Summary: Proper 17 (A) We are lost in sin and lost in ourselves. But Christ has redeemed the world. Therfore, those who lose their old selves shall find themselves in Christ, who is Life indeed.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“Keepers, Weepers, Losers, Finders”
Jesus tells us that to be His disciples, we must deny ourselves, and take up our cross. Now, whatever might that mean? Often times it is taught that to “deny ourselves” is to say “No” to things in this life. No smoking, no drinking, no chocolate. Some people deny things for a little while, like during lent. Others make a life time habit of it. While there may be wisdom in avoiding some things, and a certain virtue in developing the strength of character it takes to say “no” – and believe me, it takes a lot of character to say “no” to chocolate – despite the benefits of such disciplines, that is not what Jesus is referring to here.
So, what is He saying? Deny yourself. Not deny things to yourself. But deny your “self.” You know, the inner you. The self that is centered on itself. That puts its thoughts, desires, and wants before others. That puts itself before God. The self which lies when it says to you, “I can decide for myself because I am in charge of myself.” You see, our selves have been at war with God since the Fall. We were created to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” But we find our self wants to “cheer, talk of, and lust in itself above all things.” In short, our selves want to be god. But God is a jealous God. We cannot have or serve two gods. For we will hate one and love the other, despite one and serve the other. And the evil, wicked self wants to hate and despite the true God, and love and serve its self. You know that it's true. You have been there when your self has despised doing right, and I know that we all, me too, have heard and seen our inner selves serving itself own wants and desires.
Our self desires to be king, but there is only room on the throne of our hearts for one. Which is why, here in the text, Jesus uses a form of the word “deny,” which means to deny fully and completely, to the end and without limits. With an irony that would unfold in the days to come, Peter, the one who boldly confessed that Jesus as Lord, would utterly deny Him, fully completely, saying, “I don’t even know the Man.”
In our call to follow Jesus, our denial of self is in that way full and complete. We must say, “Self, you’re not me. In fact, I don’t even know who you are.” But in ourselves, in our flesh, we are unable to reject our inner self. But Christ is transforming us, by the renewing of our minds. By His Spirit, we are new creations in Him. And the new man must lay aside the old one.
So then, what about this cross thing? Isn’t this where we deny things to our yes? Take up a burden to bear? Not exactly. Our self denial in an inner act. It happens inside of us. But it must be so full and complete, that is shows up on the outside. So taking up our cross is the other side of the same coin. It is what’s happening on the outside. To carry a cross is to be put to shame and ridicule. It is to acknowledge the end of one’s own life. Just as the prisoner condemned to die did not get to choose his own cross, but had to bear the one handed to him, so too, we do not get to pick out what we would like for a cross. When we try to, that is just our old self trying to be in charge of itself again, isn’t it. Not much dying or shame, really, if you get to choose how it is.
So is the purpose to shame us and make us miserable? No. It’s really about our inner self, just seen from the outside perspective. If we are disciples and followers of Christ, and we are, then is there another that can stop us from following Him? Said another way, If our Lord Himself asked you do it, is there anything you would not do? Is there any place you would not go? Is there any cost you would not pay? See, it is not necessarily about the trials we will bear – although for each of us there will be trials, some greater, some lesser, some frequent, some seldom. It is not so much about the trial itself, but our willingness to bear the trial. For when we are unwilling, it is because the old self is grabbing for the throne.