Matthew 16:21-28 August 28, 2011
When I was a kid I had a friend named John. Behind John’s house there once was a huge brick factory that left a very large sand pit after it closed down.
For a couple of kids, that sand pit became the ideal place for us to live out our rather active and adventurous imaginations. One of the things that we liked to do was to take our bikes to the mounds of dirt, rock, and sand piled high around the pit and race down them onto makeshift ramps made of scrap wood and fly into the air like little Evel Knievels (for those of you who have no idea who he is - think X-Games). During those years my bike was a yellow three speed with a straight shift on the frame and baseball cards clipped to the spokes with clothes pins- it made that cool sound as the cards slapped against the spokes. And any mother who saw us race down those mounds, lose control, and flip head over heals into the sand would have sworn that we were trying very hard to lose our lives. Over the long and glorious days of summer, we collected scraped elbows and skinned knees and had sand in places where I am certain it was never meant to be. It was all so glorious and somehow we lived to tell about it!
Now nearly four decades later, I was recently watching a video of my multiple bout with cancer surviving drama teacher working on his bucket list by parachuting out of a perfectly good airplane. It intrigued me - the “wouldn’t that be cool!” part of my midlife brain was captivated and I found my fingers typing out the address for the company’s webpage on my computer. The part of my brain reserved for sanity had been locked away somewhere else.
We all have taken risks of one kind or another, I imagine. Some for the thrill. Some on a dare. Some for reasons many of us would never comprehend. Then there are some folks who by the very nature of their occupations place or placed their life at risk for our sakes. So we might approach a text like today’s gospel with curiosity or even fear. Listen:
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it, says Jesus. Though it might disappoint some of you, this text is not an encouragement for us to hustle out to some south beach high rise for some high risk bungee jumping screaming “Jesus, this one is for you!” as we hurl ourselves off into the sky.
Now that clearly would be misunderstanding the text.But what we do know is this:
Jesus died to give us life, Scripture tells us. Life in abundance, true life.
We are called to give up one life so that we may fully realize another. We give up life to and for ourselves so that we can live truly for, with and in Jesus.
We give up life to and for ourselves so that we can live truly for, with, and in Jesus.That is what is declared for us at our baptism:
“In baptism our gracious heavenly Father frees us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are born children of a fallen humanity; by water and the Holy Spirit we are reborn children of God and made members of the church, the body of Christ. Living with Christ and in the communion of saints, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God.”
In summary: We die to ourselves so that we may live for, with and in Christ.
If we want to lose our life for Jesus, then as the text clearly states, we need to do some heavy lifting (and this noticeably does not require an airplane, a parachute or bungee cord.)
Listen: Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.We lose our life when we are willing to deny ourselves, to humble ourselves and get out of the way so that Jesus can claim our hearts and minds and all that we are at the very center of our being, to be his dwelling place. We lose our life and deny ourselves when we truly submerge our will and let God’s will rule our lives.
"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
When we submerge our will and let God’s will rule in our lives, then cross bearing becomes walking in the footsteps of Jesus by living a humble and self-giving life.There are a number of instances in Scripture where this is taught or embodied for us - take for example a passage from today’s second lesson:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
From Paul’s list emerges the truth radical picture of what it means to follow Jesus. A picture that could only truly emerge if we die to ourselves in order to live in, through and for Christ.
During the Holocaust inDefying the French government which was collaborating with the Nazis, the villagers of Le Chambon hid Jews in their homes for years. They provided the refugees with forged identification, provided education for the children, ration cards, and sent them to safety in
France, in a tiny mountain Huguenot village 350 miles from called Le Chambon-sur-lignon, 5,000 Jews, mostly children, found shelter with 5,000 Christians, almost the entire population of the village. Paris
Once Chambon became ”a city of refuge,” they felt compelled to diminish suffering and put into action the principles in which they believed, that faith without works is dead.For the people of Le Chambon, taking up their cross and following Jesus had a meaning beyond words - they chose to embody their faith at great risk and personal peril.
The call to take up our cross and follow Jesus does not dwell only in history. It comes to us again and again challenging us to live for Christ, with Christ and in Christ. The current fad of one-upmanship with respect to state immigration laws already has many of our Christian brothers and sisters picking up their crosses to follow Jesus. InOver the course of our lives we all have taken risks of one kind or another, I imagine. Some for the thrill. Some on a dare. Some for reasons many of us would never comprehend. If and when immigration reform comes to
, for example, their new immigration law makes it illegal for a church member to pickup the child of an undocumented person and drive them to Sunday school or church. That is a crime in the state of Alabama . Or Alabama ’s new immigration law that has some churches and businesses declaring themselves “safe zones” where law enforcement will not be welcome to enter to check immigration status. If such laws come to Georgia would we be a refuge or a bystander? Would we give food to the hungry and water to the thirsty regardless of immigration status - even if it meant breaking the law? Would we follow Jesus, bearing our cross, dying to ourselves, placing ourselves firmly in the biblical witness of caring for the stranger, the alien, the outcast? Florida