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"From the Pulpit" - February 24, 2024

"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church

Jesus] 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.32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 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.”

34 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. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”     

from our gospel for this Sunday

Daredevil Living

Remember Evil Knievel, that daredevil from the '70's and ''80's?  The one who drove a motorcycle over 15 buses (unsuccessfully); the one who strapped himself in a rocket and attempted to blast off over the Snake River Canyon in the mid '70's?  Some would call him a daredevil, while others called him just plain stupid. Who would do something so foolish and reckless, we ask?  Why would you do that? Why risk your life over something so outrageous, so...foolish? What's the point, we might ask.

Every time I read this text from Mark's gospel, where Jesus tells his closest companions to deny themselves, and "take up your cross and follow me", I think of Evil Knievel and others who do foolish things.  What was Jesus thinking?  How could he have thought the guys, upon hearing this petition from their rabbi, would actually do that?!  I mean, this was serious stuff. It wasn't "pick up your cross ornament from your jewelry box", or put on a cross around your neck kind of thing.  This was Jesus saying to his friends, prepare to die.  And not just to die, but to die in a very inhumane, agonizing, and painful way, if you want to follow me.  Like dying on a cross - the ultimate torture machine of the Roman Empire. They knew what that kind of death was like.  And it was ugly, and agonizing, as people might hang for days before succumbing to the pain and loss of bodily fluids.

I mean, the disciples loved their brother, Jesus. But his asking them to do something that they saw was just plain stupid, was borderline ridiculous.  I'm guessing that when Jesus asked them to give up what they were doing and "follow me", they thought that they would be entering a new ministry of some sort.  Of ushering in a new kingdom maybe.  But I doubt any of them anticipated having to literally give up their lives as they knew it then.  Is it any wonder that Peter says to Jesus, essentially, God forbid, Jesus, that you die, or that you ask us to die as well?  He didn't want Jesus' life to end senselessly by walking to his own death.  Nor did he want his own life to end in a similar manner.

Just as we might think hopping on a motorcycle and trying to jump over 15 buses is foolish, so, too, would the disciples have thought that taking up one's cross, literally, was foolish.  It makes no sense.  It's not what we thought we were signing up for.

And yet, now, we, having the gift of hindsight, know in some way, what Jesus' message of taking up one's cross means.  Because it is only when we die to one thing, that we can be born anew to something entirely different.  Jesus knew that life was made not to be put on a shelf and preserved.  Or to be free of risk.  Jesus knew that the real life was meant to be given away - to be one of sacrifice for the sake of others. And the only way to do this was to die to one's self, and to become something entirely new.  Not the way we typically see  things in our "me first" world, huh?

The life of the Christian, then and now, is a life meant to be given away. To, as Martin Luther himself would way, to "daily die and rise" anew.  In our baptism, we die to one thing - our old "creature", and through that water, we are born anew - a new creature. I often say to the parents of newly baptized children, that this "death" - of that symbolic journey through the water of baptism, is the only death their child will ever need fear.  Because in that journey, in that baptism, they die to one thing, and are born anew into something holy, divine.

So, for us regular humans, taking up our cross may not mean actually taking up a cross and dying, but it might mean something that makes us uncomfortable, like forgiving someone who's really hard to forgive.  Or praying for someone who's done you harm. Or giving more to the church or other social service agency than you maybe can afford.  Or welcoming someone who's not like you, who doesn't look like, or behave like you. Yeah, these things are really hard, too.  But that's the godly life. The life of the Christian.  The life of discipleship, that we're all called to live out.

I'll say more about this on Sunday.  Hope to see some of you then. In Christ,

Pastor Greg

"Oceans" by Hillsong United

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