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Putting On the Cross With Intention-Mark 8:27-38

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

The summer before I started my pastoral internship, I traveled for a month in India,

Finishing up in the northern military outpost and backpacking mecca of Ladakh.

I was travelling with my husband and sister in law, and we were returning from a visit to a Buddhist temple When I was stopped by a woman in local dress.

“Christian?” she asked, pointing to me. My white skin was obvious among all the Asian and Indian skin around me, And I figured she assumed all Western tourists were Christian.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Christian,” the woman said, pointing to herself. She told me her name, and showed me the baby on her back. “Are you Moravian?” I asked. The Moravians had been missionaries in Ladakh for some years, and we had just come by their school. She nodded yes.

We tried to ask her more about the Moravians, about herself and her children, But she didn’t speak English well enough to understand our questions. We, of course, did not speak Ladakhi. It seemed enough for her, though, just to have made contact. She smiled at me and pressed my hand into hers as we said goodbye.

It was only after she left and we continued down the road that I paused to wonder Why she had chosen to speak to me. She hadn’t addressed my husband or his sister. Just me.

Then I realized that I was wearing the cross necklace that my grandmother gave me as a child. I always wore that necklace. I’m too low maintenance to bother to change my jewelry, so I usually stick on the same thing. That morning was no different-I’d just put the cross on, not giving it another thought.

But to this Ladakhi woman, the cross had meant something significant.

As a Christian in a Buddhist town and a Hindu nation, she was a minority.

For her, it was an intentional choice to put on that cross.

One that might single her out, open some doors but close others.

I think that is something that Jesus is getting at in our Gospel today when he said,

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves

And take up their cross and follow me.

Like this Ladakhi woman, the Jews following Jesus entailed a choice with consequences.

Jews in Palestine lived with Roman soldiers on their street corners.

They were a majority in their towns, but the Romans set up their own towns,

Including Caesarea Philippi where our story takes place today, which was the provincial Roman seat of power. Furthermore, the Jews had a reputation of being unruly, always rising up against the Romans. Crucifixions were a common punishment for insurrectionists,

And the Romans always looked with suspicion on anyone who was not part of the religious leadership that they had carefully cultivated. If you chose to follow Jesus, to had to expect that you too would be viewed with suspicion Both by neighbors and by the ruling powers.

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross

And follow me, Jesus said.

With an invitation like that, you wonder why anyone would take Jesus up on it.

But remember that Jesus was a wonder worker

He healed people with his touch

Inspired them with his words

Showed them new possibilities for their lives.

He made them feel hope was possible.

Crowds of people thronged him everywhere.

The disciples found him so compelling they left their livelihoods and families to follow him.

It becomes a question of Christian discipleship: what did it mean to follow Jesus for those first followers,

And what does it mean for us?

The first thing to notice is that following Jesus is indeed a choice born of desire.

“If any want to become my followers…” Jesus says.

In Jesus’ day, lukewarm followers gradually peeled off, unwilling to bear the risks and challenges.

I remember thinking the same thing about being a practicing Christian on a secular college campus.

There was every reason to stop practicing my faith –

I had to find a new church, it was off campus, the practice room and papers were waiting,

I had a lot of questions about my faith…

Only people with a passion for their faith continued to practice.

And to be honest, I liked these people –

Their commitment and passion was palpable.

Taking up the cross wasn’t just a habit, it was something that gave them life

that they were willing to choose to make time for and even to endure some criticism for.

I think this is an important point for us these year later,

because our whole culture has become more secular.

Practicing your faith in the traditional manner of joining a church

Worshipping regularly, attending bible studies and service events

These are not as common, and people have to choose them to make space in their busy lives.

There is sacrifice of time and energy that is real for people.

And in some cases, being a practicing Christian and making different choices with your time

Does make you stick out

Sets you up for criticism.

Which leads to the second part of Jesus’ statement: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves…

There is an element of self sacrifice in following Jesus.

Jesus clearly states that being his follower will mean putting yourself second to something greater.

If that weren’t tough enough, he then says the unthinkable-

Take up your cross

In a time when crucifixions of their own people were a regular occurrence,

This is a shocking thing to say.

Jesus was both predicting his own demise,

and also alerting people that their choice would mean playing for keeps.

What do we make of these high stakes?

I am not sure I have ever put my life on the line for Jesus, or frankly for anyone else.

But then I remember that not every follower of Jesus was crucified.

It seems what Jesus is getting at is a willingness to take risks

To bear the cost of standing up for what is right

To do the hard work of loving and forgiving in a world

that rewards people for getting ahead and punching back.

This week we have had a lot of opportunity to reflect on people who made the ultimate sacrifice

And gave their life for others.

The firefighters who rushed into the Trade Towers on 9-11

Service members who died fighting in Afghanistan

Essential workers and medical personnel who contracted the virus.

Many of these people made a conscious choice out of their convictions and faith to serve in these ways.

It is a sobering remembrance, as so many have born such heavy costs.

Some of us may not be called upon to make such a dire choice,

But Jesus’ words nonetheless stand:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross

And follow me.

We are all called to live for something greater than ourselves— the Good News of Jesus.

This Good News challenges the death dealing forces around us,

Whether it be the disparities of poverty and privilege

Or the evil of racism

Or the need for integrity and ethical decisions

Or very personal work in our families and relationships to find ways to connect and nourish and forgive.

The Good News also calls us to simple acts of kindness.

A few years ago when my dad was undergoing cancer treatments,

the neighbors surprised him by weeding his garden.

It took them their entire Sunday morning, and they skipped church to do it.

But it was absolutely a form of Christian discipleship,

Done of an awareness of the needs of others

A willingness to put their own agenda aside

And a desire to express Christ’s love.

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross

And follow me.

Jesus’ words are a challenge

But they are also an invitation.

They are active verbs—take up your cross, Jesus says.

It is not laid on us without our consent.

The choice is ours, every day, in decisions large and small.

To be followers of Christ, and to show his face of love to others.

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