Sermon

THE WAY OF THE CROSS – Sermon by Revd Peta May

We are challenged by the text this morning to become people of light. God’s transforming spirit is a blazing fire which consumes evil but, radiates and beams the brilliance of God’s glory.

Moses encounters God in a burning bush in the middle of the desert. I am sure that Moses was really puzzled about what he was seeing, the flames were coming out of the bush but the bush was not being consumed by the fire. Then God spoke to Moses from the bush, God said take off your shoes you are standing on holy ground.

God told Moses that he was going to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses told God that he needed to know God’s name so when the Israelites ask Moses who had sent him he was able to tell them , the God of our ancestors Yahweh, he is called “I AM”

The actual holiness of the place was due to the fact that the holy God was there. Wherever God is, is a holy place and we are reminded to live and act bearing this in mind. We are in a similar situation today we are worshiping God from the comfort of our own homes but like Moses we are on holy ground because God is with us.

The message to Moses underlines the point that the God who revealed himself to Moses and who is calling Moses to serve him – is not just any God. He is the same God who called Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God is the one who will have a relationship with us and our families from generation to generation.

When God calls us to participate in God’s work, he will always be with us. God sent Aaron to go with Moses to see Pharaoh and this would make all the difference. God’s presence would enable Moses to fulfil the task that God had given him to do.

The Exodus that Moses would lead would become the most significant act of God in the lives of the Israelites and would establish them as God’s people, when they completed their journey and eventually arrived back at Horeb.

God has found a way across the barriers of time and space to enter our lives and allow us to recognize that deliverance is nothing else but the presence of God.

St Paul in our reading from Romans takes our relationship with God one step further and reminds us that our relationship is a covenant relationship. In chapters 9-11 at the beginning of the letter to the Romans, Paul reflects on the Covenant relationship established by God with the people at Horeb when they came out of Egypt. Paul is adamant that God has not forgotten the covenant God made with his people. Those who have found faith in God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ should never lose sight of God’s promise to the Jews.

Paul in this chapter looks at what a new life in Christ will mean and gives us some guidelines for living this faith. In verses 9-21 Paul outlines what the basic goal of all Christian relationships should be. A relationship based on love.  We should not judge.

Love must be shown to the believer and to the non-believer. To live a true Christian life, we are reminded to hate what is evil and love what is good. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us what the cost of our relationship with him is going to be. It is not going to be an easy ride. In our commitment to follow Jesus Christ we are required to take up our own cross and follow him.

Jesus prepares his disciples for his approaching ordeal in Jerusalem.

The disciples had grasped the fact that Jesus is in fact the Messiah, but they still do not understand what this means. They were still thinking in terms of a conquering Messiah, a warrior king, who would sweep the Romans from Palestine and lead Israel to power. That is why Jesus commanded them to be silent. If they had gone out to the people and preached their own ideas, all they would have succeeded in doing would have been to raise a tragic rebellion.

Peter has been brought up on the idea of a Messiah of power, glory and conquest.

To him the idea of a Messiah that must suffer and die on the cross, was just too difficult to understand. So, when Jesus told his disciples they were bewildered and horrified.

Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to you. “   And then came the great rebuke which makes us catch our breath”

Get behind me, Satan! “

Before they could preach that Jesus was the Messiah, they had to learn what that meant.

In point of fact, Peter’s reaction shows just how far the disciples were from realizing just what Jesus meant when he claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God.

So, Jesus began to show them that there was no other way for him, but the way of the Cross. He said that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the” elders and chief priests and scribes.” These three groups of men were in fact the three groups of which the Sanhedrin was made up. The elders were the respected men of the people; the chief priests were predominantly Sadducees; and the scribes were Pharisees. In effect, Jesus is saying that he must suffer at the hands of the orthodox religious leaders of the country.

Peter was presenting Jesus with that way to escape the Cross.  That is why Peter’s ideas were not God’s but man’s. Any force which tries to deflect us from the way of God, is of Satan. Any influence which makes us turn back from the challenging way that God has set before us, is of Satan; Any power which tries to make our human desires more important than the will of God, is of Satan.

What made the temptation more painful for Jesus was the fact that it came from someone he loved him. Peter spoke as he did only because he loved Jesus so much that he could not bear to think of him treading that dreadful path and dying that awful death. What really wounded Jesus’ heart and what really made him speak as he did, was that Satan had spoken to him that day through the loyal but mistaken love of Peter.  Peter the disciple Jesus had earlier praised and called a rock, had now become a stumbling stone.

In the gospel of Luke, Luke sees far into the heart of the Jesus. At the end of the temptation story, Luke writes: “ And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4: 13). Again, and again Satan launched this attack. No one wants a cross; no one wants to die in agony; even in the Garden that same temptation came to Jesus, the temptation to take another way. THE GREAT CHALLENGE  16: 24-26

Then Jesus said to his disciples: and that obviously includes us, “If anyone wishes to become my follower, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” 

Again Jesus confronts us with the challenge of our Christian way of life.

(i) We must deny ourselves. Jesus does not mean giving up luxuries in order to contribute to some good cause. What Jesus means is for us to make obeying God the ruling principle, and passion, of our lives.

(ii) We must take up his cross. As Christians we must be prepared to embark on a life of sacrificial service. Which calls on us to abandon personal ambition to serve Christ.

Luke, with a flash of sheer insight, adds one word to this command of Jesus: “ Let him take up his cross daily.” The really important thing is not the great moments of sacrifice, but a life lived in the constant hourly awareness of the demands of God and the need of others.

(iii) We must follow Jesus Christ. That is to say, we must give to Jesus Christ a perfect obedience. The Christian life is a constant following of our leader, a constant obedience in thought and word and action to Jesus Christ. The Christian walks in the footsteps of Christ, wherever he may lead.

LOSING AND FINDING LIFE

Then Jesus goes on to say that there is a difference between existing and living.

To exist we simply have our lungs breathing and our heart beating.

To live; is to be alive to the world where everything is worthwhile,  where there is peace in our soul and joy in our hearts.  Where Jesus the essence of our lives.

Then Jesus says, ‘whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.’ Then he puts a direct question to those of us who think that perhaps we are better off making money,

‘for in what way will it benefit if they gain the entire world and lose their life?’

(in other words what is the point in worldly wealth if we lose our souls)

Jesus warns us that if we are not careful it is possible to gain all the things that we have set our hearts on and the wake up one morning and find that we have missed the most important thing of all, a relationship with Jesus Christ and find that it is too late to turn back –  for we will have lost the opportunity to live a Christ centred life.

The fact is that Jesus Christ, the Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father, with his angles; and he will judge each of us in accordance with our performance. For nothing else matters than living according to Gods will.

Many New Age Christian Churches preach a gospel only of healing and miracles. They promise their follower that faith will solve all their financial and family problems. They teach an easy religion that promises wealth and prosperity. These teachings are not Bible centred.

Do we hear Jesus when he says take up your cross and follow me. There is a distinct difference between a burden and the cross.  Burdens in our daily lives are unavoidable problems that come up and have to be dealt with. The cross on the other hand is our voluntary self-denial for Christs sake. As such we take up the cross of our own free will and we should be ready and willing to bear the consequences of our journey on the Via Dolorosa.

To repay evil for evil is to be overcome by it. To repay good for evil is to overcome evil with good. This is the way of the cross. Such is the masterpiece of love.

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