Summary: Jesus invites us to take up our cross and it sticks in our throat.
15 Pentecost A Matthew 16:21-28 1 September 2002
Rev. Roger Haugen
Ammon Hennacy was a protester against the arms race in the United States during the 60’s. One cold winter day found him at a missile silo in South Dakota. There were very few people, a handful of protesters, two soldiers behind the fence, and a reporter from a small town newspaper. After about 20 minutes of bone-chilling cold, the reporter went over to Hennacy and shouted in the wind, “Do you really think you’re going to change the government by being out here?” Hennacy looked at him and said, “My friend, I’m out here so that the government doesn’t change me.”
Why would anyone want to be a Christian? We are told to take up our cross and follow Jesus. We are told that to want to save our life will mean we lose it. Look back in history and we find those who took Jesus seriously found life tough. It was not popular to protest the war in Vietnam but history has proved that the protesters were right. Those who fought for civil rights in the U.S. met with threats and violence, often ending up in prison. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Germany was executed for protesting against Hitler, and the Lutheran church of his day abandoned Bonhoeffer. The chance are, to take up your cross and follow Jesus, will cause pain and death, and we won’t know if we were right until much later.
The early church, as described in Acts, was faced with persecution and death, yet they continued to grow. People in El Salvador, continued to baptize their children through the 80’s even though doing so was putting the lines of a rifle scope on their foreheads. Bishop Romero continued to preach for justice even though it resulted in him taking a bullet as he celebrated Communion.
Take up your cross and follow?
Presently in parts of the world, to be identified as Christian is to court persecution and death. Only recently the heads of a number of Christian preachers in the Phillipines were found along side roads as a warning to others. Yet others continue to preach. Today, to be identified as a church in China is to bring the wrath of the government down on all those who attend. Yet, Lutheran pastors from Hong Kong continue to travel into mainland China to worship in house churches. Take up your cross and follow?
Society as we know it, doesn’t fit well with Jesus’ words today. Marva Dawn, a writer who teaches in Vancouver, identifies six values of our culture. (Is it a Lost Cause? Having the Heart of God for the Church’s Children)
1.Pain free living. A pursuit of happiness and comfort where we rely on technology to make our live easy and pain free. A drug for every pain and diet pills so we do not need to eat healthy.
2. Materialism. Where we value stuff rather than people. Life is a race to see who can gather the most ‘stuff’. The voids we feel in life can be filled with the right ‘stuff’.
3. Escapism. We are driven to amuse ourselves to escape daily stress and conflict. The day becomes so scheduled that we have no time to consider what is eating away at us.
4. Information overload. We have so much information coming at us that we become overwhelmed and deal with none. The 24 hour bad news habit numbs us to the atrocities the stories reveal.
5. Acceptance of violence. Violent murderers and fouled mouth people enter our homes many times a day through television.
6. Instant gratification. Everything from microwave meals to casual sex that is made popular by our culture’s new heroes on sit-coms.
This is society as we know it. To say anything against it is to face the wrath of many. How does “Take up your cross and follow.” play out in our daily life?
In today’s gospel we hear that Jesus must go to Jerusalem, that he will suffer at the hand of the leaders of the church and be killed. This is something he knows he must do. God’s plan to save humanity is unfolding as intended but you can sense the disciples are becoming agitated. This certainly wasn’t what they signed on to when Jesus asked them to follow. Fishing for people, healing, teaching – that was more like it, but death?!
Peter speaks for all of them, “God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to you.” Not what we had in mind either. The text gets stuck in our throats. Suffering? Poor Peter, being spoken to so harshly after all he had been through. Who would want to be a Christian? The words grate on me because I know how much I am caught up in the values of our society that the words of Jesus grate against. Surveys by church researchers such as George Barna show me not to be alone. He discovered that the suffering part of Christianity is that hardest part for seekers to stomach.