Jesus says: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

“Take up your cross.” “This is your cross to bear.” You’ve probably heard these words before. But too often, these words have been misused and abused. I have heard too many stories from women who are victims of domestic abuse that they were told the abuse they suffered was “your cross to bear.”

Other people have said that when bad things happen such as you or someone you love gets cancer or another disease, children get hurt, or people die too soon that they are told this is “your cross to bear.” But this is not what Jesus means when he says, “take up your cross.”

Let’s take a look at the story. Prior to our Gospel lesson, Jesus has healed people, cast out demons, argued with religious authorities and fed thousands of people with just a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish. Naturally, people are talking about Jesus. People are wondering: who is he? Who is the one who can make the blind to see and the lame to walk, who speaks with authority and opens up scriptures in new and wonderful ways. And of course… they have some ideas.

Jesus asks- actually the word is “interrogates” the disciples – “Who do people say that I am?” So the disciples spout off the usual: Elijah, John the Baptist (remember Herod has just recently cut off John’s head), or one of the prophets. Then Jesus asks: Who do YOU say that I am?

There has been no talk about Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, up to this point in Mark’s Gospel, but somehow, Peter nails it. You are the Messiah!

But…when Jesus starts to explain what that means… that is, that he must suffer, die and rise again, Peter… rebukes Jesus.

It wasn’t a good idea. But Peter wasn’t alone. He just made the mistake of saying what everyone else was thinking: They had been taught that the Messiah would bring in an era of freedom from oppressors – like the Romans, restore Israel to power amongst the nations and bring peace, purity, prosperity, righteousness and justice to the land. They had been longing for the Messiah – and now that Jesus had come…they thought they were ready for Victory!

Instead, Jesus rebukes Peter, calls him Satan and accuses him of focusing on earthly things – not heavenly things.

Jesus goes on to say, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves.” This doesn’t mean that you should deny the gifts that God has given you. God wants you to use your gifts and talents to be the person God made you to be.

It is these “earthly things” – and Peter’s desire to tell Jesus what

Jesus did not come to fulfill Peter’s, the crowd’s or OUR expectations. Jesus came to save us. And it wasn’t going to happen in the way anyone expected. Jesus colors outside the lines.

Likewise, as Christians today in an increasingly diverse and changing world, instead of trying to make God fit into our plan, we need to ask how we can be a part of God’s mission.

And Jesus, when he says, “take up your cross,” is warning us that it is not always going to be easy to be his follower. Taking up your cross means being a witness for Jesus. As our culture changes, it is getting harder. We can no longer assume that our neighbor is Christian. And yet… Jesus invites you to follow.

So how can we follow Jesus?

Seven faith practices – Worship, Pray, Encourage, Learn, Give, Share, Invite are written on our wall in the narthex. These faith practices help us grow in faith and in discipleship – the church term for following Jesus. And you are already doing at least one of them - Worshipping - right now. But following Jesus is not just a set of practices, like an exercise routine. It’s a way of life and can take many forms. For example:

Alex is a follower of Jesus. Born in Cameroon, he fled the country when his father lost the election and the new leader threatened to kill their family. A good student, Alex was accepted at a Paris university with a full scholarship – despite living in a refugee camp and taking his high school classes on-line. But the summer before he was to start college, he brought a children’s church choir that he began in the refugee camp on tour in the United States. While here, someone stole his passport. He was devastated. He was unable to leave – or work. His money lasted only a short time and then he was homeless. But, Alex was a follower of Jesus and so he joined a church and volunteered. When church members discovered that he was homeless, they took him in and worked to get him his passport. In the midst of it Alex discovered a new call to ministry.

Brenda is a follower of Jesus. She didn’t grow up in church but her grandma sometimes brought her. She remembers, as a child, going to the front of the church to ask to be baptized. Her faith grew through confirmation. But then, as a young woman, engaged to be married, she got ovarian cancer. Prayers went out – and we rejoiced when operation was successful. She and her husband later adopted a boy with severe behavioral difficulties. Then, her husband got sick and died. Suddenly Brenda was a single mom of a very difficult teenager. Again, she felt surrounded with prayer and care. When I asked her, why do you follow Jesus? She said, because I have faith. I can’t imagine my life without hope.

Jane is a follower of Jesus. Her parents dropped her off at church but somehow didn’t think it was important for them to go. Yet, faith grew in Jane, at first because of the friends that she made – and then because of the love of Jesus that she received. But her life wasn’t always easy. At one very difficult time, a time when tragedy struck her family, she called her friend to say, “I am having a really hard time keeping faith right now.” Her friend said, “Then I will believe for you – until you can believe again.” It was a struggle, but Jane is back.

Paul is a follower of Jesus. Paul was serving at a free meal that his church was sponsoring when he noticed a big man who was being pretty gruff with the people around him – obviously had a chip on his shoulder. He sat down beside this man, whose name is John, introduced himself and then noticed something…. Paul said, John, you and I have something in common. John said: Yeah right. But then Paul pointed to the cross that was around John’s neck -- and then pulled out his own. You and I are both followers of Jesus.

Different stories – and yet all followers of Jesus. And then… there are all of you. I could go on and on telling stories of faith – not to compare them, because each person and each story is different – but because each story encourages me –and I hope you – about living a life of faith and following Jesus.

None of the people in the stories that I told are perfect. None are “stars.” In fact, they would consider themselves fairly ordinary people. All have had challenges in their lives. But, they all practice their faith because they know that Jesus loves them – and they love Jesus. This is why they show up and follow Jesus. And so can we. Because sometimes, following Jesus is just about showing up, doing the faith practices and praying for the courage to follow Jesus. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

September 16, 2018

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

Jesus 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those 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."