We are continuing in our study of the Gospel of
Mark this morning, and have come to the 8th chapter. This section that
I'm going to share in just a bit comes right after that question Jesus
asked of his disciples: "Who do you say that I am?". And it's Peter that
responds "You are the Christ".
And then Jesus gives his first of three predictions of his suffering and
death, and Peter didn't like that, tries to talk him out of it, doesn't
want to hear of it, and Jesus says "Get behind me Satan". And then Jesus
teaches what it means to be one of his followers, what it means to be a
disciple. So that's the section we're reading from, chapter 8, verses 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. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the
whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in
return for their life? 38Those 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.’.
If there is one metaphor to describe
discipleship, what it means to be a follower of Jesus, I think it's this
one. This notion of carrying the cross, taking up the cross. And that
has always seemed to me to be a rather heavy burden. Does it seem that
way to you? Crosses are not light things.
We remember, after all, Jesus said: "I was hungry and you did not feed
me". And we say, Lord there are so many hungry people out there.
"I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me". Do you know who's
in prison?! Drug addicts! Rapists! Murderers! Criminals! You don't mean
we should visit those people, do you?
"Foxes have holes, birds have nests, the Son of Man has nowhere to lay
his head". But there are over 2,000 people here in Eugene alone that are
homeless! Jerry Smith informed me this morning there are over a million
children in this country that are homeless. How can we provide for all
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God".
But Lord, the Iranians are trying to build a nuclear bomb. And the
Libyans killed our Ambassador. It's time to quit apologizing and to get
You know, if we try to take on every single just cause, pretty soon we
find it's not the cross we carry, it's the weight of the world on us.
And who can do that? Who can carry it all?
You know there are those who I think actually enjoy carrying the world
on their shoulders -- you know who I mean, right? The martyrs? "I have
so much work to do, I have so many committees to work on, there are so
many jobs here at the church, if I didn't do it, who would do it? So
many people depend on me, there's just not enough time. . . . .". Do you
feel for me? :) If I ever act like that, do me a favor, just take me out
back and shoot me :).
So here's the first thing I want you to take away from the sermon this
morning: taking up the cross is not a personal invitation from Jesus for
you to be a martyr. Remember what Jesus says in Matthew's Gospel" "Come
to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take
my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy, my burden is
Really? I mean it doesn't sound very light to me. How is it that the
cross of Christ on which Jesus was crucified is an easy burden,
especially when so many seem burdened by it?
I don't know if you've ever noticed that I'm a bit of a Duck fan :) I'm
so quiet about it, I hardly ever mention it :) One of the things that I
appreciate about sports, like football and basketball, is the team
aspect of the sport. When one person is having a bad day, drops the ball
at the one-yard line, along comes an offensive lineman who's run 50
yards to recover the fumble in the end-zone (was that great yesterday,
One of the best moments of the Olympics this last summer, I thought, was
when Michael Phelps won his 127th gold medal (whatever it was :). Do you
remember the one in which he became the athlete with the most gold
medals ever? Do you remember which event it was? It was a relay -- it
was a relay, the 4x200, he needed his teammates to win that medal. And I
love that image, it wasn't the individual sport, it was about the team.
And not only that, but he was swimming the anchor, and I'm sure it's
because his coach new it was going to be a special moment, go down in
history of the Olympics. Normally he did not do that. The other team
that was the closest competition, their anchor was 1 second faster than
Michael Phelps. But his team gave him a four-second lead, so they won by
three seconds. I love that. So that's the medal that put him over the
top, his 18th or 19th, whatever it was. It's about the team.
So I want to suggest to you that Christian faith is not about our
individual achievements -- it's about the team. If we seek to carry the
cross alone, it is unbearable. But if we share that burden then there is
no load we cannot bear.
