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  • Writer's picturePastor Brian Gordon

Taking up The Cross




If you would remain standing for the reading of the gospel which comes to us this morning. From the gospel of Mark, chapter 8, verses 31 to 38. Let's hear together God's word. 


He then began to teach them that the son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the Law, and that he must be killed and after three days, rise again. He spoke plainly about this and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter Get behind me, satan. He said you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. And then he called the crowd to him, along with his disciples, and said if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me, for whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul? And for what can a man give an exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me, in my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, the son of man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his father's glory with the holy angels. 


This is the word of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God. You may be seated. 


Well, how many of you have wanted at one point or another in your life to be somebody else? And maybe not literally, but maybe you saw somebody and you're just like “man, I would like to be able to do things like they do.” I can remember back in, when we lived in Starkville in 1985, and I'm dating myself a little bit there, that there were a few special players on the baseball team here at Mississippi State. And any number of them I would have loved to be. I would have loved to be able to walk out on that field and just be, you know, just be among what I thought were my heroes and my and my legends. 


You know we, at one time or another, probably all have those, those people, and maybe they are, maybe they're athletes, maybe they're our mentors, our, our friends, maybe it's someone who was a teacher. You know that we look up to and we think, man, if I could just be more like them, if I could take on some of what they, they have, what my life would be like. 


One word to us, to describe that would be “appropriation.” 


You know, taking on, you know the elements or customs of someone else and and there's a, there's a term, that's a bigger term, called cultural appropriation, when, when someone takes on those customs and practices of another culture without, you know, acknowledgement of, of consent. 


Now, we, we might do that a little bit as kids at Halloween, when we dress up and you know, as our again, in our favorite jerseys, or as our favorite superhero, or as our favorite princess, we, we have, in that moment, just fun, just being who we might want to be. You know, in our, in the bigger world, we see examples of appropriation, and now one of these is my favorite team, so I've got to be careful and talking about this. But you know, we look in the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, the, what used to be the Washington “Redskins”, and the Cleveland Indians. All of these kind of took on and appropriated, those, those names, trying to kind of express a similarity or solidarity. 


We've seen professors and and politicians around our country who, at different times, take on heritage, a heritage that is not their own, even if they have just a little bit. And when they do so, you know they’re, They're trying to be something that's that they're not. So we're trying to be something that's that they're not. They're trying, and oftentimes it's because they want to find a personal gain out of at this new identity. 


So if we want to be a Disciple, there's all these things that we often take on, these other identities. But if we want to be a true disciple, Jesus talks to us about that in the scripture this morning. 


If we were wondering how to do that, we have to begin with. Why would we want to be something that or pretend to be something that we're not? We know in the bigger culture and these other things why we do it. But in our culture, and even in the church, we have people who would like to pretend that they are Christians or that pretend that they are respectable followers of Christ, but they don't want to take on the responsibility of that. They don't want to take on the hard part of that work. 


So what does Jesus tell us being a true disciple entails?


First of all, self-denial is the first thing that we see in the DNA of a Christian. It's when Jesus said if any want to follow me, to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. So we have two simple rules there deny yourself and take up your cross. Now, how many of you want to just sign up immediately for that when you hear those words?


Those are tough, hard, uncomfortable words to hear. We'd rather hear a lot of different kinds of words than that. For example, when Jesus issues the invitation:  “come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” We're like, I'll sign up for that.


And do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places, and if it were not so, would I not tell you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself so that where I am there, you may be also. 


Or do we have a problem when Jesus says: “My peace, I leave with you. My peace, I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” No, we don't flinch when God offers us comfort and hope. But we kind of draw back, maybe a little bit, when Jesus talks about denying ourselves and taking up a cross. 


And in this season of Lent we oftentimes take on the practice of giving something up, of denying ourselves of something that's important to remember the sacrifice that Christ has made for us. Or maybe we take on the cross as a way of denying ourselves, of dying to ourselves and allowing the Spirit of God to live in us. 


