this by first sharing a story about my husband, Ben. One day in gym class when Ben was in elementary school, there was a classmate of his who got in trouble. Near the end of class the teacher had all the kids line up at the door except for the one who misbehaved. The teacher made the boy run laps all by himself…that is, until Ben started to run laps with him. And soon before the teacher knew it, all the kids started running laps with the one who got in trouble.

I share this story because it illustrates how we are beckoned by Jesus to enter into one another’s trouble. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:26-27: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” We don’t suffer just for the sake of suffering…we suffer because others suffer and because we care about them. For those of you here at YCC, we care about you! And we hope in turn that you care about us.

As people of faith, it is true that we have to carry our cross, but it is also true, that the cross and Christ carries us through one another. Something Shera pointed out in text study this week is that not even Jesus carried his own cross alone. Simon, a man in the crowd, literally carried Jesus’ cross part of the way to the hill on which he died.

What I left off the last ‘would you rather’ question is…would you rather undergo great suffering and death, and on the third day be raised.

Sometimes in our own suffering it is all we see and we forget about the promises of resurrection. Perhaps Peter had selective hearing or he didn’t understand what Jesus meant when he said he would be raised from his tomb of death on the third day. Yes, there is suffering and death in this world, but there is also the promise of the resurrection. That when we follow Jesus, even through the nastiness and the junk of life, we know that it is not all there is. There is life and people who care about us in suffering, and when all is said and done, God has the last word over death. Jesus now has his kingship over death and this is very good news for all of us.

What the cross on our forehead reminds us is that our lives are already saved, yours and mine. We don’t need to spend our time trying to save our own life by striving for security, material things, and the illusion that we won’t suffer. By serving ourselves we will lose our life because we will miss out on the life God desires for us with God and with others.

The cross is not an object, but rather a way of life that eventually leads to eternal life in and through death. The cross we carry is the same
mark of promise we have sealed on our foreheads. Life is not about self-service, but about opening ourselves up to God and to one another, even if it means we’re going to suffer.

Instead of choosing the kind of god we want, God chooses us and then beckons us to take up our cross together and follow.

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