September 7, 2010

Sermon 9/5/2010


Sermon for Proper 18 C
September 5, 2010
Michael Coffey

Texts: Luke 14:25-33


So who’s going to carry your cross for you?
Did you listen to Jesus in Luke’s Gospel?
He has a lot of hard things for us to hear today.
Perhaps hardest of all is when he says:
27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple.
Two better translations of this verse say:
Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross
and follow behind me can't be my disciple.
Or: 27You cannot be my disciple unless you carry your own cross
and come with me.
So who’s going to carry your cross for you?
It’s tough stuff from Jesus.

There are some other hard verses from Jesus
that I’m not going to pay much attention to today.
There’s so much thorny language to hear from Jesus today,
I can’t even address it all in one sermon.
But, I’m afraid to ignore it
and leave you sinking in your pew,
wondering why we love Jesus so much anyway.
Jesus said: 26"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
Hard stuff to hear!
But keep in mind that Jesus is speaking in hyperbole,
purposeful, over-the-top exaggeration.
He’s making a strong point by overstating it
so we have to wrestle with it.
In Matthew, this verse sounds a little better:
Whoever loves father or mother more than me…
Apparently, Luke wanted to make it sound even more harsh,
but either way, the point is not that we should harbor negative feelings
toward family members, or even ourselves,
but that we should have God as our center in life,
so that all other relationships and priorities
have their proper place.

So, I hope I have alleviated one problem in the text for you,
so I can make even more of another problem:
27You cannot be my disciple unless you carry your own cross
and come with me.
Who’s going to carry your cross for you?
It’s clear from Jesus that you are,
but what does that mean?

First off, this might bother and perplex us.
Isn’t Jesus supposed to bear the cross for us?
Don’t we say that he took our place,
or he did all that cross stuff so we don’t have to?
And now we hear him saying this:
27You cannot be my disciple unless you carry your own cross
and come with me.
I don’t think Jesus read the right theology books.

One of the downfalls of some traditional expressions
of Christian belief about the cross
is that they just don’t ring very true.
If they claim that Jesus carried it all on the cross for us,
then we end up unable to explain or find meaning in
our own suffering and our own living.
And if he did,
why didn’t it fix everything?
So don’t trust any theology or church or spirituality or movement
that claims to take away your own cross.
Jesus even told you your own cross is yours to carry.

It should be clear from what Jesus says
that the cross is not a divine punishment Jesus bears for us.
It is not a payment made for a debt we cannot afford.
It is, rather, full, faithful participation in life
as God would have us live it:
loving God and neighbor with abandon,
letting go of our small, fearful self-interest,
and diving head first into the sea of mystery
that is life with God.
This is not some salvation game we play
that if we suffer enough God might accept us.
It is our deepest trust that we are caught up in such divine mercy and love,
that we are already accepted,
and we are already loved,
and we can give ourselves away in love
because each of us is a self so loved.

Even Jesus, it seems, cannot carry your own cross for you.
He can carry it with you,
he can blaze the trail,
he can inspire and empower
and guide and encourage you to do it.
But what he can’t do and won’t do
is take it away from you,
because it would diminish and dehumanize us.

I imagine a faithful response to this text sounds like this:
Please do not carry my cross for me.
It is mine.
It gives my life meaning.
It is my own path God has for me.
It is my own wound to learn from.
It is my own journey to make me truly human.

In Luke’s Gospel,
your cross to bear is your daily task of faithfulness,
your on-going life of loving others
and seeking good for the world,
and dedicating yourself
to the needs of the poor and oppressed,
even if there is a cost that is personal,
financial, social, or physical.
It is faithfulness to God first
that may cause us struggle and pain.
It is our ongoing willingness to accept that
walking this human journey
invariably involves suffering, loss, limitations, and death,
and not letting that stop us from doing good.
This cross carrying isn’t heroics,
or a competition,
or a test,
or something reserved for the extraordinary.
This is the normal, average human life of showing love
and offering the gift of yourself where the world needs you,
where God needs you.

Jesus had his moment in the garden
when carrying his own cross
appeared both frightful and purposeful:
Take this cup away from me,
take away the cross I must bear,
but no…. this is mine to bear, Lord God,
so that through me,
others can bear their own cross,
and know the depth and love
of being part of God’s saving power
lived only in suffering love.

You see, if anyone, even Jesus or God,
took away your path, your full journey,
your cross to bear in this life,
you would miss out on what God is saying to you:
You have a part in this story,
you have a contribution to make,
you have something of yourself worth giving,
and give it you must
if your life is going to be the fullness of human life
God desires and hopes and grants,
that fullness of human life that Jesus lived so completely
so that we can live it with him.
The sheer grace of God in the cross of Christ and your own cross
is to experience and know God at work in you
by the power of the Spirit
bringing about the shifting of the world
toward God’s merciful activity present everywhere,
which Jesus calls the kingdom.
Our lives have this depth of purpose:
bearing the burden of loving others
and the world with God’s love,
a suffering love,
a transforming love that costs,
because nothing is transformed without cost.

It is the cross of the woman in labor giving birth.
It is the artist fighting with the paint and the canvas
until the work finally emerges.
It is the political activist who works for the cause of justice and social change
in the face of opposition.
It is the firefighter running into the burning building
and searching for the missing child.
It is the poet wrestling with words
until the poem that reaches the soul is ready to be spoken.
It is the congregation helping provide sanctuary
to immigrants facing deportation and separation from their children.
It is the general going to fight a in war he doesn’t believe in
but is willing to work to bring it to a just end.
It is the wealthy woman who wrestles daily with how much to give away
for charity and church
and how much to pass on to her children.
It is the farm laborer who works under terrible conditions
even as she tries to change things for the better.
This past week pastors and leaders in our synod
gathered for a day of worship and discussion about the church.
Yeah, I know, it wasn’t all that great.
But in the middle of it,
we heard some folks talk about a major area of ministry
that our church is focusing on for the coming few years:
The Lutheran Malaria Initiative.
The goal is that by 2015 malaria deaths can be eliminated.
So the ELCA and the Missouri Synod and Lutheran World Relief,
are working with a group called Nothing But Nets.
All it takes is $10 to buy a mosquito net for a child or adult,
and in a few years, one of the greatest killers,
far more than HIV/AIDS,
will be eliminated.
This is our church choosing to bear a cross,
a cross that is ours because of the love of God in Christ in us.
Maybe $10 isn’t much of a burden,
and hardly worth calling a cross.
But it is a part of following Jesus,
and it is a cost we can bear with joy and gratitude.
Why would we let others bear this
when we are called to it ourselves?

What Jesus says about all of this is:
count the cost before you start down this road with me.
If you don’t it will come as a shock and a disappointment
and it will derail you.
But go into it knowing, accepting, even embracing the cost
of living with the suffering love of God in you
and the deep joy of life will come to you,
the paradoxical blessing of the cross will be real for you,

This is the surprising love of God in Jesus
that says: you have something to give, too.
It is costly. It is not easy.
But don’t you dare let anyone else
take your own cross away from you.
It is your gift of yourself to give to the world
in the name of and by the power of Jesus,
who bore his own cross full of love
so we can follow him full of the same love.

Who’s going to carry your cross?
You are, because it is God’s entrusting to you
part of the love of God embodied in the world.
But who’s going to carry you?
All your brothers and sisters in Christ,
who share your burden as their cross, too.
And certainly, your brother Jesus,
who comes not to carry your cross,
but to carry you as you live out God’s suffering love
as faithfully and fully as you are able.

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