- Forms | Resources
- About Us
- Give / Donate
June 21, 2020
Third Sunday after Pentecost
There are a lot of people who use crosses as decorative pieces of art. I’m one of them. I have a small collection of wall crosses, partly because of what the cross represents for my life of faith. But also because I appreciate the different ways artists express themselves through them.
The different colors, shapes, and materials remind me of the variety of ways a person’s faith can be expressed. And they help add depth and meaning to my own faith journey.
But in today’s gospel reading, Jesus reminds us that the cross is much more than just a piece of art we might hang on a wall or a charm we wear as a piece of jewelry.
In this reading, the disciples have been commissioned and are getting ready to head out, so Jesus is giving them some final words before they go. But on the surface, they don’t appear to be words of encouragement. In fact, he tells them “do not be afraid” three times. And that’s even before he gets to the difficult part.
We aren’t told what the disciples said or thought as Jesus spoke, but I wonder whether they were asking themselves, “What’d I get myself into?”
Jesus cuts to the chase here. He names the hard truths about what it means to follow him, not to be discouraging, but to make the disciples aware of what it will cost them. The disciples knew what the cross was used for – they’d seen people put to death on it. So they knew Jesus wasn’t kidding around when he said that following him means taking up the cross.
Because what Jesus was getting at, is that following him means living a life that’s cross-shaped, or cruciform. A way that’s open to God and to the world. A way of living that’s vulnerable; and also a way of living that’s transformational.
So when Jesus was telling the disciples to not be afraid, he wasn’t saying, “don’t ever get scared” but rather, “following me is going to be hard and it’s going to cost you a lot, but it’s the only life worth living, and I’ve got you. Don’t be afraid to live in my name.”
Jesus knew what was coming, not just in terms of his death but in terms of what the cross would ultimately do. Because before it ever became a piece of art or jewelry, the cross first exposed the things that threatened God’s world and God’s people and told the truth about those threats.
At its core, the cross rebukes power that threatens and silences and kills. And that’s bad news for people who have power and want to hold onto it. But it’s good news for people who are overlooked or beaten down, or vulnerable or discriminated against, or are persecuted for standing up for justice.
Because the cross is where God showed up and transformed the world in a way no one could have imagined. It flipped the world and freed the people who’d been held down.
So to take up the cross and follow Jesus means to side with the people who are vulnerable and whom society considers be expendable. It’s a dividing line of sorts. And that line doesn’t usually fall between complete strangers. More often than not, it falls between family members or friends.
Jesus knew that that division would happen to the disciples and the lives they left to follow him, and he knows it can happen to us. But living a cross-shaped life is the only one worth living, and so he tells us, “Do not be afraid to live in my name.”
There are people who’d like us to believe that following Jesus is easy; that it won’t be any problem to live the way he did; that if people don’t like what that means for our relationships with them it’ll be easy to just shake it off and keep going.
But anyone who has had to wrestle with the complexities of life, knows that it isn’t easy because following Jesus isn’t something we do halfway or only when we feel like it. We either follow Jesus or we don’t. That is what divides families.
As Lutheran Christians, this is part of our baptism. We make the choice every day to live out that vocation – to die to ourselves and rise to new life in Jesus. And some days it’s easier to make that choice than others.
The life Jesus lived is threatening because he redefined the worth of people who were and are thought to be worthless. Living the kind of life Jesus lived, standing for the things he did, sometimes makes people think you’re weird and it puts you at risk of being ridiculed.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, we hesitate to take up the cross because we’re afraid of that happening. We’re afraid of what other people might think of us. But Jesus reminds us that what people think, while it might sting, it really can’t hurt us and so there’s no reason to fear it.
When we take up the cross and follow Jesus, when we are the people God calls us to be, things get disrupted and relationships get divided because we speak the truth. We challenge ideologies and ways of being and thinking that cause harm to others. We point out that not everyone is on equal footing, or has been given the opportunities they need to thrive.
In short, when we take up the cross, we live a life that threatens power structures and hierarchies, and demands wholeness and the life God wants for all people. This makes it sound like we need to be doing big things all the time, day in and day out. But it really comes down to how we live our day-to-day lives.
So for some of us, it does mean putting ourselves out there and advocating for things like affordable housing and mental health care in order to alleviate the work that has unfairly been dumped on police departments. And to demand that companies do better by us so that we can repair the damage being caused to our planet. And to support legislation that protects people regardless of their skin color, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
And for some of us it means we stand up to bullies at school or at work, even if it means going against our friends. We make decisions, as best we can, about the products we buy and use. We educate ourselves about current issues and make ourselves open to learning about different perspectives.
And what we learn in the process is that, even though some days are hard, a cross-shaped life is the only life worth living.
Taking up the cross and following Jesus doesn’t mean putting one on your wall or wearing it as a charm around your neck. It’s a commitment to speak the truth about the world we live in, because that’s first and foremost what the cross does. It reveals the truth, the threats to God’s creation and God’s people.
Taking up the cross means living a life that is cross-shaped: a way of living that’s vulnerable, and recognizes that the cross is the place where God shows up, and transforms us and the world in ways that are beyond our imagination. Amen.