The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
25 February 2018
2 Lent, B
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
“Take up your cross, the Savior said,
if you would my disciple be;
take up your cross with willing heart,
and humbly follow after me.”
I have a history with this gospel text.
To be honest,
I have a history with a lot of biblical texts.
Growing up Southern Baptist,
I know the Bible.
I’ve heard lots of sermons
on lots of texts.
Some of them stick in my memory
more than others,
some from childhood
more than as an adult.
Perhaps what sticks
is the recurring themes
of hearing similar sermons many times
rather than the lectionary
offering four texts each week.
But this passage,
or other gospel variants,
sticks with me.
“Take up your cross; let not its weight
fill your weak spirit with alarm;
Christ's strength shall bear your spirit up
and brace your heart and nerve your arm.”
What I remember about this passage
isn’t so much its context.
I don’t remember
it being linked so closely
to Jesus’ and Peter’s
I didn’t grow up with Lent,
so I certainly didn’t hear this text
as about walking with
and living like Jesus.
The sermons I heard weren’t bad.
We were admonished
to let Christ and the spirit
get us through temptations.
We were told
would have a different cross.
I heard how any trial we face
can be a cross we have to take up.
Paul had his thorn in the flesh.
People battle the demon
of addiction and its impact.
strays from the way of the church.
Their family feels ashamed,
and their mother says,
“It’s just my cross to bear.”
Rather than come out,
you just take up your cross.
Taking up a cross
could be facing any kind of challenge.
“Take up your cross, heed not the shame,
and let your foolish pride be still;
the Lord for you accepted death
upon a cross, on Calvary's hill.”
While we heard about
taking up metaphorical crosses
rarely did we think about
literally taking up a cross.
That was something
the Assembly of God
youth group did,
dragging a cross all over town
on Good Friday.
We talked about
the cross being foolishness,
but in my recollection
we didn’t talk about how nonsensical
the message of Jesus is.
Like so much of Christianity through time,
we joined Peter
in setting our mind not on divine things
but on human things.
Jesus tells his friends
that he has to suffer and die.
Peter was having
none of this savior dying business.
Peter and his friends
wanted a militant leader.
They wanted power to save them
from their Roman oppressors.
The church through history
traded the cross for a sword
when Christianity became the religion of the empire.
We traded death
for power and control
when we offered American natives the choice
of convert or be killed.
from the Mainline
at the beginning of the 20th century
at the end of the 20th century
traded political power
for the resurrection
that can only come after death.
The American Christianity
that most often makes the news
wants religious freedom
to not follow the law of the land
while also wanting to write the laws of the land
and exclude people not like them
exclude people like me
and exclude people like many of you.
Cameron Kasky, a senior at
Stoneman Douglas High School said
“There’s a section of this society
that will just shrug this off
and send their thoughts and prayers,
but will march for hours
when they have to bake a rainbow wedding cake.”
Baking wedding cakes
for queer couples --
or refusing to --
isn’t taking up a cross.
I don’t think that calling
Senators Cantwell or Murray
for stricter federal gun laws
is taking up a cross either.
Doing the work we’ve been given to do
is certainly one way of walking with,
living like Jesus this Lent.
That doesn’t mean it’s taking up a cross though.
What Jesus directs us to today,
as he rejects Peter’s rebuke about death,
is actually being willing to die.
Taking up our cross,
living the cruciform life,
living like and walking with Jesus
means exploring the reality that we will die
and that death has been defeated.
Taking up our crosses
means trading in those swords
swords of the empire,
swords that make winners and losers in politics
swords that are shaped like high powered weapons.
Taking up our crosses
means following Jesus
all the way to the grave if necessary.
“Take up your cross, then, in Christ's strength,
and calmly every danger brave:
it guides you to abundant life
and leads to victory o'er the grave.”
Last week there was
an active assailant training.
I didn’t go.
I didn’t promote it.
I am not throwing stones
at those who went
or those who taught it.
But I can’t help but wonder
if we’re worried about
subduing an active assailant --
when we’ve gathered
to proclaim and respond to God’s Word,
to receive Christ’s very Flesh and Blood,
have we like Peter set our minds
not on divine things
but on human things?
As we gather to say
“On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures…
his kingdom will have no end….
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.”
“Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again”
do we really mean it,
if we’re worried about being killed?
Are we proclaiming resurrection
if we’re fearing our deaths?
“If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.
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.”
“Take up your cross and follow Christ
nor think till death to lay it down;
for only those who bear the cross
may hope to wear the glorious crown”
 Charles William Everest. “Take up your cross, the Savior said.” The Hymnal 1982, number 675. Public domain.