It's rather remarkable in the gospel (Mark and Matthew, maybe Luke too,
I forget), when it comes for that time when Jesus is called literally to
bear the cross, you remember that? He doesn't do it alone. It's Simon, a
Cyrene, who's called to bear the cross for him. So, if the son of God
got help bearing the cross, who are we to think we can bear it alone? Do
you think God wants you to carry a heavier burden than Jesus?
Remember the promise of Jesus, where two or three are gathered together
he will be with us? Carrying the cross is about bearing one another's
burdens, because that's what makes it bearable. That's what makes the
yoke of Christ light.
The final scene in that wonderful, classic Christian musical "Godspell"
(of some 30-plus years ago) that I love so much, after Jesus has been
crucified, the disciples take him down and in the movie (the way it's
portrayed) he's carried into the streets of New York City as they sing
"Prepare ye the way of the Lord". It's a wonderful moment that sends
chills down my spine because that is the meaning of taking up the cross
-- to carry it, to carry Christ together into the world. And when we do
that, working together as followers of Jesus, we participate in the
incredible transformative power of God which can and does work miracles.
It is a power that is greater than the sum of the whole.
The author Wallace Spears writes "The success of
Christianity does not depend on the brilliance of the few great men or
women, it is rather a tidal wave of cumulative power created by the
combined belief and action of countless ordinary people like themselves,
gathering momentum as it rolls along until, through overwhelming mutual
convictions, it lifts everything in its path to new heights of beauty
And so we speak not of the burden of the cross but of the power of the
cross. Created by the combined beliefs and actions of countless ordinary
people willing to take it up and to carry it into the world. Heaven
knows if the success of the church were dependent upon the brilliance of
your Senior Minister, we'd be in a heap of trouble, right? :) Amen :)
It takes all of us. It's the combined power of ordinary people like us,
with that power of God, that does extraordinary things. Like the Sunday
breakfast, Phyllis can't do that by herself, right? It's all those other
folks down there helping out. Like the Good Samaritan Ministry, and like
the Choir -- you can't have a choir by yourself.
True, but little-known story of a group of German women married to
Jewish men who took Hitler on in 1943 and won. The story is so
unfamiliar, that when Judy and I watched the movie "Rose Street" (the
name of the street where the men were held and where the protests were),
we watched the movie earlier this summer, it wasn't until I started
working on this sermon and I looked it up, I realized I actually used
this as an illustration 9 years ago when it first came out. Totally had
forgotten that, when watched the movie again. It's a great movie.
At any rate, it's the story of how these Aryan women were face-to-face
with the SS troops sent by Hitler to put an end to the protest, who were
demanding the release of their Jewish husbands. And with the whole city,
in effect, watching. And the soldiers couldn't do it -- they shot over
their heads, tried to intimidate them. But through the conviction and
the rightness of their cause, they persisted until finally the SS had to
back down. And those Jewish men were freed and their lives spared. In
the heart of Nazi Germany, a thousand Jewish men saved because of those
women working together.
This is the power of the cross. When we share its burden to further life
and goodness, overcoming the shame of evil, through combined actions of
ordinary people. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves when taking up the
cross. That is, to take part in something that is larger than ourselves.
In the whole, for the sake of the greater good, that exceeds the
interest of any one individual while seeking the good of all
Now I won't deny that still requires some
sacrifice. I will insist that the sacrifice of life is not the will of
God, and that the sacrifice of Jesus was to put an end to that kind of
sacrifice. And yet we are still called to sacrificial living -- not
sacrificial dying, and certainly not sacrificial killing. Sacrificial
living means we give up the possibility of living in extravagance, that
there may be an abundance for all to share.
Sacrificial living means we live for others as much as we live for
ourselves. As Jesus said: "Love your neighbor as yourself".
Sacrificial living means that we give proportionately of our resources,
back to God. "To whom much is given", Jesus said, "much will be
required". I think we are people to whom much is given.
