Aloha Friday Message – April 10, 2020 – Our Cross to Bear

2015AFC041020  – Our Cross to Bear

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    Matthew 10:38 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Matthew 16:24 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” 

    Mark 8:34 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.”

Mark 10:21 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give [it] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  

   Luke 9:23 23 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Luke 14:27 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Aloha nui loa, ʻŌmea! The passage from Matthew 16 has been alluded to during the COVID-19 VIRUS crisis. This is indeed a difficult cross to bear – the entire world threatened by something we cannot see, cannot yet conquer, and cannot fully understand. Jesus said we have to take up our cross and follow him.  There are similar statements in all three synoptic Gospels. The passage in Matthew 10 is part of the Gospel where Jesus is telling the disciples that following him must be the preeminent purpose in their lives. In all six of these verses, there is a pattern of three criteria for being a disciple of Jesus: [1] Deny one’s self, [2] take up one’s cross, and [3] follow Jesus. In Mark 10:21, Jesus tells “The Rich Young Man” that he must divest himself of every material and temporal comfort and then return to Jesus ready to follow him. In Mark 8, Peter has just confessed his conviction that Jesus is the Messiah. Immediately thereafter, Jesus begins to describe his arrest, trial, execution, and resurrection. Peter takes him aside and reprimands him for speaking that way. In a flash, Peter goes from being declared the foundation of the Church to being a Satan. Peter later learns he will indeed follow Jesus to the same destination: Death, death on a Cross. Peter’s Cross was waiting for him in the future; or was it? He denied Jesus; how did he deny himself? He literally took up his cross.

When we hear this expression, “Take up your cross,” we often think of some particular trial, difficulty, or long-standing burden. “I have arthritis, but that’s my cross to bear.” “My neighbors are so rude, they irritate me constantly! But, then, that’s my cross to bear.” “There are thousands of refugees living in abject poverty and fear for their lives. What a difficult cross to bear!” “I really don’t mind the suffering in my life because it means I can offer all that up to God. He has blessed me with a difficult cross to bear.” “This terrible scourge is a message from God that we must repent and believe the Gospel, and then take up this cross of affliction and follow Jesus.

These sentiments are common among people of faith. We know how much Christ suffered on our behalf, and we know we will definitely experience suffering in our lives, too. Jesus paid the full price for our sins through his passion, death, and resurrection. It was done once for all of us, and its effectiveness extends to all who accept Christ as Master and Savior. We don’t need to be crucified the way he was, and he does not need to be crucified again; once was exactly enough. Why then does he want us to take up our cross and follow him? Considering the perfection of his sacrifice, what can we add to that? And just what, exactly, is “my” cross.

A few times in the past, I have stated, “I am my cross.” Have you ever felt that way? We look at our sinful – sin-filled – lives and think about how grieved we are that we cannot do better. We feel like we’re letting God down because we never quite get over the border between bad behavior and good behavior. We even feel a little miffed to know that everyone feels like that. In Romans 7:15 The Apostle Paul says, 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Isn’t that irritating?!? We say, “I try so hard, but I still mess up!” Then our better self, or our friends, or our pastor, or someone we love says, “Well, welcome to the human race. You are only human you know!” And let’s face it; humans are prideful. Humans think we can figure it out on our own and make our lives better conformed to the life of Christ. We just crucify our bad selves with him and resurrect our good selves … with him. But I think there’s something missing in that scenario. Let’s go back and look at today’s texts more closely.

We said the first point was denying one’s self. Why would anyone do that? What does that mean? Again it is the Apostle Paul who gives us a keen insight in Philippians 2:5-11. There is one phrase in that passage – perhaps an early form of a Creed or hymn – that says, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” He gave up his own Glory in Heaven to become a helpless human child who lived – and died – among us: Emanuel. Eve’s mistake was to reach out for equality with God (Genesis 3:5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.”) Adam’s sin was to accept that deception as truth. Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” Everything Jesus did, he did in obedience to his Father. (John 12:4949 for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak.) Whatever he did he did first and foremost for God, his Father. That includes the second point, taking up his cross.

As soon as we hear that, most of the time we think about Calvary, the crucifixion, the hours and hours of shame, derision, and intense agony. But that is not where Jesus “took up his cross.” Where did that happen? In Jerusalem, probably in or near the Praetorium. He had already been beaten nearly to death, mocked, insulted, cursed, and denied. Pilate found no guilt in him, but the crowd overruled his decision. Jesus was forced to carry his own cross. In the context of that time, this was not an unusual sight. Criminals were forced to carry their means of execution to the place of execution. Along the way they were taunted, lashed, hit with stones, scoffed at, and treated without mercy. Jesus did that. We have it in all the Gospels – the Way of the Cross. He took up his cross and carried it to the place of his execution, knowing it would be a horrific experience. He went anyway. Why? Why such a terrible, cursed death? He was committed to do what God had asked of him. He completely identified with God’s loving act of bringing into the world “his only begotten Son, so that whosever believes on him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” The whole thing – the trial, the passion, the way of the Cross, the Crucifixion – every moment of that was a moment of Love. When we take up the Cross, we take up his Love and carry it to where that Love is fulfilled. We carry it to follow him.

