Sermon by Rev. Bob George (used by permission)

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Sermon by Rev. Bob George (used by permission)

Post by Admin on Wed Apr 08, 2015 1:37 pm

SLWS 1 March 2015 Mark 8:31-38 (PM)

When I go walking most mornings I follow a certain route…and most days I encounter a fellow walker…who intrigues me.

Even though I always greet him with a warm…good morning…all I get out of him is a grunt…that’s if he even bothers to make eye contact.

I sometimes feel like making a `smart-alec’ comment like…
• don’t smile else you will crack your face! …or…
• what’s wrong with you…has the cat got your tongue?…
…but better judgment prevails…as this is not the way a Christian person should feel or act.

Maybe this man is shy…maybe he has a form of autism…maybe he is ill…maybe he just does not like the look of me!

Whatever! …my responsibility is to continue to be warm and friendly…no matter how this man chooses to respond to me!

A former RC Archbishop of Brazil by the name of Dom Helder Camara…who died in 1999...and who was acknowledged as...a great man of God and a defender of the poor...once said...

Be careful of the way you live...
it is the only gospel most people will ever read!

These are very telling words...for they are a commentary on what being a follower of Jesus Christ...really involves.

Be careful of the way you live...
it is the only gospel most people will ever read!

This begs the question as far as we are concerned…
• what do people see in us…?
• does what we do and say…always honour Jesus…whom we claim to follow?
• what is being a follower of Jesus all about?

Well our reading tonight gives us an answer…

Jesus said…If you want to become my disciple…deny yourself…take up your cross…and follow me’ (Mark 8:34).

There are three clear demands stated here...associated with being a disciple of Jesus.

And this assumes a total commitment to Jesus…for it is one thing to claim to be a believer in God…it is another thing to be an actual follower of Jesus.

1. Jesus insists here that if anyone wants to follow him...they must deny themselves...this is the first demand.

Jesus does not ask his followers to deny something to chocolate or alcohol or junk food...the things some people may give up for Lent...but Jesus requires of deny self...and self-promoting activities and ambitions.

Now self-denial must not be limited to a season of the year...such as Lent...because Jesus requires our daily submission to his will.

Discipleship is not some kind of part-time volunteer work...that we an extracurricular activity.

For God refuses to accept a minor role in our lives...God our Heavenly Father requires a pivotal essential place in our existence all of the time.

And those who truly deny themselves have learned to say...not my will O God...but your will...for their life.

Now denying self can take various forms in people’s lives...
• for may mean leaving job and family and culture to the early disciples did...and those currently on missionary service have done
• for the proud...denying self means renouncing the desire for status and honour
• for the means renouncing an appetite for wealth and possessions
• for the will mean renouncing a life of ease
• for the fainthearted…it will mean abandoning a craving for security
• and for the angry…denying self will be a rejection of the desire for revenge

Those who deny themselves say `no’ to the `I’ or `me’ in their lives that would enslave them...and say `yes’ to `Jesus’…who leads them to life.

Someone has come up with this apt saying which can well challenge our sense of priority...

Conversion to Christ...without immersion in the life of a perversion of the Gospel of Christ.

2. And then...Jesus is adamant here in our reading…that we take up our cross

This vivid imagery of the cross must have sounded very strange to Jesus’ first disciples...before his crucifixion and resurrection.

The cross at that time…spoke of danger and suffering and sacrifice.

Public executions in the 1st C Palestine were a prominent feature of the beheadings of the French Revolution.

Roman historians describe crucifixion in the 1st C AD as a cruel, disgusting fate...something to be dreaded...the worst of extreme tortures inflicted on slaves and criminals.

So the cross in Jesus' day was not a logo or an ornament...the cross was an instrument of pain…shame…absolute loss and death.

When Jesus picked up his cross…he was at odds with the Roman Empire and the Temple authorities…he was taking a stand against the thinking of his day that oppressed and shackled God's people

He was dealing with humanity’s sin problem…and so when Jesus picked up the cross…it was to go to his death literally.

And so…by requiring his disciples to carry their cross...Jesus is calling for a dying to the old way of life...with self at its centre.

Now this call for often given the soft sell in too many churches today.

Jesus is not offering his followers varieties of...
• self-fulfilment
• special spiritual experiences
• or, intellectual stimulation

Cross-bearing is about self-sacrifice...and this is what separates the disciples of Jesus…from the admirers of Jesus.

Followers of Jesus must do more than...survey the wondrous cross...or glory in the cross of Christ...or love the old rugged the old hymns have it.

