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Sermon 6/22/14 Cross Bearers

click here to listen

Sermon preached by

The Rev. Fulton Porter, III

at

St. Thomas Church, Chicago, 6/22/14

The Second Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 10:34-42

 

 

 

Cross Bearer’s

 

 

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

 

 

Each time I walk into this beautiful place of worship, this dream of Radcliff Hunter, who literally saw its design while he slept, I am met by the overwhelming and overshadowing presence of this cross as it hangs over our sanctuary.  This massive wooden cross, suspended in this sacred space speaks to me.  Each time I walk through those doors it speaks to me and it reminds me that there is a cross for me.

 

Have you ever considered what it really means to be a Christian? Have you ever gone beyond simple church membership and denominational association to find out what it really means to follow Christ?   As Christians each of us is a cross bearer for Christ, but there are too many who have no idea what that means.

 

In my own case, I remember reading a sermon by H. Beecher Hicks, Jr. titled The Preacher’s Predicament.  In his sermon he highlighted the fact that there is a common predicament among preachers.  And this predicament is predicated upon the presupposition that our proclamation as preachers must proceed from the cross.  For the cross, as ugly as its part in history was, is where God presented himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  And the purpose of that presentation was to proceed to the cross so that the estrangement between God and between persons might be eliminated.  This is the cornerstone of the Gospel and this is the cornerstone of the work of preacher in proclaiming and ministering the Gospel.  And because of this charge as one called to cry out to God’s people, the cross, this cross, serves as a stark reminder of the reason that I am here.  Yet, it is more than a mere reminder, but it is a tangible symbol of the fact that we, as Christians, must pick up our crosses daily and follow Jesus.

 

And I realize, each and every time that I walk into the nave of this wonderful and colorful cathedral, that as your priest, from the moment that I heard the call and summons to be engaged in this perilous occupation, there is a perplexing and peculiar pain that is attendant to that summons.  That is a cross that I must carry.  It is a pain that resides somewhere between the ecstasy and the agony of a pastor’s claim and call.  So peculiar is this pain and so confining is this condition, that one is hard pressed to define it except to draw it as a cross.  Abraham knew this predicament the moment God sent him in search of a land that no one else could locate.  Moses became acquainted with this pain the moment God sent him to Egypt with a stick and a stutter.  Moses was summoned to lead a nation with a stick and to stutter out a sermon that seemed to make no sense.

 

If the truth were told, you and I are acquainted with this pain because, very often, what God requires of us and what God expects of us are separated from what we believe we are able to realistically achieve.  In other words, we are asked to carry things that we are more confident will take us down than will lift us up.  We have burdens to bear for the sake of Christ, crosses to carry for the sake of Christ, predicaments of pain to push on with for the sake of Christ, and we simply don’t know how we will pull it off.  And so instead of persevering by putting our cross on our shoulder and pressing on, we put it down, lay it down, and give up.

 

I have realized as your pastor that very often, what God wants and what God demands ignores church politics around us, ignores the limitations of our financial resources and requires that we think in “God-sized” terms while we work with miniature minds.  What God wants and literally expects is for us to produce miracles where miracles have never been found.  Every time I walk into this place I am reminded of the cross that must be borne, because if the truth be told, what God wants and what God demands and what God requires unsettles the soul, it disturbs sleep and agitates the spirit.  It causes unrest in those who are called to preach and pastor while at the same time breeding discontent among the people we are called to lead.

 

And so I can understand why Jesus told the disciples in the Gospel of Luke that “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”   And we hear echoes of the same today in Matthew’s Gospel the same- “and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  Because in order to fully follow the one who sacrificed everything for us, in order to follow his lead of sacrifice, then we have got to face the painful price of discipleship.

 

All too often, we as Christians get caught up in the promises of prosperity, but we forget the demands of discipleship.  Crowds of seekers fill the seats of mushrooming "mega" churches to be uplifted with promises of peace and prosperity - God forbid that anyone would get up and shout out, "That's not what Jesus meant when He taught about being a disciple. He said, 'Take up your cross daily, and follow me.' It isn't about living, it's about dying; it's not about getting, it's about giving; it's not about gathering, it's about scattering; it's not about hording, it's about helping; it's not about receiving, it's about relinquishing.   Paul was the early spokesman for true Christian discipleship when he wrote: "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death." (Philippians 3:10)   He also reminded Timothy, those who "live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer" (II Timothy 3:12)   So let's be really clear on this - when Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23), whatever he meant, he certainly didn't mean "My followers will always live like kings' kids - they will always feel good, be well fed, well clothed, successful and happy."  Take up your cross daily, and follow me. And whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

 

Yes, in the shadow of this imposing cross I am reminded to tell you that there is a cross for us.

There is some suffering for us, so don’t be surprised.  Sometimes we try to stop our suffering by laying down our crosses, trying to take the easy way out.  Too selfish and self- absorbed to sacrifice and suffer for the sake of a life lived in the witness of Christ’s love.  We suffer, said Jesus, because we serve him.  Yes, we suffer trying to be faithful to God.  Yes, we suffer trying to do good.

