Bear the Cross

Psalm 22:23-28

You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you[a] I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

Mark 8:31-38
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Bear the Cross

The Congregational Church of Easton – 11/25/74

Have you ever said something really dumb? Or said something that came out all wrong? I know I’ve said a lot of dumb things — like the time I was preaching about the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. I had Isaac clearly written in my notes, but I called him Isaiah throughout the entire sermon.
I heard about a preacher whose opening words to her prayer made everybody laugh. What she meant to say was, “Let us bow our heads and pray silently while the organ plays.” But what she actually said was, “Let us bow our heads in a moment of prayer, while the organ plays silently….”
The organist sat there with her fingers frozen in midair over the keyboard and a puzzled look on her face which clearly said, “How do I play silently.”
It’s encouraging to know that other people make these kinds of mistakes. It makes me feel more normal instead of feeling like a goober, which is probably how Peter was feeling after his encounter with Jesus in this morning’s passage in. Let me read it again.

[31] Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
He said all this quite openly.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

It’s encouraging to know that someone of Peter’s stature and importance in the early church, could walk the walk so well with his foot in his mouth. What we have to remember is that Peter was human, and even the greatest of humans make mistakes.
Henry Ford changed the world. He changed how things are assembled, marketed and how we travel. But did you know he forgot to put a reverse gear in the first car he invented. Not only that, but he didn’t build a door wide enough to get the car out of the building he built it in. If you go to Greenfield Village, you can still see where he cut a hole in the wall to get the car out.
I thank God that we don’t have to be perfect to experience God’s grace and forgiveness.
In this passage we hear a pretty scathing rebuke from Jesus to Peter. Jesus had just changed Peter’s name for Simon to Peter. The Rock. The Rock upon whom Jesus would build the church. Peter had to be feeling like a champ. The future had to be bright and sunny. And then Jesus starts talking about going to Jerusalem and being crucified. The bright and sunny world suddenly crumbled before Peter’s eyes.
Peter took Jesus aside, questioned him and took him to task for talking like that. Jesus then rebuked Peter in front of all the Disciples. Jesus was Cross Eyed. He was focused on the Cross and gave Peter a Cross Eyed Rebuke. Jesus reminded Peter of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. Not comfort — but the salvation of the world, and that meant the Cross.
To become the disciple of a rabbi meant entering a rigorous program of transformation, learning a new way of life, a new set of values and skills. It meant facing a new set of dangers on the road. Once they were thoroughly apprenticed as disciples, they would then be sent out as apostles to spread the rabbi’s controversial and challenging message everywhere. One did not say ‘yes’ to discipleship lightly.
What does this mean for us? How do we apply it? It tells us some very important lessons about being a disciple of Christ and bearing our own crosses.
First, It reminds us we’re not the Center of the universe. That’s the first thing the cross always reminds us about. And yet, it seems to be the hardest lesson we have to learn. There’s a You Tube commercial entitled, “It’s All About Me.” As funny as that sounds, our world is eaten up with people who think like that. They’re still living in the infancy stage of faith. They think the world revolves around them.
I think it was Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes who said: “The whole world is wrong. They all think the world revolves around them when everybody knows the world revolves around me.”
The Cross of Christ changes that attitude. The Cross changes us. When we accept the Rebuke of Peter as our own and look at the world Cross Eyed like Jesus, then we become less like the world and more like Jesus.
I read that Mother Teresa once heard of a family whose nine members were starving to death. She hurriedly got some rice together, went to the family and gave them enough rice to prepare a meal. But the woman of the house divided the rice into two piles, placed one of the piles in a bag and started to leave. Surprised, Mother Teresa asked where she was going. The woman said she was going to visit another family who she knew was starving also.
That, my friends, is living Cross Eyed. The Cross reminds us we’re not the center of the universe.
It also reminds us we’re called to be people of the bruised shoulder. Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship; a life that begins with the empty tomb and responds to the Good News of our salvation by asking us to take up the cross and become the people of the bruised shoulder.
In Medieval Europe it was common for devout Christians to pray for the marks of the crucifixion of Jesus to appear on their hands and feet. It was known as the ‘stigmata.’ It was seen as a sign of deep spirituality and special favor from God. One night while praying for such marks, a certain monk had a vision of Christ with another mark on his body, a bruise on his shoulder; a bruise from carrying the cross. The monk realized that the bruise was the mark that counted — the shoulder bruised from carrying the cross.
You see, the cost of our discipleship involves cross bearing. Bearing the cross means voluntarily taking on the burdens of others. It means choosing to endure pain and problems for the sake of others and the sake of the Kingdom of God.
The Christian faith always begins with the Cross and leads to the cross. It begins with what Christ did for us. And through that sacrifice it leads us to a life of service, a life of carrying our own cross, a life of the bruised shoulder.

