Summary: Examines the call to vocation of everyone, whether to the priesthood to be a Christian in Society. Written for a young audience in a very open style.
How Does the Gospel Affect Our Lives?
Given at the Chichester Diocese Youth Summer Camp, August 2000.
Then he said to them all, `If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’.
Well, you’ve done well for speakers so far this week: on Sunday you had that suave Bishop Lindsay [+Horsham] and yesterday, there was the dashing young Daniel Henderson who spoke so well I thought. However, your luck runs out, as some fat bald bloke hopes to speak in the name of the +Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I suppose by now you all know what one of these is (brandish a cross). Yes, that’s right, a symbol of our faith, seen in glorious gold and spendid silver on church altars, or perhaps worn around the neck, like this one: given to me a few years ago by Bishop Albert from Nigeria, perhaps some of you got one at the same time. A cross, small, descreet, quite harmless really, quite a light burden for me to carry.
Have you ever thought how big and imposing one used to actually kill people really is? At the College which I go to, there is a lifesize one in the garden: its about 12 feet (4 metres) high, big, imposing, a killing machine, a cruel tool designed for inflicting a horrible, painful death on someone.
So, to order to look at today’s question ‘How does the Gospel affect our Lives?’ I want us to think about the answer that was given to us in today’s Gospel: ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and daily take up their cross and follow me’.
God calls each and every one of us to pick up his Cross daily and follow him: the Gospel isn’t something that should be kept just for Sunday best, to be taken out of the box and dusted down every Sunday morning, but something for everyday use: a Cross for me to bear daily, and daily to bear me: a seven-day Jesus, to be with me through thick and through thin.
He calls us to follow Him. It sounds simple doesn’t it? About as simple as His commandment to the rich young man - ‘sell everything you have and give the money to the poor’ he told him, and this made the young man very sad, the bible tells us, for he had great wealth. But simple challenges like this one are usually the most complex, the most difficult to deal with.
Picking up that cross is sometimes not at all easy. Sometimes the cross we have to bear can be hard work: those harsh words from people at work, in the pub or in the School Yard, from people who don’t understand or who don’t want to understand about being a Christian, the blank look from someone who doesn’t appreciate that as a young person you too can have a real faith, the lack of understanding from your parents, your mates, your brothers and sisters or your youth leaders: yes, it’s hard.
But this is not something that Jesus has not been through himself: he was misunderstood by those closest to him: his home town rejected him, and his best mates failed to understand him, time and time again disciples like Peter deserted him and denied him when the chips were down.
To top it all, Jesus was forced to carry his cross, just as he fortold: and this time it was not a metaphorical cross, not a symbol or a sign, not a small necklace-sized cross, but a real one, a 6x2 slab of hard, rough wood: a killing machine.
Jesus carried his cross through the streets just like a despised criminal: jeered at, laughed at, spat at. For the people of the time, it was a fairly common sight, and for some it became a sort of entertainment - a condemned man’s final humiliation; rather like standing up on a stage wearing a Huddersfield Town shirt (for as you can see I really understand humiliation); so when Jesus said that he would have to pick up their cross, they understood that it wasn’t going to be a picnic.
Today we pick up our cross and carry it into our daily lives. But the Gospel isn’t always a burden, it isn’t always weighing us down, for not all the tasks (even the heavy jobs) we are asked to do are onerous.
Now, I more than many people find it difficult to get my head around what God calls us to do in our daily lives: for when I finally after many years of avoiding the issue actually let God in on my life. I began to become aware of what he wanted for me: in my case he calls me to serve him within the church. This is something that I can’t explain fully, except to say that clearly God must have a sense of humour, and clearly the Church of England must have an even better sense of adventure when they took me on to train me towards the sacred Priesthood: Give up your well-paid job, your regular hours and your home comforts, and I will ask to you go once more and be a student on the breadline (and we have the Church of England to thank for that) and at the end of it, you too can have a funny shirt like Fr Stephen [the Chichester Diocese Diocesian Youth Officer]. Bizarre. Weird. For me, the inescapable, inevitable, unavoidable, wonderful destiny that God calls me into.