Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 28, 2005
The Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28
Sermon: "Picking up Your Cross"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." Then Jesus told his disciples, "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 will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done."
Picking up Your Cross
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost - August 28, 2005
In Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Less Traveled", he comes to a crossroad in the woods. He studies the two paths carefully. One of the two roads has signs of travel. Others had taken that path before him. In fact, the leaves had been trodden black on that path by the crush of many footsteps. The grass was worn by the steps before. It was the safe path. It was the secure path. While a person might not know exactly where it would lead, the feeling of the path was that it was safe. There would be no great surprises. Nothing fantastic was expected while traveling that path, and therefore, nothing wonderful would be really gained.
And yet, there was another path as well. A few had walked that path because the basic outline was there. However, the grass was not bent by many footsteps. The leaves were not blackened. The way was not as known. Adventure beckoned from that path with possible wonder. One could take that path with a sense of expectation. One could take that path not knowing what would come their way, but being excited about the opportunities as well.
However, one had to choose which path to walk. In fact, the choice was very important. Choosing the path would mean not choosing the other for coming back was not an option. It would not be possible to retrace one's steps once headed down the path. Choosing had important meaning and consequences. Choosing the path as the poem says, makes all the difference.
We see a similar pattern in today's Gospel reading. Jesus is walking with the disciples toward Jerusalem. He is telling the disciples what must happen. The path is not pretty. It is not a path for anyone else but him. He will suffer and die. Yet, on the third day he will be raised. Peter does not like this path. It is not the path he would choose. It is not the path he understands for the Messiah. As a result, Jesus tells Peter to get behind him. He is trying to block the way. He is trying to block the path. What is so bad about what Peter wants? He doesn't want to see Jesus die. He doesn't see the need for the Messiah to suffer. He doesn't understand this bit about resurrection.
Peter has another idea concerning the Messiah. If Peter was faced with the choice of the two paths, he would choose differently. Jesus sees the path to Jerusalem before him clearly. He knows what is expected. Peter sees another path. It is a sure bet that Jesus sees it too. It is the path of least resistance. It is the path that does not end in the crucifixion. It is a path of glory, power and honor in worldly terms. Jesus would go to Jerusalem, but he would not go to die. Jesus would go to take his rightful seat as the High Priest in the Temple. On this path, He would perform marvelous acts of healing and wonder. The people would cry for him to be elevated to the seat of the High Priest. Furthermore, they would see Herod for the false king that he is. Jesus would be made King of the Jews. He would receive all the riches as the new king of the people. As he grew in power and prestige, he would barter with Rome until the day Israel would be able to rise up and overthrow the tyranny of the Roman government. Israel would once again be great. Jesus would be the Messiah, the king. The disciples would be his kingly court. They would have power and authority. They would be in charge of many things providing wealth and status. This path is the one, Peter would choose. It is well known. It is the path of succession in the world in which we live. It is the beaten path.
Today, we know this path well. We have catchy phrases to describe it. For example, "It isn't what you know, it is who you know." "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." "He/she was born with a silver spoon in his/her mouth." We even have a name for the most prevalent form of this system: "The Good Ole' boy system".
We are all aware of these phrases and these systems. We are well aware of this path. If we were to tell the truth we have all walked this path if we are not still walking it today. We love this path. It is easy. Talk to the right people. Give a few gifts. Don't muddy the waters with new ideas. Never, ever talk about problems. There are no problems. All problems are handled quietly, behind closed doors, and then, never discussed or brought up again.
Are we aware of how far removed they are from God? Oh, we would like to think that it is from God. This path is far removed from God and it is not what God intended for us in this world. Peter finds out Jesus is not going to walk this path. Jesus is going to follow the path before him. He has been given the ability to walk his path. He has the gifts. He has the talents. He knows what will happen, and he knows God the Father is with him. He will walk the path, even though, the rest of the world would call him insane. He has all that power and he uses it to go and die. Yes!! He does because it is the only way we will see clearly the murkiness of the world's beaten path. Jesus dying on the cross shows us the depths of humanity's awful path. For Jesus harmed no one. Jesus only healed. He shared God's love. He challenged the system where it was wrong. For these reasons he is brutally killed. If the resurrection did not occur, the story would end there. The world's path would dominate over all. There would be nothing for us, but life, ladder climbing, and then death. What a boring existence.
There is another path. It is the path of discipleship. It is the way of the cross. Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow him. To pick up our cross means we turn away from the ways of the world and set our feet on the path of God. The path of God is not as traveled, but it is not difficult to understand. The path of God is being open to the other. Openness is a necessity on this path. Through openness, we listen for and to God. In openness we see the opportunity to use our gifts. We see the needs of the others around us. With our gifts we respond. We show compassion and we give care. We love those the world describes as unlovable. We use our gifts and abilities to share the love that God has given to us. In this manner, we proclaim in our lives by word and action that the love of God is real and alive. We show the world around us that we are willing to pick up our cross and follow the example of Jesus Christ in our daily lives. We accept the opportunity to walk the path less traveled and see where it leads. We accept the opportunity to live our lives to their fullest extent. We accept the fact that choosing this path is not what others may choose for themselves. We love them enough to choose their own way. Finally, we acknowledge that this path has the possibility of being more challenging, and yet, more wonderful than we could possibly imagine.
"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood
And I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.