We have all kinds of things we'd like to do, but we know better than when somebody wrongs us and we can think in our hearts of a thousand of the right things we could say. That would man. I'd love to say that we have a perfect thing to say, but we know in our heart and our spirit that that's not what God would have us to do. 


Or maybe you have a habit or something that you know isn't good and healthy for you, but you've been struggling so hard to give it up, to die to yourself, and it's something maybe you've been trying with your own will to do. But you need to ask God for help and maybe God guides you to the help of a friend or a counselor to help set you on that new path of dying to yourself and living in Christ. When we're told to deny ourselves and take up our cross, we'd rather find another way around. 


You know the famous pre-World War II comedian, WC Fields. He called them loopholes and he left. Fields was not known as being a fine Christian man. He was, he had a life that, let's say, he didn't have healthy relationships with, with drink and with women, and he was seldom, if ever, found in the walls of the church. But once, when he began to have his health decline, he went out into his backyard its said and he began to read the Bible. He was sitting out there with his Bible and a martini. And his friend visited him and he said Uncle Claude, what in the world are you doing? And he said I'm looking for loopholes. 


And he didn't want to admit it, but he was looking for a workaround, he was looking for a way around the hard stuff. 


So what do we do if we don't want to deny ourselves and take up our cross?


Now we could do much like what the culture tells us we should do. We can pretend we can find a loophole. And you know, the biggest loophole we might find is again that cultural appropriation, the ways we can pretend in our culture of self-denial and cross-bearing. If we want to pretend, one of the first things we can do is we can, we can point out the bad Christians. We can say look at them, they're not into self-denial, they're not into cross-bearing like I am. And by denouncing them, what can we do? We can separate ourselves from them and assure others know that we're one of the “good” people. 


It reminds us of that parable that Jesus told of the Pharisee and the tax collector. It says two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and another a tax collector. And the Pharisee was standing by himself and was praying. God, I thank you that I'm not like other people, those thieves, rogues, adulterers and even this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of all my income. But the tax collector, who was standing far off, would not even look up to heaven but was beating his breast and saying God, be merciful to me, a sinner. 


It’s easy, if we're being self-righteous, to pretend that God favors us or that God thinks better of us than those thieves and rogues and adulterers. And we feel good if we can say I'm not like those people, those judgmental, hateful or spiteful or vengeful people it.


You know, if we want to pretend to be something, doing that makes us feel might make us feel better. So we might condemn others, or we might, if we don't want to do the hard stuff, we might even just try looking the part of a Christian. You know, if we can, we can kind of fake it, as that saying, old saying goes, we can fake it till we make it. We can wear those diamond studded crosses as jewelry, or we can get a cross tattoo on our, on our arm or our back. Or you know, if, if everything was fair we could identify Christians by what they, what they wore, only Christians would be allowed to wear those cross emblems, those cross jewelry, those T-shirts. 


You know, we don't see other people of other faiths quite often having those same things happen. Non-jews don't often wear yarmulkes, non Muslim women don't usually wear Burkas and non Sikh men don't wear, normally wear turbans, and so on and so on. So why do non Christians or non believers feel perfectly comfortable and taking on that image of this distinctly Christian image of the cross? 


Jesus knew it wasn't what you wear that defines who you are. It's not what you say it's not what you eat, but it's what is in your heart. And Matthew 15 he says but what comes out of the mouth Proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. Out of the heart come evil intentions, murder and adultery, and fornication, theft, false witness, slander: these are what defile a person. 


We often want to put out, you know, the best image. If we want to don't want to do the hard stuff, we want to put the best image out for others to see. So maybe one of the things we can do is just, is just, be very real with people. We know we're not perfect, nobody is perfect. And you know, as the church, we're often put on the defensive because people Will complain that the church is full of hypocrites, that we're all wearing masks, that we're putting ourselves into a role rather than living the life. 


And even in our culture, if you look at surveys, many people define themselves as spiritual rather than religious, because our, our culture at large looks for hypocrisy. We look for people who aren't living up to what they say they are, and and so on social media today.


