Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” My question to you is: “Can we do this?”
Some stern words from Jesus in this reading. I suspect that most of those using the present day phrase “we all have our crosses to bear” will have no idea of it’s biblical source. Today it is almost a throw-away line. This morning those of us seeking to follow Jesus will look at that source scripture line a little more deeply.
Jesus calls on us to go with him and do what he does. A challenge about seeing the whole of our lives impacted by Jesus. Not just bits of our lives. Not just what we do on Sunday mornings. But the whole of our lives being influenced and governed by Jesus. This could possibly call for a whole life change in our behaviour, in our thinking, in what we say, how we see and treat others. We could be looking at a new self – this is the new me! Remember Jesus talking about the need to be born again! Can we do this?
Let my followers deny themselves, said Jesus. Notice is being given that we will be expected to give up some of yourself. We are called to learn that the selfishness streak, which we all have, will have to be set aside. Jesus is known to us as the Servant King. He told his disciples that he was the servant of all. We will need to become servants too. To put the needs of others before our own needs. To love our neighbour as ourselves.
Following Jesus, following God; speaking out for the values and teaching of Jesus, working for God’s kingdom. These things are not going to be popular with everyone. So many are tied into the ways of the world that telling them about God’s ways often meets with strong resistance. Standing up for Jesus could well cause us abuse, both verbal and physical. It can call for a lot of courage even to admit you are a Christian.
Just look at the reaction which often comes when well known Christian figures speak out for their faith. Cliff Richard, MP Tim Farron, TV presenter Dan Walker, to name but a few, who have been lambasted -and worse – down the years for putting themselves out there for their faith. I’m afraid to say that they seem to become fair game for mud slinging.
I was reading an article in the Church Times recently which was about this present time being called ‘the golden age of protest’ and considering how Christians should respond to the protest movement. Should they be involved in protest marches? Should they be a part of protests which can result in disruption, in property damage, in confrontation with the police and powers of the state?
The article highlighted that there were many Christians in this country, including several clergy, who are and have been prepared to take part in protest demonstrations. Those prepared to not only take to the streets but to lie down in the streets; if need be to cause disruption, to trespass on private property; to do whatever they felt called for in order to highlight and raise awareness on various issues where they felt Christians should stand up and be counted. Speaking out for Jesus on climate change, child abuse, racism, the homeless, the down-trodden. They were prepared to be dragged along the road to a waiting police van; to be arrested and given a criminal record. They saw it as a risk worth taking because as followers of Jesus they were responding to and standing by their belief in his values and teaching.
Remember how Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple, disrupting business and incurring the wrath of the temple authorities? Remember the culmination of Jesus’ ministry, being condemned as a criminal and dying with criminals nailed to a cross?
Jesus said those who followed him would need to take up their cross. That means being prepared to bear the abuse, the pain and suffering – mental and physical. In our country we may think we will only have to deal with being derided, scoffed at, laughed at, being made to feel uncomfortable, or just plainly ignored; but in many places in this world you really do put your actual life on the line when you speak out for Jesus; when you stand up and say I’m a follower of Jesus.
A private matter?
You may feel that your religious views are solely a private matter but actually it is of necessity a very public matter. If in our day to day living we show the behaviours of God’s kingdom and speak the words of Jesus, we will stand out. Those around us who are totally absorbed in worldly values and behaviours will notice that we are different. That can be a risky business.
What risks are we prepared to take? What lengths are we prepared to go to as followers of Jesus? Do you remember the line from some time ago which said “If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to find you guilty?” The good news is that there’s a lot we can do to show that we are followers of Jesus without incurring an appearance at the local magistrates.
So, what should we do? It may all sound a bit daunting or even OTT but perhaps the first thing we need to do is to have a bit of a self-appraisal. We need to ask ourselves some questions. As a follower of Jesus what is important to me? What really matters? What are my priorities? Or what changes do I need to make? Is there something I really must give up? Is there something I really must take on? What investment do I need to make in order to reap the rewards Jesus spoke of? What would I risk to make the voice of Jesus heard in our community? Then ask the question of ourselves: “Can we do this? Can I do this? Could I deny myself and take up my cross and follow Jesus?”
Let us pray that we find ourselves able to say: “With God’s help, with the support of fellow Christians; and in the power and strength of the Spirit – I can!” Amen.