To follow me
Second Sunday in Lent, Year B, RCL
Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38
What is required to follow Christ? Some people want to know this so that they can check off the list and find their way to heaven. Others realized there is no magic list. We just have to follow the best we can. Today Jesus doesn’t speak in parables. He states clearly, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” To me, this sounds a lot like a list. We have to deny ourselves then take up our cross before we can begin to follow Christ. But, I’m not sure the order really matters. We have an “and” between each statement. Deny ourselves, AND take up our cross, AND follow me. Both lawyers and mathematicians would agree; it appears that we are required to do all three not one then the other in sequence.
Even with this harsh sounding tone, our journey to follow Christ doesn’t seem to get better. Jesus continues to tell us that carrying our cross means we will lose our life, for the Gospel. And because of this sacrifice, we will have life eternal. Our alternative is to save our life, our worldly life; and to do this means spiritual death. These harsh words seem to make our earthly life insignificant. We may wonder, what is the point of our earthly life if we are really looking toward our future life?
Our life here on earth is not meaningless, it is very important. It is important to our loved ones. It may even be important to our colleagues. Many of us realize how important our own life is when we face danger or fear. But beyond any of this importance, life is absolutely important to God. What we do with our lives matter but what we think matters in life maybe insignificant to God. This is the divide Christ is speaking about in carrying our cross.
Carrying our cross is not popular. We may be seen as unusual to others in the world. Whether that be overly pious, overly generous, too trusting, or generally not understanding how life “really” is. God’s form of success doesn’t necessarily mean “success,” as the world defines it. God’s view of success truly involves nothing more than building relationships. When we look at the 10 Commandments we see that they generally fall into two categories. One is to maintain a proper relationship with God. The Second grouping is to maintain healthy relationships with others. But there is something more that we need than just following these commands or rules if you will. We need something before we carry our cross. Jesus alludes to it, Paul speaks directly to it; and that is faith.
Paul holds up Abraham as a great patriarch. Not because of his DNA, the lineage he produced, but as an example of great faith. Paul points out that Abraham had to have faith to accept the truth that God was telling him. He is 100 years old. His wife has been barren from the day they met. And now they are going to have a child? How could this be! It’s not only implausible but impossible . . . until we realized who said this would happen.
Hearing God call either directly or through an angel is striking. At such an invitation we usually don’t simply jump up and shout for joy; running out to do what God has asked. Even for a man of faith, such as Abraham, we find that his belief in God’s word was not instantaneous. For a moment he thought it was impossible. In verse 17, the very next verse which we didn’t read, it says, “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed.” “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”
Look at the highly favored Blessed Virgin Mary. At Angel Gabriel’s announcement, she ponders and asks “How could this be?” What God said would happen, was too incredible to believe. It took some time to sink in. It took time to understand that if it is God speaking than anything is possible.
When we hear God’s call, we often think it is ridiculous or impossible. We want to throw up our hands before we even consider who is calling us. The world traps us in doubt. The world doesn’t want us to pick up our cross. The world doesn’t want us to deny ourselves so that we can serve God’s call. The world wants us to live our lives just as our neighbors do on TV.
We are not usually called to propagate a new Godly nation in our old age or to be the bearer of God himself. God often calls us to more mundane tasks. We are asked to help our neighbors; with food or repairs, clean drinking water, transportation, or a warm place to stay. I’ve never read in the Bible where we are to help the poor only if they deserve it or if they can prove that they are in enough need. When Jesus heals people we don’t know if they turn their lives to follow him or if they go into a life of crime. When Christ feeds the 5,000 his disciples didn’t deny food for those who brought some with them. They did question the crowd to see if they could afford the food being offered. He just gives it to them as a gift, no questions asked. We clearly have a responsibility for our talents, and we are not to be reckless with them. Yet faith calls us to have trust in God and in the work we are doing on his behalf.
Even though I have never experienced a dead man rise, I believe it happened. Both Elijah and Jesus raised several people from the dead but more importantly Christ himself was raised from the dead; so that we can have eternal life. It is only through faith that we believe this. To understand that death has no hold on us, that our earthly body is but dust takes faith. If we can have faith in something that happened 2,000 years ago, then why is it so hard for us to see miracles happening in our own lives right now.
Miracles are easily denied. People millennia ago, as well as today, deny that Christ was raised. I believe it is a miracle that our planet sits in the exact right spot for our existence; that our summer lunch program fed twice as many people as we imagined. Without faith, we do not see God’s plan at work and we rationalize things through our worldly sensibilities. Faith is not just giving God credit for what is unknown to us. It is realizing that the impossible can happen and does.
Can you believe that world peace is possible? Now I’m not saying today but somewhere in the future? Can you believe it is possible? Can you believe that our citizens and government can be united instead of divided? Can you believe that we can find a solution to gun violence? These problems along with many others seem so impossible. We want to throw up our arms and continue life as it is because we don’t know where to begin and we are tired of arguing.
Picking up our cross isn’t easy. Taking up tasks like these can only begin with faith. Faith is the first step toward impossible solutions; in which we deny ourselves and put our hope for our future in God’s hands; so that God can work through us to do the impossible right now at this very moment.