During last Sunday’s sermon the pastor referred to Matthew 16:24, where Jesus tells his disciples that if they want to be his followers then they must be willing to deny themselves. This is one of those passages that is easier to just skip. It is much simpler and less confusing to talk about a religion that teaches us to be good “Christians” rather than to engage a faith that asks us to abandon an entire way of life. Self-denial has never been a favorite sermon or bible study topic. Taking Jesus’ words seriously have the potential to disturb the status quo and the status quo is comfortable. To be honest I like things to be comfortable, predictable, safe, and secure. These are the foundations of an uncomplicated life.
Self-denial removes me from the center. It may even move my family, church, community, and country from the center. According to Jesus, self-denial naturally leads to cross-carrying and cross-carrying leads to aloneness.
Jesus carried the cross 2,000 years ago because carrying the cross was what needed to be done. Without the cross there could be no Easter and without Easter there could be no resolution to the sin problem.
When Jesus calls his followers to cross-carrying it is a call to courage. It is a call to stand-up for truth even when no one else wants to hear the truth. It means exposing and naming the powers that have neutralized the church’s prophetic place in the world.
When we name racism as a current sin, we risk our popularity. When the church declares that we need a president of color because another white man will just reinforce the worst of our prejudices and stereotypes, we risk being called non-Christian. When the church stands up against the raping of the environment just for cheaper fuel, we risk being called extremists. When the church stands for the stranger and alien in our midst, we risk being labeled unpatriotic.
Friends, this is the call of Easter; a call to self-denial, cross-carrying, and truth telling. It will not be easy. It will not make you popular and you may end up feeling very alone. Know this; we serve a High Priest, Jesus Christ, who understands.