Followers of Jesus are to become like Jesus in obedience to God the Father...and to live the cross...being prepared to subject themselves to abuse, misrepresentation, criticism, ridicule...and even suffering in some form or other.

### Now I need to point out that these words of Jesus are often most misunderstood…and interpreted in harmful, unhealthy, even un-Christian ways…and used to justify all manner of suffering and abuse.

So often we hear someone say in response to tragedy, or even abuse in their life…I guess this is the cross I have to bear.

Well this is misusing Jesus’ words…for when he calls us to take up the cross…he is not calling us to be long-suffering or to be door mats for Jesus.

He is instead…calling us to put God’s kingdom work ahead of our own desires.

Christ is calling us to take up that instrument of death on which he died…and for us to die to sin…and to a self-oriented lifestyle.

Some of you have heard of the famous Lutheran of yesteryear Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer...who was eventually hanged by the Nazis because he would not compromise his faith...he once wrote....

The cross is laid on every Christian...when Christ calls a person he bids them come and die.

Following Jesus to Golgotha is not some tedious detour in is the main road for us in Christian discipleship.

As Christians we are to be ready by be lead by Jesus along paths in our life...paths that we may never choose for ourselves.

3. And so finally in our passage...Jesus tells his followers to follow the way he has chosen...not necessarily the way we would choose for ourselves...and this is the third demand of discipleship.

Jesus does not want a convoy of followers who marvel at his deeds...but fail to obey his teaching.

Following Jesus means two things...
1. putting ourselves in the position to learn from him...where we give up the allusion that we are experts in leading our own lives...and revising our personal agendas so that we please Jesus rather than just ourselves
2. engaging in the same work that Jesus was doing while on this earth...
• speaking out against every injustice
• caring for the needy
• speaking the truth
• touching the untouchable
• forgiving the unforgivable
• and loving the unlovable

Now when we live as Christians...we have every reason to expect that what happened to Jesus...might also happen to us.

Cleaning up my study of late...I came across an article...which featured the story of Janani Luwum...a man who stood up to a despot.

In 1974...Janani Luwum was consecrated Anglican Archbishop of the time of Idi Amin.

The Archbishop spent the next 3 years of his ministry amongst many other things...denouncing Amin’s bloodletting...and his acts of violence which killed thousands of Ugandans.

The day before he was killed…Junani told a colleague that he thought that the authorities…were going to kill him...but he was not afraid.

The very next day Radio Uganda reported that Janani had been killed in a car crash trying to escape...and when his coffin was opened by relatives...they found his body riddled with bullets.

Now President Amin of course denied everything...but eyewitness told Time Magazine the real story...that the President had Janani beaten up...and then shot him through the mouth himself...just to shut the Archbishop up.

There is a cost to following may not be for us the ultimate for Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the former Archbishop of Uganda....and other martyrs down through church history...but there is a cost...and there will be a cost to following Jesus.

Jesus said quite simply but earnestly...follow me...pick up your cross...deny yourself.

During these days of is good for us to focus on this call to discipleship…and not ignore the cost.

Following Jesus will never mean that we give up our dignity...but it does mean that we will need to take on the mantle of faithfulness.

We are required to speak as Jesus speaks...we will need to act in a way that honours Jesus...we will need to live the cross...and instead of losing out…we will in fact stand to gain...for Jesus in the passage before us this day gives us the rationale behind following him.

And this rationale is a paradox...for to save our lives...we have firstly to lose our life.

Remember…a paradox is a statement that seems to contradict itself and yet is true nonetheless.

If we are prepared to give up our lives for Jesus’ sake and the gospel...we will not lose out…but be given the only life that from God.

St. Francis of Assisi is reputed to have once said...

It is in giving that we is in dying that we are born to a new and living hope.

This reflects the words of Jesus...those who lose their lives for me and the (written) gospel...will save them (and become living gospels).

Remember the words of that former RC Archbishop of Brazil when he said...

Be careful of the way you live...
it is the only gospel most people will ever read!

Following Jesus means...denying yourself…taking up your cross…and (truly) following him

In the last paragraph of his great book entitled Mere Christianity...the great author C.S. Lewis wrote...and with this I close...

This principle runs through all of life...from top to bottom...Give up yourself and you will find your real self....Lose life and it will be saved...Submit to death...the death of ambitions and secret wishes...Keep nothing back...Look for Christ...and you will find him...and with him…(you will get) everything else thrown in.

Let me pray...

Lord God,
as we live as disciples of Jesus,
as we continue to commit our lives to you,
help us to know Christ better,
to better make him known,
and by yielding our wills to his lordship,
may our lives always be lived to your glory,
and the service of others:
for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

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