You know, I've seen many people in the past few years who have said I'm glad they were glad they didn't grow up in a time when everything was Recorded and everything. There were pictures taken of everything. Because now, if someone sees that you even made a slight misstep in your past, maybe it's a forgotten email or an awkward Facebook poster, a Twitter message you put out in a bad moment somebody's bound to bring it up that our sins are going to be found out and pointed out. 


So when someone gets upset because they think Christians are hypocrites. We should just remind them we never claimed that we were perfect. As Christians, what we ought to do is to strive to not pretend to be a follower of Christ, but to live a life that is authentically true to the teachings of Christ. Now Jesus even faced this in in his day. It says, “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” And speaking of the scribes and Pharisees, he said do whatever they teach you, but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 


Maybe we think following Jesus should be like watching TV, that the Christian life. It doesn't offer us a lot of choices. But if we look today, it used to be. We got one provider who gave us everything we needed and maybe more than we needed. Now we can sign up for what? For Hulu, for Amazon, for Netflix, for Direct TV or YouTube TV, and we can have all the choices we want. 


But following Jesus, when we look at the Scripture today, is not about picking and choosing, about being pretend here and being real over here. Maybe that's why some people get frustrated with the church and why outsiders think of that word hypocrites. Because we live in a culture of choices. It's what we expect. 


We expect that from our local businesses, from our friends and neighbors and now our church to give us choices. But when Jesus presents what it means to be a true disciple, he doesn't talk like that. He doesn't offer us a multitude of preferences. He's very direct. He said it's about our death. Jesus only gives us two choices denial or death. 


And when we deny ourselves, what does that mean we have to do? That it ceases to be about us, about our wants and our desires and maybe our thoughts. In fact, it's in the total other direction. It's in the renunciation of ourself. Jesus wants us to abandon our desires, our hopes that his may become ours, and that's a tough and a hard ask that we might not be able to do on our own. And even in Jesus' day there weren't many who followed after Jesus. 


So it's normal for us to say I'm interested, but I'm not ready to commit. 


Now, no one would be blamed for taking a position that well. I'll say the right words. I won't ever say anything bad about Jesus or give him a bad name. But while we can say those words, we find it hard to really deny ourselves so that his will may be done in our life. And maybe today is not a day that you can fully come to that place of self-denial, but maybe today is a day that you can really begin to look at your life and say where is my life not in line with what Christ is calling me to be? What kind of disciple can I be? 


All of us are on a journey. All of us are on a journey of growth and eventually that self-denial maybe, instead of where you will be today. Maybe that can be the destination that I know that one day I will get there. When we follow Jesus what are we called to do? We're called to choose to die. 


The Apostle Paul, he said this: “I've been crucified with Christ. It's no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me, in the life I now live, in the flesh. I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 


When we take up that cross, we've reached a destination in which we're ready to empty ourselves so that Christ may fill us for the welfare of others. We're ready, no matter what our past might be. We're ready to leave the past, the past. 


All this seems so hard and even, in some ways, dark. While a death is involved the apostle Paul reminds us that a remarkable new life awaits us as well. Not a life of where we got to keep up appearances or a life of pretense, but when we are able to take up that cross, when we come to that place, we realize that it's a new portal to a life of resurrection with Christ. 


If we die with Jesus, we also will live with Him. And what will that look like? It will be a world where we are empowered to forgive and to love and to be kind and to turn away anger with gentleness and to look out for the interests of others, just as Jesus did. There will be no pretending needed. 


So today I would just ask you what do you need in your spirit to let go of so that God's spirit may live in you. 


Let us pray, most gracious God. We thank you, lord, we thank you for your son Jesus, that he gave His life, he carried the cross for us, lord, that we may have life here and life to come. And, lord, we pray, we admit today that there are many things that we hold on to which are not leading us towards you. And, lord, we pray, with your help and your strength, that you would allow us to release those, or that we would allow your will to become our will, that we may live fully. And, lord, we pray this in Jesus' name, amen. 




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