Summary: What it means to take up our cross and follow Christ.
“The God We Need”
Peter gets the title right, but he doesn’t seem to understand what that title means.
And so, when Jesus starts to talk NOT about the road to glory but instead the one that leads to the Cross, Peter rebukes Him…and then Jesus rebukes Peter right back.
Which might call into question our own understanding of Jesus.
Because Peter’s definition of “Messiah” might be the one we prefer as well.
Peter, we, and just about everyone probably want a God who heals our every illness, provides us with financial prosperity, guarantees our security, roots our sports teams on to victory and generally keeps us happy, healthy and wise.
But that’s not exactly what Jesus seems to offer.
Instead, Jesus points to a God Who meets us in vulnerability, suffering, and loss.
A God Who meets us in those moments when we really need God, when all we had worked for, hoped for, and striven for fall apart and we realize that we are, quite simply, mortal, incapable of saving ourselves and desperately in need of a God Who meets us where we are.
And this means that we don’t necessarily get the God we might think we want, but instead, the God we need.
Will Willimon tells of a friend of his who hit rock bottom, spun out of control, and crossed the median heading the wrong way at 100 miles per hour.
He fell from his prestigious place as an attorney to the depths of alcoholism.
He came home one day to find his family, his pastor, and three of his closest friends all sitting in his living room.
And it wasn’t his birthday, and yet it was in a sense.
He is now on his way to recovery thanks to his loving wife and children and the good work of AA—but especially because God is a God Who meets us where we are—when we really need Him or when we know we really need Him.
“I had always gone to church,” the man told Will, “but always in the back of my mind, I thought Church was for losers, the weak.
But you would be amazed at what I’ve learned about God.”
“Like what?” Will asked him.
“Like so many phrases I heard all my life suddenly have become real to me,” he replied.
“Like what?” Will asked again.
“Like take up your cross’ and ‘You can only find your life by losing it.’
Through hitting rock bottom, I’ve met God,” said Will’s friend.
Thus far in our Gospel Lesson, Jesus has been talking only to His disciples.
But after His encounter with Peter, Jesus calls the crowds to come closer and listen up.
He then takes up the question of the Christian life, stating plain and simple that those who want to follow Him must deny themselves and take up their cross.
But we need to slow down a minute here, because we all too often view Jesus’ language of cross-bearing and denial through the lens of…say… “Weight Watchers.”
You know, have a little less of the things you like, don’t over indulge in the things that make you happy, cut enjoyment calories whenever possible because they’re not finally, I don’t know—Christian.
But I don’t think that is what Jesus is talking about.
I think instead, Jesus is saying that the “life” that has been packaged and sold to us isn’t real life and we need to die to those illusions to be born into the abundant life God wants for us.
Here’s the thing: many of us tend to think that life is something you go out and get, or earn, or buy, or win.
But it turns out that life is like love, it can’t be won or earned or bought—only given away.
And the more we give it away, the more we have.
In fact, only when we love others do we most understand what love really is.
In the same way, only when we give away our life for the sake of others do we discover it.
Somehow, in thinking about how to fulfill the needs of others our own deepest needs are met.
It’s the mystery of life and the key to the Kingdom of God.
That’s one reason why becoming involved in “hands-on” ministry is so important for our spiritual lives.
Volunteering at the Food Pantry, the Community Kitchen and the vast array of other available ministries is essential.
I read an interesting story this past week written by a person named Kyle Childress.
Kyle shares the following:
“A good while ago, back in 1991, our small, struggling congregation was faced with caring for some men with HIV and AIDS.
It was controversial: we were small and did not know if we were going to survive as a church or not.