Sermon: Proper 19 / Pentecost 16 RCL B – “Cross Bearing”

Communications has one major problem: language. Not surprising when you consider words can have multiple definitions (“set” has 464 and “run” has 395) Then there are the words we use or misuse or just the occasional typo. It would seem that church bulletins provide endless examples of all these problems. Actual church announcements:

The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.

Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 p.m. Please use the back door.

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be “What is hell?” Come early and listen to our choir practice.

The sermon this morning: Jesus Walks on the Water. The sermon tonight: Searching for Jesus.

The church will host an evening of fine dining, superb entertainment, and gracious hostility.

During the absence of our pastor, we enjoyed the rare privilege of hearing a good sermon when J. F. Stubbs supplied our pulpit.

Misinterpretation of the words we use can also lead to problems in communication. There is a legend regarding J. Edgar Hoover who ran the FBI. Apparently he insisted that all correspondence to him have wide borders around the text so that he could write notes in the margins. In an effort to cut some costs and impress his boss, a supply clerk reduced the size of the office memo paper. One of the new memo sheets soon ended up on Hoover’s desk. Hoover took one look at it, determined he didn’t like the size because it limited the margin width, so scribbled the note, “Watch the borders!” The memo was passed on through the office. Legend has it that for the next six weeks, it was extremely difficult to enter the United States by road from either Mexico or Canada.

In the words of Cool Hand Luke, “What we got here is a failure to communicate.”

Now, if we have this much trouble getting bulletin announcements right or expressing our dislike for the width of the border on a page, is it any wonder that we have such difficulty and so many differences of opinion when it comes to interpreting Holy Scripture?

Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Yet last week in James’ Epistle we read, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Which is it? Is one right and the other wrong or are they both right, and if so how? Bring them up in a room full of theologians and watch the fun begin.

Here is another you hear all the time: “God will not place more on you than you can bear.” Most are surprised to learn that this particular statement is no where in Scripture. The closest we have is speaking about sin and temptation from 1 Corinthians, which says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” But we’ve taken this verse to mean God won’t overburden us in all areas of our lives. Truthfully, I don’t believe that God will, but I know for a fact that the devil is more than happy to pour it on so thick that you can’t even breathe. So if you’re having a really bad day and someone says, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” then smack ‘em one and see how well they handle that. No, no, no! Just politely tell them they’re misinterpreting the Scriptures.

Why all this talk on language and miscommunication? Because today we have another perfect example. Not only on the part of Peter, but also for us, because what we often think is being said, is not really the case.

Jesus and his disciples have been traveling near the coast, but now have made a turn inland. As they are traveling, near Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” The answers were across the board. People didn’t really know who he was. Go out on the streets of Enid and ask the same question, “Who is Jesus?” and you’ll encounter a similar result. Jesus is God. Prophet. King. Hoax. Madman. Lie. Everything from a figment of of the Gospel writers’ imaginations to the Creator of the Heavens and Earth. Too bad Gallop surveys weren’t around in the time of Jesus, we could have narrowed it down to percentages of each, yet even if we could, unlike the world today, Jesus would not have altered himself or his message in order to gain a higher approval rating. The same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That type of information is irrelevant to him and his next question to his disciples proves that: “But who do you say that I am?” I don’t care what the people or the surveys say, I want to know who you think that I am. The message of salvation is not dependent upon what is popular, instead it is dependent upon each individual response. Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Peter got a gold star for his answer, but here is the first language issue. Peter interpreted “Messiah” as one who would be like King David and save them from their temporal / earthly enemies. Jesus, as we know, was concerned about the soul and saving us from our eternal enemy death, the result of sin. So when Jesus began talking about dying, Peter misunderstood. “Whoa there JC! This can’t happen and I’ll be danged if I’m going to let it, because if you die, then we have no King. We’re back where we started from.” Jesus rebukes him for the reason stated, “… you are setting your mind not on divine / eternal things but on human / temporal things.”

Jesus then turns from his disciples and speaks to the crowd that is gathered around him, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Perhaps in the time of Jesus they understood what he was talking about, but it seems that many times we misinterpret this saying of Jesus.

Someone has a difficult burden to bear. A job, an illness, a task. Something that weighs on them heavily and requires great strength and perseverance to accomplish. Another person comments on how difficult it must be. The response, “No, it’s not easy, but it’s my cross to bear.”

Another has a person in their life that through choice or relation presents various longterm difficulties. “You are such a saint for giving so much of yourself for them.” And in either true or false humility the response, “We all have our cross to bear.”

The difficult circumstances and burdens in our lives are not the cross we have to bear. These are the things in our lives that we call on Jesus to assist us with. These are the things that we as a Christian people help one another with. Those persons in our lives that present difficulties are not our crosses either. These are the ones we are called to love as we love ourselves.

The cross that Jesus calls us to take up has a very specific purpose, which has nothing to do with the circumstances of our lives or other people. You see, the cross we take up is for us, so that we – in the words of Paul – might be “crucified with Christ.” Paul writes, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For he who has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”

Reflecting on this verse in the Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

The language of the Bible can at times be confusing and difficult to understand. By responding to the trials and tribulations in our lives by saying, “This is my cross to bear,” is one of the ways we can confuse what Jesus said. “This is my cross to bear,” is in effect saying, “I will define my cross. I will assign what it is, how much it will weigh, and how far I am prepared to carry it,” instead of allowing God to use that cross for the purpose it was designed. When Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” he is asking us to take up our cross and follow him to that hill outside of Jerusalem to be crucified with him, so that we may die to self and live for God. By doing so, your life does not end. It begins. There is no confusion in Jesus’ message on this point, for he says plainly, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Let us pray: Most gracious and ever loving Father, we pray that you give us the strength, courage, wisdom, and will to follow where you have led the way. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, direct our steps that we may be lights in this world to guide and direct others to your most loving Son, in whose Name we pray. Amen.

2 Replies to “Sermon: Proper 19 / Pentecost 16 RCL B – “Cross Bearing””

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