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3/8/2009 - The Rev. Caron A. Gwynn - The Second Sunday of Lent

posted May 21, 2010, 6:23 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:24 PM by Terry Brady ]
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. 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.

In the name of the one holy and undivided trinity. Amen.

In Mark’s Gospel, we previously heard Peter proudly reveal the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus, seeing the disciple’s bonafide faith in knowing his identity, finds that it is time to raise the learning curve.

I believe that as our faith grows everything begins to change -sometimes before we even know what is happening. We all know that the life of the disciples was never the same for them and they could never go back to their villages as anglers. They were empowered to become anglers of humankind for generations to come. However, there were some challenges that came with the job. Jesus says, in order to follow me deny your self, take up your cross, and walk behind me. Jesus was very clear about his expectations for disciples. The disciple should be prepared to suffer along with Jesus and trade self-concerns and wants for servant hood.

Jesus expected a bone fide disciple to follow him and adopt new ways of life that required sacrifice and self-denial. The early disciples gave up their homes, occupations, and families to follow Jesus. What more were they to do in terms of self-denial?

Today, Jesus requires no less of those who want to be disciples and follow the path he taught. Today, as disciples, what are we to think about in terms of self-denial? Right now, we are in Lent, which is usually the time Christians pay a little more attention to the practices of self-denial until Easter. After Easter, we can return to those enjoyable things we have forgone during the season of Lent.

However, I think Jesus had something else in mind for the early disciples as well as for us today as disciples of Christ. Jesus was saying that we, as disciples, are called to say “no” to self. Parents, I am sure there are times when you have to say no to your children. Do you recall how many times you have said no to your little ones? I am sure there were so many times you cannot count all of them. Nevertheless, you said no for a particular reason. For instance, you told little Mark not to touch anything on the stove when it was in use or not play with matches. Jesus may tell adults something similar: do not eat that, do not smoke in bed – or better yet - do not smoke.

These ‘no’s were not temporary but life-long practices. Jesus had in mind a different kind of self-denial, which was to become permanent. For us, self-denial may not mean abandoning your family or giving up ice cream. Self-denial means saying “no” to self. The self has to die like apostle Paul says, “We die to self” and become new creatures in Christ.

We do not like to give up the things and activities we enjoy. However, we are called as disciples to give up control in our lives and say no to our own desires and our own will. We are called, as disciples, to leave our agendas at the door before entering a business meeting for the benefit of the group. You are called, as young people, to say no to self because your values as followers of Christ may be different than those of your peers at school.

The thing for us to remember as disciples is that self-denial is a permanent calling because we are marked and set apart as God’s dwelling place for Lent and beyond. In Readings for Meditation, C.S. Lewis offers this reflection for us to consider:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what God [He] is doing God [He] is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.

But presently God [He] starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is God [He] up to? The explanation is that God [He] is building a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made in to a decent little cottage: but God [he] is building a palace. God [He] intends to come and live in it. God intends to come and dwell in you.” (from fC.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity quoted in C.S. Lewis: Readings for Meditation and Reflection, edited by Walter Hooper. Found in Synthesis, March 12, 2006)

The heart of the Gospel of Mark includes the invitation for all disciples to pick up your cross and follow Jesus. The early disciples were mesmerized by witnessing Jesus heal the sick and the lame. However, they were not thrilled about the prospects of suffering and carrying the cross as Jesus had instructed. Who would want to do that? During the time this Gospel was written, carrying a cross meant death and it meant being strung up by the Roman army and crucified like a criminal. Needless to say, it was an horrific ordeal. But we know that the early disciples did, indeed, pick up their crosses for the Gospel as followers of Christ. They all died cruel deaths with the exception of apostle John who died of natural causes. Jesus died on the cross.

Jesus asks us today to pick up our cross – but what does that mean for us? It is not likely that in this country disciples will meet their deaths because they are Christians. However, in other countries such as China, Burma, South America it does happen. Contemporary disciples who are serious about their faith and values may encounter some conflicts with those who think differently in our schools, worksites, and sometimes - yes even in our churches and even in our families where steadfast faith may cause suffering and pain among certain family members.

We usually think to pick up our cross means carrying some type of problem, illness, or concern that is weighing heavy on us. But that is not it carrying our cross does not mean allowing abuse to be inflicted upon us by anyone either. I agree with C. Edward Bowen who sums up nicely what it means to pick your cross and follow Jesus. He says, “When we come to the point in our lives where God’s love fills our heart we will do whatever God wants us to do even to the point of giving our lives. This is what Jesus did. Jesus followed in the way God wanted him to follow even to the point of giving his life there on the cross. Jesus also invites us to do what God wants us to do, no matter how difficult or challenging it may be. This may mean doing those things that there is not enough money to pay us to do but that’s what God wants us to so we do.”

Taking up your cross daily in self-denial is hard to hear and hard to do as disciples of Jesus. Consider this story: A man went into a store complaining that his cross was too heavy. He wanted to trade it in for another one. So he walks around the store and tries out several of the crosses to see how they feel. He is just about ready to give up and decides to leave. On the way out, he notices one in the corner and inquirers to the storeowner, what about that one over there? The owner looks up and says— what, that little one? It’s the one you brought in with you!

We are called to follow God. Jesus knows the weight of the cross he is asking us to carry. The good news is we do not have to carry it by ourselves. Jesus is carrying the cross with us.

In conclusion, we are called to be followers - as hard as it is for some of us not to be the leaders. There is only one master and one leader who wants to dwell with us daily and be the center of our lives. This Lent, and always, we have an invitation to receive a gift that will last for eternity as only God can give us when we are serious and ready to deny ourselves. Pick up your cross and follow Jesus. Amen.