MESSAGE 3rd September – 14th Sunday after PENTECOST – Year A
THEME: Discipleship, Change, Hope, Trust and Faith
Change is constant – we are called to be transformed in Christ by the renewing of our minds.
A poem shared by Bishop Jeremy at our Clergy Conference:
I can hear change humming.
In its loudest, proudest song.
I don’t fear change coming,
And so, I sing along.” (Rev Tania sings: alleluia)
Today’s Gospel is a call to discipleship: Prayer from APBA 201
Christ, whose insistent call
disturbs our settled lives:
give us discernment to hear your word,
grace to relinquish our tasks,
and courage to follow empty-handed
wherever you may lead,
so that the voice of your gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth. Amen.
In the Gospel today we hear one of the most profound teachings from the life and words of Jesus Christ. Today, we’ll be diving into the powerful message of taking up our cross and following Him.
This statement, ‘Take up your cross and follow me,’ is found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It’s a call to discipleship, a call to a life of commitment, sacrifice, and unwavering faith. Let’s explore what this message means for us today.
In the context of Jesus’ time, the cross was an instrument of torture and death. It was a symbol of suffering and shame. So, when Jesus asks us to take up our cross, He’s inviting us to embrace the challenges, difficulties, and trials that come with following Him. It’s a reminder that the Christian journey isn’t always easy, but it’s a journey worth embarking on.
Taking up our cross involves self-denial. It’s about putting God’s will above our own desires and ambitions. Just as Jesus surrendered His will to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are called to submit ourselves to God’s plan. This might mean letting go of our comfort zones, sacrificing our time, and redirecting our priorities for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
By taking up our cross, we also share in the suffering of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10, ‘I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.’ When we face challenges, we can find solace in knowing that Christ himself faced trials and hardships. Our suffering isn’t in vain; it’s an opportunity to draw closer to God and to become more Christ-like.
Furthermore, taking up our cross is an act of obedience. Jesus set the ultimate example of obedience when He willingly went to the cross for the redemption of humanity. Similarly, our willingness to follow His call demonstrates our trust in His plans for our lives. It’s through obedience that we align ourselves with God’s purpose and experience His blessings.
In Matthew 16:24, Jesus speaks these transformative words: ‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”’ This declaration comes at a pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry, just after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. It marks a turning point where Jesus reveals the true essence of discipleship.
When Jesus instructs us to ‘take up our cross,’ He’s using vivid imagery that would have resonated deeply with His audience. In the context of that time, the cross was a symbol of excruciating suffering and ultimate sacrifice. By invoking this imagery, Jesus emphasises the magnitude of commitment and self-sacrifice that discipleship requires.
Taking up our cross involves the act of self-denial. In Matthew 16:25, Jesus continues, ‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’ Here, Jesus challenges us to relinquish our personal desires, ambitions, and comforts in order to fully align ourselves with God’s will. Just as He surrendered His own will to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are called to submit ourselves to God’s divine plan.
Moreover, Jesus’ call to take up our cross also addresses the idea of suffering for the sake of the Gospel. In Matthew 10:38, Jesus remarks, ‘Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.’ This underscores the idea that following Jesus isn’t always easy or without challenges. However, just as Christ endured the cross for the redemption of humanity, we are encouraged to endure hardships as we share in His sufferings, trusting that our faithfulness has a greater purpose.
In the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus outlines the principles of the Kingdom of God. He challenges conventional norms and invites His followers to live in accordance with divine values. This teaching resonates with the concept of taking up our cross. The attitudes and behaviours Jesus describes – humility, mercy, purity of heart – align with the sacrificial nature of carrying one’s cross.
But what does it mean to ‘follow’ Jesus? It’s not just about a physical journey but a spiritual one as well. To follow Jesus is to adopt His teachings, His compassion, and His love for others. It’s about being a light in the world, reflecting His character in our actions and interactions. As we take up our cross and follow Him, we participate in the transformation of our hearts and the world around us.
In a culture that often values comfort, success, and instant gratification, the message of taking up our cross can seem counterintuitive. Yet, it’s a call to embrace a deeper purpose. It’s a reminder that true fulfilment comes from living a life dedicated to God’s calling rather than the fleeting pleasures of the world.
Here are three practical ways for Christians to apply the call of Jesus to take up their cross and follow Him daily:
- **Sacrificial Love**: Embrace sacrificial love in your interactions with others. Prioritise their needs and well-being over your own, just as Jesus sacrificed Himself for humanity. This might involve helping those in need, forgiving others, and showing kindness even in difficult situations.
- **Denying Self-Centred Desires**: Practice self-denial by resisting selfish desires and striving to align your actions with Christ’s teachings. This could mean making choices that prioritise spiritual growth and service to others over personal comfort or instant gratification.
- **Embrace Suffering with Faith**: When faced with challenges or suffering, approach them with faith and trust in God’s plan. Just as Jesus endured suffering for the sake of humanity, view your own struggles as opportunities to grow spiritually and draw closer to Him.
Remember, taking up one’s cross is about embracing a life of discipleship that mirrors Jesus’ selfless love and obedience to God’s will.
The invitation to take up our cross and follow Jesus is an invitation to a life of purpose, sacrifice, and obedience. It’s a journey that may involve challenges, but it’s a journey that leads to spiritual growth, transformation, and a deeper relationship with God. As we navigate our individual paths, let’s remember the words of Jesus and find strength in His promise to be with us every step of the way.
I pray that we will all continue to take up our cross and faithfully follow our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”