The following commentary is an abbreviated form of the sermon for Sunday.
On the face of it today’s scripture texts (Jeremiah 15:15-21, Romans 12:9-21 and Matthew 16:21-28) slap us on the face.
The prophet Jeremiah was deeply unpopular for his prophesies. His own people, the Israelites, persecuted him for telling them things they didn’t want to hear. He cried out to God, Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?
Part of the reason Paul wrote his letter to the Romans was that the early Christians were fighting among themselves. His instruction was hard. He told them, Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
In the gospel Jesus has turned his attention from the masses of the people who were following him for the bread, the cures, the teachings, to his disciples. Instead of the benefits Jesus has offered to the crowds he tells his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things …and that he must be killed … and on the third day be raised to life.
Then he instructs them, Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Jesus said that self-denial is how they will become his disciples.
Welcome to the Christian life! … at least a significant part of it.
The question is: how does “taking up one’s cross” play out in daily life. We don’t crucify people in North America these days… thank God.
We all suffer pain. Sometimes it is physical and visible … sometimes not. It can make us react in ways that we…later….recognize are not generous or compassionate. Just as others’ pain may make them act in ways that seem unreasonable, self-destructive or even cruel.
In these moments each of us is called to take up our cross, to bear the hardships, even when they are unjust and to respond with generosity.
There is much more to the scripture lessons today …. Taking up the cross is about more that suffering. Taking up the cross is about transformation.
The text from Jeremiah includes God’s promise that, “If you repent, I will restore you” Restoration is also part of God’s covenant.
Paul concludes Romans with the words, Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Paul’s words are an assurance that we can overcome evil.
And Matthew reports that, as well as being crucified, on the third day after his death Jesus will rise again to life.
Transformation through taking up the cross is also part of the scripture of Jeremiah, of Paul and Matthew.
The meaning of the cross is that God has acted to redeem the world and renew human life.
Like Peter we may be tempted to deny the cross because it is so hard for us to see beyond its pain to salvation. Yet that is what today’s scripture readings call us to do. Taking up the cross is our way of achieving the abundant life
God promises restoration and renewal by Christ’s example of overcoming evil with good and by the assurance of new life in Christ as we take up our crosses.
We do not get to select the crosses God gives us. We do not get to set the conditions on how much we are prepare to pay. But we have God’s assurance that his grace is sufficient.