We’re in a series on back to Basics of discipleship
To review so far- Disciples: Go, disciples serve with compassion and balance it with rest, disciples share, disciples connect with Jesus, disciples are open to expanding their ideas of God and God’s grace-
Disciples take up the cross.
The cross is often understood in a very reduced way, we say, Jesus died for our sins, which is like enjoying a seven-course gourmet meal and then someone asking you about it and saying, yes I ate today. It is true but there is so much more to understand, the different textures and flavors, how they complement each other what they do for our body, the fellowship of enjoyment. Yes I ate. As if that carefully prepared beautifully served delight were the same as having a piece of toast alone in the kitchen. There is so much more to the cross than, Jesus died for our sins.
Here today we hear one episode to help us widen our understanding and see how we are called to do this most Jesus-y of things, take up our cross.
In Mark 3:6 is when we are told that the plot to kill Jesus began. We can presume that Jesus knew about that plot. It was one more time when he healed on the Sabbath. It was after he was accused of blasphemy for saying someone’s sins were forgiven. The leaders of his own religion wanted to do him in because he was interrupting their story and their narrative about who God is and how God works.
And now Jesus has to do that for his disciples, especially Peter. Peter and probably some others, trust Jesus is God’s sent one, the Christ, the anointed one, but they need an adjustment in their understanding of what that means. They want someone to rise in power and set things right. They want the occupying Romans gone, they want the temple to operate fairly with the sacrifices, they want their fellow Israelites to have enough to eat and a peaceful life.
So Peter at least, says Jesus is the anointed one, the Christ. In their religion, from the first testament we know that anointing was for priests and kings. Leaders who were high up, people with some say-so. They – Peter and probably some other disciples, probably imagine some kind of revolution to put Jesus into one of those high up roles. But Jesus knows that he is not there to fit in the system of how the power dynamics have always worked. He is not there to displace someone else and just adjust things a little bit. He is there to be a stick in the gears of a machine of destruction. He knows that fighting them will only move some of the pieces around, not destroy the way it all goes. The only way, Jesus knew, would be to accept this punishment they had for him for revealing this true way of God, and let God be the one to show that way even more. To lose his life for the sake of the good news- the good news that God was coming near, that everyone should be changed in heart and mind, that God wants everything to be transformed not just left the same or the pieces moved around.
To lose his life, And thereby, save it. For him, and his followers.
The cross is not just Jesus dying for our sins.
The cross is the way we are to live as disciples.
Jesus has really harsh words for Peter, when he is trying to change Jesus’ idea of what Christ, anointed one, means. get behind me Satan. Satan means tempter, this might have been a temptation for Jesus, to try to make this mission he was on fit into that pattern of becoming king or becoming high priest and making some little changes that really wouldn’t change anything, but at least he would live. Jesus is rejecting that temptation and teaching at the same time, his way means everything changes. This is God’s transformation coming into the world. This is God revealing how wrong we get it, and how we can do things differently.
But did everything change, you might be asking. We still have political rulers who are out for themselves more than wanting to help struggling people. We still have religious leaders who look for their own fame and fortune more than standing for God’s ways. We still have a pretty messed up world where a whole lot of people are suffering in a lot of ways.
Except, I think it is also true that we can see this taking up of the cross to have been done pretty well by some of our great heroes of faith.
Mother Teresa felt God calling her to Calcutta, and went, giving up comforts she could have had not just to join an order but as she served, over and over again, to reveal Jesus’ way.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed that Jesus’ way was a way of nonviolence, and resisted the Nazi occupiers and all those who went along with the idea that the Christian faith was in any way compatible with that ideology.
Martin Luther King Jr., also spoke out against the ways his fellow countrymen were not living in line with God’s ways, oppression of some at the hands of another, forcing some people to persist in poverty, the bowing to violence and war as somehow good- he lived and preached and taught and was an example of non violent resistance, to be , like all these other examples, a stick in the gears of a machine of destruction that lifts up some by stomping all over others.
These examples are inspiring, they are known each for a specific way of taking up the cross… and they all in their own way worked against the worst of this world- but not just them, every one of us, has a way that we are called to take up our cross. All of them were human, imperfect, had to be on a journey but later became examples of what it means not pursue their own life, surviving and benefitting at the cost of others, but to give our own lives away toward the end goal, the project God has always been working on.
And the project God is always working on is life. Life in abundance, not a life half-lived. Jesus told his disciples, that he would be killed but then raised. God isn’t about death. Death is a part of life and in Jesus’ case it had to happen in a public and terrible way- but it was to reveal the full evil of what Rome was doing. The cross does that- it points out to us just how bad we can be to one another. But that even so, God doesn’t just leave us to it. God intervenes with that life project, raising Jesus on the third day.
When Jesus closes this part with the line about being ashamed or not ashamed, he is pointing to the bigger picture that us little humans too often miss. God has the final say, God will bring life, God is using Jesus in this hard to understand way of the cross that leads to life, and don’t you want to be a part of that? Don’t settle for these little human trophies we give each other as we mimic the ways of this world, don’t be about taking care of yourself only: be about offering yourself for the bigger picture of life. That is what God was doing on the cross.
The world is still pretty messed up in a lot of ways. But there is good news that God has come near and has shown us the way for real transformation to happen.
Disciples of Jesus do these things: trust in the hidden reality of God’s victory, and look for opportunities to transform the destructive ways of this world, into ways of real life.
Sometimes that is as simple as not letting a frustrating experience ruin your day and make you lash out at someone else. Sometimes it is as simple as letting someone go in front of you at the grocery store. Sometimes it looks more like being aware where the things you buy come from and who profits, or giving to support others who are making a difference.
Sometimes it is really complicated and hard and takes training and planning and a whole movement. The ways we take up our cross can look really different. But it is all the way of the cross, losing our lives for the sake of the gospel, knowing God really will bring more life out of it in the end. How are you called to take up your cross?
The son of humankind will come in glory with the holy angels- God’s way will be victorious in the end… but will you know you were always a part of God’s project of life? May we once again as disciples of Jesus, commit to taking up our cross.