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Carry the Cross

Proper 18C-16

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago


“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) According to Martin Luther, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing is worth nothing.” This gospel challenges us to count the cost of discipleship. We must be ready to pay the price. Yet we are emboldened by the knowledge that Jesus’ way of the cross will lead us past death to resurrection and even into joy. The call to carry the cross leads into world to be the church.

It’s true this gospel would be much simpler and less risky if only it called us to build a temple rather than to become a temple. We are blessed and challenged to be a temple of living stones, the body of the living Christ, striving to fulfill our mission to be: A Living Sanctuary of hope and grace.

Maybe these harsh words about “cross-bearing” are a call to do what Simon of Cyrene did. Once he picked up the cross, it wasn’t clear to anyone how the day would end.  It was only clear that his future was bound up with the future of the poor, unfortunate person who could no longer carry the weight of the cross.

Maybe that is what discipleship is now.  Maybe it is what it always was. (Richard Swanson, Provokingthegospel, 7/5/16) Maybe being a disciple of Christ simply begins with that spark of compassion upon seeing someone in need, ‘there but for the grace of God, go I” –and being open to follow wherever that compassion leads.

The call to carry the cross is a call to use our bodies, our mind, our energy, our creativity, our talents and gifts to lift the burdens of those who suffer, to stand with victims of injustice in solidarity, to artfully conjure hope in the midst of despair, to strive for the common good.

The way of the cross is shown by the examples of so many saints who lived before us and some who live among us today. The Way is marked with the blood of the martyrs. Fortunately, for us, walking the way of the cross isn’t likely to cost us our lives even as we, with every disciples, will lose our lives and in losing gain it for eternal life

I see some of you carry the cross by caring for one another, some with your generosity, some with your protests, some with your voice in prayer or in song, all of you with your time, your toil, and your tears.

A disciple’s life is played out between the free gift of God’s grace, and the costly call of discipleship. Like piano wire the music of our faith arises from this tension. The pull –the divine lure –of the Holy Spirit summons out our response as we commit everything we have: our life, our love, our family, our wealth, our energy and soul into making music for which we have been specially prepared and gifted, by which the wounded are healed, the prisoners are set free, and the world is restored, according to the demands of peace and justice.

Many people do not see the tension. So they are apt either to worship a loving Jesus who makes no demands, or to worship religious correctness without grace. Both kinds of religion seem are a dead end.

In perhaps the most uncompromising declaration Jesus ever made, in this week’s Gospel he says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters –yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27, 33).

First generation Christians who heard Luke’s gospel would have been more aware that there would always be people who couldn’t deal with their choice to become a disciple, even those they loved were likely to view their choice to follow Jesus as being hateful and selfish. We know in our own experience that sometimes coming out as ‘Christian’ can be costly.

It is important to understand today’s gospel doesn’t call us to wish anyone ill. But it does call us to put God first. Authentic discipleship demands renunciation. Jesus’ invitation to carry the cross is a summons to a whole new orientation to life where we derive our self-worth, not from possessions or accomplishments, nor from family connections, but in emptying ourselves to be filled with God’s power and purpose.

Christian parents aim at preparing children to become members of a much larger family, a diverse community, made one in Christ. With God serving as both mother and father a new family comprised of only brothers and sisters supersedes the family we grow up with. Paul argues in his letter to Philemon even the bonds of slavery are must be broken. Distinctions of race, color, clan, and nation must fall away. None one is higher than another. Neither is anyone lower. There but for God’s grace, go I. Walking the way of the cross, we begin to re-discover the common humanity we share with all people. Look, we are becoming a royal priesthood, a temple not made with hands, a temple of living stones moving to provide sanctuary, grace and hope in the midst of a dark and suffering world.

God is generous therefore; we are called to practice generosity. God is compassionate; therefore we are called to practice compassion. God has shown us hospitality; therefore we must practice showing hospitality to others. God is just; therefore we are called to strive for justice and peace. God is with us; therefore we endeavor to be there for one another.  God is love; therefore we strive to love all people.

This call to carry the cross will cost us everything. Yet God’s grace makes up the difference between what we owe and what we offer.   This simple equation to calculate the price of admission into Christ’s circle has never changed. God has counted the cost. God knows what it will take to build a tower from the ruin of our lives. The Christian life calls us to add our own energy and strength to God’s energy and strength. Pick up the cross and follow me, Jesus says. My burden is easy and my yoke is light. Jesus is leading us on the narrow way that leads into life and the abundance of life. Praise be to God.

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