 

And Jesus puts into strange juxtaposition our suffering, our crosses, our hurts, and how we should look at them.  Jesus says,  “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”  Self preservation is self destruction.  Self sacrifice is the source of our immortality.

 

Another way to look at this is in terms of Jesus’ strange sermon in which he said, “Blessed are you when men shall revile you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.  Rejoice!”  It doesn’t make sense by human judgment.  I also heard the master say to us, “In the world, you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer.”  Trouble- glory; cross- crown; lose- save; sorrow- joy; enemies- victory- these are the juxtapositions of the kingdom.  “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”  Take up your cross daily and follow me.

 

Some of you here today have confided in me some of the crosses that you bear.  Some of you have experienced levels of pain which are unimaginable.  Some have borne up beneath such heavy crosses of sacrifice in order to be a witness for Christ.  Some have said to their spouses, “If I didn’t have Jesus, I would have left you years ago.  But for his sake, I bear this cross”  Some have said, “If I didn’t have Jesus, I would have given up on my children a long time ago.  But for his sake, I bear this cross.”  Some have said, “I live daily in so much pain, that I just want to go somewhere and never wake up again.  But for his sake, I bear this cross.”

 

Yes there is a cross for all of us.  And we must bear it in witness to Christ’s love for us and his claim on our lives.  The songwriter, then, asks the appropriate question:

Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.

 

And here is one more thing that I have understood about the crosses we bear.  Cross bearing can be looked at in an agricultural sense.  Cross bearing can be likened to pruning.  We bear our crosses and are subjected to suffering because we as Christians are planted to bear fruit.  The Lord of the vineyard purges and cuts our branches.  He is forming us.  Gardner Taylor said that he once asked the man who kept his neighbor’s yard about why they pruned trees.  He told Dr. Taylor that one of the reasons that trees are pruned is to keep them from being too top heavy.  Sometimes we have got to bring those branches down a notch lest they think more of themselves than they ought and bring the rest of the tree to ruin.

 

And the lord has to keep us from getting too top heavy.  Every now and then he cuts.  The landscaper also said that they prune in order that the life-giving sap may go and be concentrated in the living and needed areas of the tree.  Pruning focuses the attentions of our life on where they should be; not on the extraneous dead stuff.

 

Well, the Lord works on us that way as we wobble under the weight of our crosses.  The Lord is not out to make us comfortable, but to make us Conformable to his death and to his suffering.  The reading from Romans which you heard today reminds us that if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, as a result, consequently we shall be raised in the likeness of his resurrection, so that the nature of our going down determines the nature of our rising up.  And we are yet being made, we are yet being conformed under the weight of our crosses.  And it takes some sighing and crying and sorrowing and hurting and bruises and pain and anguish and anxiety and trouble and rain and winter and dark nights and high hills and lonely ways.  And our prayer ought to be “Have thine on way Lord, have thine own way.  Thou art the potter, I am the clay.  Mold me and make me after thy will.  While I am waiting, yielded and still.”

 

For it is under the weight of our crosses that we are being made.  God is bringing to pass something in us.  He’s growing us into his likeness and bringing us up into the full stature of Christ who bore his cross for us.  Take up your cross daily and follow me.  Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

 

 

Our crosses can do something for us.  There was someone who sang so beautifully that it prompted a bystander to ask, “Who taught you to sing?”  And the answer comes, “Sorrow taught me to sing.”  “Who taught you to pray?”  “Trouble taught me to pray.”  “Who put you on your knees?”  “When the world knocked me down, when the weight of the cross knocked me down, there was no where else to go except my knees.”  And God met me there.

 

Jesus was not afraid of the cross and he carried it to Calvary!   But must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free?   There have been many who have turned down the cross!  There are many who turn down the opportunity to bear the cross, despite its many blessings.  The Rich young ruler turned down salvation because he wanted it without taking up the cross. Must Jesus bear the cross alone?  Some turn down the cross because they want to wait until a more convenient season. Must Jesus bear the cross alone?  Some turn down the cross because they want to go along for the ride but don’t want to pay the fare.  Must Jesus bear the cross alone?Some turn down the cross because they are too busy satisfying themselves and could care less that about the needs of anyone else.  Must Jesus bear the cross alone?

I don't know about you but I found out that "there's a cross for everyone and there's a cross for me!"   Brothers and sisters there is power in the cross.  At the Cross the: Neglected get attention and the outcasts find a new home!   At the Cross Problems find solutions and lingering questions find answers.  At the Cross Heartaches go away and hurts will be healed.   At the Cross Crying eyes will be dried and burdens will roll away!

No wonder the song writer declared: “At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light and the burdens of my heart roll away, it was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day!” 

Beloved, take up your cross.  Yes, there’s a cross for you!

Amen!

 

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