This is the sermon audio from the 10:30 service at St. Joseph of Arimathea on Sunday, September 3, 2017. As always, there are slight variations between the 8 o’clock and 10:30 service. My notes are below as well. The audio includes the sequence hymn and the Gospel reading. To start with the sermon itself, begin at 3:39.
The scriptures of the day are: Jeremiah 15:15-21; Psalm 26:1-8; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Sometimes it would be helpful if Jesus would give more detailed instructions. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). It’s a rather difficult concept for us, and we have the benefit of hearing the instruction on this side of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. It’s an important command, we know that much.
We even have a hymn that reinforces it: “Take up your cross the saviour said, if you would my disciple be; take up your cross with willing heart, and humbly follow after me.”
We know it’s an important command. We also know something of what we must do to keep it. We can’t be crushed by the weight of the cross, we have to bear up under it. We also have to be willing to get down off of it. We can’t spend our time nailed to it, frozen.
“Get down off your cross” was just the advice hospital chaplain Debra Jarvis gave to a patient she knew. Jarvis believes that the role of a hospital chaplain is to “comfort, clarify, and confront.” I think that’s part of every pastor’s job description, but the timing is more acute for a chaplain. It’s fair to say telling someone to get down off their cross falls into that “confront” category.
The background is important. As I heard Jarvis describe this a few days ago on one of the interview programs on NPR, she recounted an occasion when she encountered a patient she hadn’t seen for a year or so, a woman who had undergone cancer treatment. She was back for her annual check up and had just learned that her tests came back showing “no evidence of disease.” This was happy news, and the woman’s adult daughters where there with her, so I’m sure they were excited and relieved to hear the news. But once the woman started talking to chaplain Jarvis, she started recounting her cancer experience in great detail, even though Chaplain Jarvis had seen her frequently during that six month period. Once the woman started going, her children looked at each other and excused themselves to go get coffee. That’s when Jarvis told her: get down off your cross.
Those could be some pretty harsh words, and it helped that Jarvis herself had an experience with cancer. What she noticed in this woman, was the same thing that makes her nervous about using the term “survivor” to identify people who have had cancer and have gone into remission. She sees it as, in some cases at least, subsuming a person’s identity in the experience of the disease. In this case, she recognized that the woman was stuck. She was retelling everything that had happened to her in the present tense as thought it was happening to her right then. She was alienating her family with her inability to move ahead. Chaplain Jarvis recognized she needed to get down before she could move on.
The woman in Jarvis’ story had become defined by her disease, even as it was in remission. She had become trapped, nailed, to her cross. But we know from Jesus that our crosses aren’t meant to define us. New life is. Just as Jesus isn’t defined by or in thrall too the cross–he’d still be dead if that were the case–instead, we know Christ is Lord because of the power of the resurrection.
We now have an idea of what one type of cross might be: serious and possibly terminal illness. There are many others. As one commentator pointed out–you don’t have to go looking for crosses to bear. In the course of life, plenty will find us.
And often they’re not the things people jokingly–or perhaps not so jokingly–refer to as their crosses to bear. No, our crosses are those experiences and situations or maybe even relationships that threaten to make us collapse under their weight, or leave us feeling like we’re drowning, to leave us stuck as surely as if we were nailed to them.
The thing is, I think we often hear Jesus’ words as a challenge, as assigning burdens to us. But crosses always come. they always threaten to crush us, leave us stuck being defined by them. Sometimes we even climb up on them, martyred to whatever tribulation swamped us.
But Jesus’ words, as always, are words of healing, of exhortation. They come after his rebuke of Peter. Can we discern a cross that Peter must bear? I submit to you it is his inability to spare his beloved friend and Lord the pain of the literal cross. One of Peter’s burdens will be his powerlessness to prevent Christ’s execution, and his inability to remain faithful during the trial. Peter had a choice: be defined by his powerlessness. Be swamped by despair, or bear up under the weight, and put one foot in front of the other to follow Jesus, and be his disciples, and a martyr to the hope of the gospel, to life rather than to the crosses he collected, to despair and hopelessness.
We know what it looks like to not bear up under the weight. We have the counter example of Judas, who became a martyr to the despair of a cross built by his betrayal.
Christ too had his crosses to bear before going to the Cross. Consider his anger at the money changers, or at the religious leaders who separated others from God. Consider his agony in the garden, where we see his apprehension and fear of the cup from which he must drink. Jesus had to bear these crosses and more–his mother’s grief and anguish–to the cross. But in so doing, he is defined not by death, but by resurrection.
[wounded healer, vs. wounded wounder]
What are those things that threaten to drag us down. The things that paralyze us? The things that would define us, but circumscribe us so that we don’t flourish and become who God desires us to be? I’m sure we all have something that has left us feeling powerless. Something that we grieve over, and maybe obsess over. We have to stand under the weight of them. In some cases we need to climb down off of them, because they’re preventing us from being who we’re meant to be, and we can’t move forward, we can’t follow Jesus unless we climb down or stand up, and bear our crosses, not as burdens that drag us down, but as a testimony that we have found the power to move forward, because of the one whom we follow. We can bear our crosses, because he bore his. We are not defined by ours, because we are defined by what he did on his, and by his rising to new life.
–We need to carry our crosses, so that we don’t end up crushed, or nailed to them.
–When we carry our cross, and follow Jesus, we’re not alone. That’s good news.