The pundits have now had a field day over Mitt Romney's refusal to
release his tax records for the last 10 years, because he says he does
not want to give undue attention to the recipients of his charitable
giving, primarily the Mormon Church. And skeptics speculate it's because
he hasn't fulfilled the requirement of giving 10%. OK, Christian people,
do you know what the average for Christians is? It's less than 3%. And
we're going to make a case that Mitt Romney hasn't given 10%? I suspect
probably the reverse is true, I take him at his word, that he doesn't
want to draw attention to his Mormon faith because that may work against
him in the election. But still, we have something to learn from that
example. Mormons, as a group, are among the highest who give to
charitable causes of any faith group. We can learn a few things from
Sacrificial living, of course, means much more than how we use our
financial resources. To deny ourselves and to take up the cross is to
unite with the body of Christ and to serve when and where as Christ
served. To bring wholeness and well-being to the sick and broken. To
give hope to the hopeless and help the helpless. To find the lost, to
save the condemned. To turn war into peace in hate into love.
This is the primary purpose of our many outreach ministries, like the
Sunday breakfast, and the Helping Hand ministry, and the Good Samaritan
ministry, and our Trailer ministry, and our outreach offerings that
support the work of Disciples around the world. Like Fiji, mentioned
this morning in our bulletin. And things like Church World Service that
we work with very closely in serving people around the world. To carry
the cross into the world, that pain and suffering, hunger and violence,
injustice and war may be nailed upon it, and transformed by its power,
lifting our world to new heights of harmony and beauty, unveiling new
visions of peace and justice.
It's also, this may surprise you, the purpose of
our Youth ministry. Helping youth to discover their place in God's
world, and God's will for their life, affirming each as a child of God,
whole and beautiful as God made them as they are. It's also the purpose
of our Music ministry, to create harmonies of God's peace within the
discord of the world's unrest. To give voice to our praise of God's
justice and love. It's also the purpose of our Educational and our Small
Group ministry, opening up the minds of young and old alike to the
presence of God in our midst and the way that God would have us live.
It is the purpose of all that we do as the body of Christ, sharing in
mutual responsibility for one another, carrying each other's burdens,
making love of Christ manifest, tangible, visible, here in the heart of
It was about 12-15 years ago that the City of Eugene lost its court case
in the Ninth Circuit Court (federal court) over the Skinner's Butte
cross, where the flag now is. The City decided rather than to take the
case to the Supreme Court, to take it down. And the Mayor appointed a
relocation committee, and I was one of those appointed to serve on the
committee to find a new home for the cross. Now, there were some people
very upset, disappointed, angry. There were others very pleased. It was
an opportunity to have really good, honest dialogue with one another
over what the whole issue of separation of church and state means. The
one thing that I said consistently, before even that the decision was
announced, I said from the pulpit and I said in the press during that
whole process of finding a new home for that cross was this: that it is
not the job of government to hold up the cross. That is our job as
And furthermore, I have to tell you, particular now in light of all the
unrest in the Muslim world over this awful video (and Muslims that are
quite understandably offended), I was offended. I was offended at the
way the City of Eugene, through a vote of the people, said that cross on
that hill was not a religious symbol. Seriously, we voted, and we said
that it's a war memorial. And that was the City's defense of why it was
justified on public property, because it wasn't a religious symbol. Are
you kidding me?! Of course it's a religious symbol. It's the most
important symbol we have in our faith, and that's precisely why it had
to come off of public property. Because we are the ones who are called
to carry that cross, not the City. It is our job as Christian people.
And so what better way to symbolize its power than to take it down, and
to show how, through the weakness of God that is greater than our power,
to show that transformation that is possible, we took it down just as
they took down the cross from Golgotha, to carry it into the world, into
the community where it belongs, held up by Christian people as the sign
of God's transformative power available to all.
My hope, my desire, my vision, has always been that we will be that kind
of community of transformation where people will see and experience
God's life-changing power by sharing together this blessed burden of the
cross, as we carry it into the world. To be that light for all to see.
May it be.