When we want to follow him, we want to go as he went: We must always be prepared to accept whatever is on our Way of the Cross – pain and suffering, shame and sorrow, even death – and to be eager to endure it, to meet it with an earnest Joy, even to rejoice we are counted worthy for this. Remember, Jesus did this of his own will, so are you, am I, are we willingly shouldering our cross without complaint, histrionics, or thoughts of some saving intervention? There is only one path to Golgotha, only one Way to go; it is the way HE went. It is the Way of Love. Only Love can conquer sin and death – the same sin and death that came upon all of us when first we deemed equality with God something to be grasped at. How often do we do that in our daily lives as we curse our neighbors, threaten our enemies, or cherish our little (or large) vices in the depths of our hearts, suppressing our conscience so that we fail to see our intentional sin? We are commanded to love our neighbors, bless our enemies, and disdain our sins. That is our cross to bear; to always be faithful to the mission of giving up our lives to God in order save them because of his Love. “Life is our greatest treasure because it is given to us expressly for the purpose of losing it, and how well we do that makes all the difference.” It’s our life to lose, our cross to bear. It’s not a cross to wear.

Some folks believe that wearing a cross is the same as carrying one. Sometimes we notice that so-and-so is wearing a necklace with a cross-shaped charm on it, or perhaps even with a crucifix. Sometimes we notice that a person might have a rosary draped around her/his neck like a necklace, or hanging from the mirror in their car. When we do these things, we are making a statement that we can be looked upon as being Christian. That is a wonderful witness, and it is in keeping with St. Francis’ admonition to “Always preach the Gospel. Use words only when necessary.” Wearing the cross is not, however, bearing the cross, at least not to the fullest measure of Christ’s command to take up our cross and follow him.

Our Cross to bear is to live in and through the Love of God no matter what; to get up each day and say, “Good morning, LORD! Thank you for this day! What have you got on your To-Do List for me today?” And so, we are called to love one another by [1] denying one’s self, [2] taking up one’s cross, and [3] following Jesus. That doesn’t mean we glorify ourselves by acknowledging how greatly we are suffering (while hoping others notice how humbly we suffer), nor do we do well to count up all the petty trials and tribulations in life (everyone has those, you know), and most certainly it does not mean that we pay tribute to the merits of pain and suffering as if they were the only things that please God. It is not the pain and suffering of bearing our cross that matters; it is the LOVE that permeates us body, mind, and spirit as we willingly and joyfully live the life we have as the best way to embrace our cross as what it truly is: The Love of God for all living souls. This is how Jesus opens up before us the “way of life.”

We all surely know that there is no Easter without Good Friday. Let’s remember, though, that Good Friday included a walk far more difficult than anything any of us have had to endure, including this COVID-19 VIRUS. But that’s us. Beloved, all around this world, Christians are facing persecution, torture, and death. Here are the  Top 10 Countries persecuting Christians: [1] North Korea [2] Afghanistan, [3] Somalia, [4] Sudan, [5] Pakistan, [6] Eritrea, [7] Libya, [8] Iraq, [9] Yemen, and [10] Iran. Christians are being tortured, hunted, persecuted, and killed for following Christ. Jesus loves them, too; stand with them in your prayers, even in your politics. Make them part of your Way of the Cross. And while we’re at it, I’m going to give you a little something to help you offer up to God your daily walk to Golgotha. It’s a Prayer to Seek God’s Will, a way to offer your whole self to God each day.

Almighty Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – I love You. I worship You. I adore You. I praise You. I glorify Your name. I give you thanks for revealing your Glory through Christ Jesus. Enlighten, guide, strengthen, and console me. Teach me Your will and empower and inspire me to fulfill it completely, for it is my heart’s desire to serve You well in all that You ask of me and everything that You allow to happen to me. Only make Your will known, and grant me the graces necessary to faithfully follow You to the place You have prepared for me. I offer You this prayer in the name of Jesus, The Christ, our Lord who lives and reigns with God, The Father Almighty, in the unity of The Holy Spirit, The Lord, the Giver of Life. AMEN.

To restate the three points differently: [1] Always put God first, [2] live in and for his Love, and [3] carry that love to the end of the road and lay it all out for him there. Then you will be his disciple.

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever —
at your service, Beloved
Please pray with us here at Share-a-Prayer.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE) New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Aloha Friday Messages by Charles O. Todd, III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

We want to acknowledge and thank Turn Back to God and Jesus Christ Cartoons for this wonderful object lesson on The Cross We Carry. Used with permission from the author at http://www.turnbacktogod.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Jesus-Christ-Cartoon-02.jpg

Please use this link to see the image full-size at that location.

 

 

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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