WOW! Creedal Christian’s (The Rev. Bryan Owen) sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent is excellent! Hie thee hence and read it.
Here’s my favorite section:
It’s hard to imagine a clearer example of how it’s possible to say all the right words about Jesus and yet still miss what it means to be his follower. And just to clarify what discipleship entails, Jesus says: “If you want to be my disciple, then you’ve got to deny yourself and take up your cross. Then and only then are you ready to follow me.”
“Deny yourself and take up your cross.”
That doesn’t sound like fun, does it? It sounds difficult. It sounds painful.
It would be so much easier if I could have my own personal Jesus! My personal Jesus would not only love me unconditionally; He would also insure that I’m happy, prosperous, and well-liked. My personal Jesus would always conform to my expectations and never ask me to do anything difficult. He would affirm that sin isn’t really a problem in my life so there’s no need to repent and, with God’s help, live a life of holiness and righteousness. I’m fine just as I am!
Today’s Gospel reading confronts me with the fact that I tend to want a Christianity without sacrifice, discipleship without cost, and a faith that not only affirms all of my yearnings and desires, but that also reflects my values without ever challenging me to change. But the real Jesus we encounter in the pages of the New Testament will have none of it! He continues to say to me and to everyone attracted to him: “If you want to be my disciple, then you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”
So where is the Good News in that?
There’s a prayer in The Book of Common Prayer appointed for Fridays in which we ask God to “mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace” (BCP, p. 99). That’s an important prayer, because our knee-jerk response to Jesus’ words about self-denial and carrying our cross may be to run for cover. We may fail to see the Good News that the way of the cross is not about punishment, shame, and guilt. The way of the cross is Divine Medicine.
If, as Christianity claims, the right diagnosis of the human condition is that we are infected by the predisposition to seek our own wills rather than God’s will, then the way of the cross is the antidote. Taking concrete form in practices such as self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, giving to the poor and needy, and meditating on Holy Scripture, the way of the cross is the path of healing that leads to new life beyond our wildest dreams. But receiving that new life requires completely surrendering ourselves to the care of Jesus the Physician of our souls.
I’m glad our internet connection has recovered enough today, and I’ve made enough progress in some important work such that I’ve been able to catch up on a few days of blog entries, and that I didn’t miss this sermon… it’s one of the best expositions I can remember about how self denial and taking up our cross IS truly GOOD NEWS. Thanks be to God.