Let these words be more than words and give us the spirit of Jesus. Amen.
Jesus said to take up your crosses and follow him. But what does that mean? What is your cross? What is the thing, or things, that you bear on a daily basis?
Colin Mathewson, curate at St. Paul’s Cathedral, said that even though the cross has become a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion, it really wasn’t the cross that killed Jesus. It was sinful human actions. The cross itself was simply two pieces of heavy wood fashioned together. It’s the same with our crosses.
I’ve come to understand my cross as the daily disciplines of being a parent, a wife and a seminarian. These are the things that give shape to my hours, my worries, my spending and my decision-making. They weigh on me, giving my life meaning and exacting a price. They exhaust and frustrate me. They also bring me indescribable joy and moments of transcendence.
The work of being a spouse, parent and seminarian are not in themselves negative or bad in any way. They are the realities of my life. It is the decision to engage those disciplines each day in a Christlike way that redeems them.
Jesus asks his disciples – us – to take up our cross – our daily tasks and chores, our delights and woes, and follow him. When we take up our cross, when we claim our daily disciplines, and follow Jesus, we invite him into those relationships and those hundreds of interactions we have every day that make up our lives. In this way he reclaims our daily interactions with coworkers, spouses, children, bosses, customers.
The word, religion, comes from the Latin word, re-ligAre, which means to “reconnect” or to “renew.” Religion at its best is a way of helping us renew our daily disciplines, a way of picking up our cross. Think about it. When we wake up in the morning next to our spouse every day, we renew our commitment to him or her, and that re-energizes the relationship. When we embrace our children each new day, we accept them completely as they are, we are inspired as parents again. When we reconnect with our passions and interests that brought us into our jobs, the daily grind is made a little easier. Our load is lightened. Our burden is eased. This is the way of the cross. The way of Jesus.
I ask you again, what is your cross? And how can you carry it in a way that glorifies and honors Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior?
Many Christians throughout the world are persecuted. Their crosses are clear – In Syria, Egypt and Iraq, ISIS has given the ultimatum: deny Jesus Christ or be beheaded. These martyrs have paid the ultimate price. But it is not only the Coptic Christians that suffer. Just last December in the Anglican Diocese of Peshawar in Pakistan, 126 people died in a Taliban gunman’s raid. Most of the victims were school children because the Taliban targeted a Christian school. Please, in your prayers, remember our brothers and sisters in Pakistan. Right here at St. Alban’s, we have a Chaldean community, natives of Mosul, that has suffered tremendous loss. Daily ISIS tortures, rapes and kills Christians, many of them family members of those who worship here every other Tuesday morning. Please, in your prayers, remember the people of Mosul.
These people living in persecution have a cross to bear. What is your cross to bear?
What helps people, mere mortals, have courage in the face of certain death? What helps us to carry our crosses, carrying out our daily tasks in peace and love? It appears in all of our readings today; it’s faith. Faith can be a somewhat nebulous, wispy concept, but Catholic theologian James Allison says this about faith: “It’s relaxing, in the way that being in the presence of someone you’re certain is fond of you is relaxing. “ When you’re in the presence of someone you’re certain is fond of you, you tend to be funnier, more spontaneous, less worried about time. You’re relaxed, right?
That’s related to the idea that faith is about trusting God’s promises. It’s not intellectually assenting to a set of theological propositions. It’s trusting that we are who God says we are. Not who the advertising agencies say we are. Not who our parents say we are. Not who the world says we are. Faith helps us to trust that we are who GOD says we are.
First Corinthians ten thirteen says that God is faithful to us and that he will not give us more than we can bear. But I think that he gives that kind of faith not to individuals, but to communities. I think the Texans have it right when they say: “God won’t give you more than all y’all can handle.” This community right here – St. Alban’s in El Cajon – this is the vehicle for salvation and the recipient of faith. Yes, spending time in personal devotion with God is a good spiritual discipline, but that’s not all there is. Because it is only in relationship to others that we can see the parts of ourselves that we’re otherwise blind to! Philosopher Rudolph Steiner says there are not two sides to every issue – there are at least twelve! It’s only through conversations, and yes, conflicts, with others that we have the opportunity to see more than our own side of an issue.
Faith is a team sport. It’s not an individual competition. People can be tormented by worrying that they don’t have enough faith. “My faith should be stronger,” they’ll say. Or they worry because they don’t believe every line of the creed. But in a large group of people, for each line of the creed there’s someone who believes it, so you’re covered. This Western individualism has run amuck in religion where it’s now all about the individual and how much faith do I have and my personal relationship with Jesus. NO, it’s about the community. Faith is given to this community, to St. Alban’s, El Cajon.
Faith can challenge us. A statement of faith is participating in the liturgy and receiving the bread and wine made holy. A statement of faith is getting up in the morning and planting your feet on the ground and thanking God for your life, even if you feel like staying in bed. A statement of faith is releasing your anger even though you know you’re right because you want to be a better person, filled with more love than bitterness.
I attended this past Wednesday night’s Lenten service and soup supper. It was great. If you can make time for this mid-week jewel, you really should. The soup was delicious, the conversation about Esther intriguing, and the fellowship superb. While I was here, I noticed that you have beautiful windows in the sanctuary and that the second one on the wall of the chapel is about Faith. As I sat there, in the evening light, waiting for the service to begin, I noticed its beauty and I saw that the Faith window has a cactus in it. Why would the creators of the Faith window include a cactus? I think it’s because it represents the challenging aspect of faith. Yes faith sustains us as we trust in the promises of God as Abraham and Sarah trusted. It gives us hope when our crosses are so heavy. But it also calls us into community and disturbs our comfort. It gives us the reality check we need when we slip into believing that our main goal in life is to consume or to preserve the comfortable standard of living to which we have become accustomed. Faith confronts us and asks us to pick up our crosses because it is only in dying that we find life, and only in remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return that we find impetus to really live!
What is your cross? How is your faith, through the community of St. Alban’s, or perhaps other communities of which you are a part, calling you to give up your life as we follow Christ to Jerusalem?
Most of us will not go out in a blaze of martyred glory. Most of us will carry the cross one small step at a time, one spiritual discipline at a time, one act of generosity, service, sacrifice or love at a time. And as we step out in faith, bit by bit, those acts of service and love grow until we are transformed into who God is calling us to be.
What is your cross?
Year B – 2nd Sunday in Lent
March 1, 2015
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church