The cross reminds us WHOSE we are: we belong to Christ. And the cross reminds us WHO we are: we are the Forgiven, those who have been saved by grace. The cross reminds us that on our own, things will never be perfect. On our own, we will never be whole. On our own, we will never find peace. On our own, we can never know forgiveness, reconciliation or redemption.
The cross reminds us that no matter how hard we try, we just can’t do it on our own. But through the grace and the love of God in Christ, as seen in the cross, we CAN know these things. The cross is a powerful symbol of our salvation and of our relationship with Christ
According to research conducted by George Gallup, 12% of Americans are “highly spiritually committed.” They are those who truly understand what Jesus meant when he said, “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Gallup says the members of this group are “a breed apart from the rest of the populace in at least four ways:
1. They’re happier.
2. Their families are stronger.
3. They’re more tolerant of people of different races and religions.
4. They’re community-minded.” They’re involved in service to others.
There is an old story about two brothers. They were likable enough young men but they had a little bit of a wild streak. It got so wild that they became sheep thieves. They earned their money by stealing sheep from the local farmers.
As happens to all thieves, one day they were caught. Rather than kill them, the villagers decided to brand the two brothers on the forehead with the letters S. T. for sheep thief. The action so embarrassed the one young man that he ran off, never to be heard from again. The other brother was so filled with remorse that he chose to stay and try to reconcile himself to the villagers he had wronged. At first the villagers were skeptical. Most of them wouldn’t have anything to do with him. But he was determined to make reparation for his offenses.
Whenever there was sickness, the sheep thief was there to help care for the sick person. Whenever there was work that needed to be done, the sheep thief showed up to help. It made no difference whether the person was rich or poor, the sheep thief was there to lend a helping hand. Soon he was an integral part of the community, never accepting pay for anything he did. His life was lived for others. As a consequence, he grew to be a friend of all and well-respected.
Years later, a traveler came through the town. As he sat at the sidewalk cafe eating his lunch, he noticed the well-respected old man with the strange brand on his forehead, sitting at a table nearby. It seemed that everybody in town stopped to pay their respects or share a kind word. Even the children stopped to play or give and receive an affectionate hug.
The stranger’s curiosity was peaked and he asked the cafe owner about the old man, “What does the strange brand on his forehead stand for?”
The cafe owner, a contemporary of the old man, thought for a moment then said, “It happened so long ago that I don’t rightly remember. But I think it stands for Saint.”
The Cross of Christ and The Gospel of Christ changes lives. It turns Sinners into Saints when we surrender to God and become people of the Bruised Shoulder who walk with Jesus.

There’s a great story about the artist Rodin, who one day saw a huge, carved crucifix beside a road. He immediately loved the artwork and insisted on having it for himself. He purchased the cross and arranged to have it carted back to his house. But unfortunately it was too big for the building. So, of all things, he knocked out the walls, raised the roof, and rebuilt his home around the cross.
As God’s Forgiven, as Jesus’ Disciples, as members of this Church, that’s what we’re called to do. We’re called to knock down the walls in our lives and rebuild our lives around the Cross of Christ. We’re called to stay Cross Eyed. We’re called to let this rebuke of Peter’s be a reminder that We’re Not the center of the universe. We’re called to be People of the Bruised Shoulder.
Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Look to Jesus. Be Cross Eyed in your faith.
Let us pray. Holy One. Thank you for reminding us we are not the Center of the Universe. Thank you for loving us, even though we’re not perfect. Amen