St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 11 2011 Sermon
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Rev. Joyce Avery

One Sunday morning, a preacher delivered a beautiful sermon on Jesus' love for little children.  The next day, he caught a little boy in the act of pressing his foot into the church's spanking­ new still-wet sidewalk.  He grabbed the lad by the arm, jerked him away from the freshly-paved concrete, gave him a severe tongue-lashing, and sent him home.  Minutes later, he received an irate telephone call from the child's mother.  "My little boy just came home in tears." she said angrily.  "When I heard your sermon yesterday I thought you loved little children."  "Indeed I do love little children," the preacher replied, "but I love them in the abstract, not the concrete.

Pick up your Cross and Follow Me, this is the way Jesus wants us to go.  Following in Jesus' footsteps will not be easy.  In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus is saying that his genuine followers love him not in the abstract, but in the concrete ....

After Jesus' forty days in the Wilderness when Satan tried every test on Jesus and gave up and left him, but planned to return at a opportune time, and that just happened when Jesus was in conversation with his Disciples about his trip to Jerusalem where he will undergo great suffering and be crucified.  But Peter just couldn't stand the thought of Jesus being put through suffering and death.  (This is when Satan steps in and helps Peter out.)  Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord!  This must never happen to you."  This is when Jesus' ire is beginning to show, and he tells Peter, “Get behind me Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me, you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  Wouldn't you feel the way Peter did?  I wouldn't want Jesus to go through all the agony and suffering that he had to endure.  Then Jesus tells his disciples that if they want to be a follower of mine, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Just moments before, Jesus had blessed Peter and designated him as the "rock" on which he would build his Church.  Now Peter is chastised as a "stumbling block" for setting his mind on human rather Devine things.

The ultimate test of our Christian discipleship is not what we think about Jesus, not what we say about Jesus, but what we do about Jesus.  In concrete terms, how does our relationship with Jesus affect the way we conduct our lives?  How does our relationship with Jesus affect our relationships with others?  How do we demonstrate our love for Jesus in the specific, nitty­ gritty, down-to-earth events of our lives?  I think it means if you want to follow in Jesus' footsteps, you pick your cross, pick if up daily, concretely.  You will be a solid follower of Jesus.

Following Jesus also means embracing new values.  The true pattern of every servant of God must include self-denial.  Jesus urges patience in suffering, perseverance in prayer, and contributing to the needs of others.  Christians should also bless their persecutors while sharing in the joy and grief of the community.  They are to claim no special privileges for themselves, and certainly never to repay evil for evil.  Finally, they are to seek to "to live peaceably with all", and to refrain from seeking retribution, as vengeance, is the Lord's concern.  In this way, evil could be overcome by good.

"Follow ME ... Pick up your Cross Daily" is the "Bottom Line" of our response to the Good News of a Gracious God who loves us totally.  It is the sum total of our response to all Jesus said and did.  It is the answer to our every prayer for the abundant life we crave at the deepest level of our being.  We come together and we listen to the Word of God as it is revealed in Jesus.  In Jesus, we discover God's promise never to abandon us, his promise of forgiveness, promise of eternal life, his power of healing, God's Holy Spirit of compassion.  In Jesus we discover that death does not have the last word, we discover the immensity of God's love, and to harmonize our life with God's will.  We listen, and as we ponder all these things in our heart we sing songs of praise and thanksgiving, we feel a certain degree of comfort and security and we give thanks to God in prayer.

We have come to the conclusion that we are challenged to become a true Christian and get with it and act like a follower of Christ.  To be a doer of the word, to be healers and reconcilers, be of compassion and forgiving people.  Be a peacemaker and above all love your neighbor as yourself.
 
This is a story of a Clergyman and a Soap Salesman.
While strolling through the park, a Clergyman struck up a conversation with a soap salesman.  They soon began to talk religion.  Said the Soap Salesman: "The Gospel you preach doesn't seem to have done much good after two thousand years. There is still a lot of evil and wickedness in the world."  The Clergyman pointed to a little boy making mud pies, and the child was exceedingly dirty.  “I can see that soap hasn't done much good either, It's been around for a long time but there are still a lot of dirty hands and faces."  "That's true," said the Soap Salesman.  "But soap is effective only when it's applied."  To which the Clergyman replied, "So it is with the Gospel we proclaim."

We are so incredibly valuable to God that he chooses to remain present to us always. Jesus described this awesome reality as the "Kingdom Of God Within."  It is the source of the strength we need to take up our cross daily.  It is the source of the love we need to make the Gospel we preach effective in the world.
 
There is an Old Chinese Proverb that says:
If there is Goodness in the Heart, There is Beauty in the Character,
If there is Beauty in the Character, There will be Harmony in the Home,
If there is Harmony in the Home, There is Order in the Nation.
Where there is Order in the Nation, There will be Peace in the world.

The Devine goodness, the source of all Beauty and Harmony and Order and Peace, is in our Heart.  But there is no way to experience it, no way to demonstrate it, no way to share it except to establish a working, living, growing relationship with it, "Daily, take up your Cross and Follow Me."

There is nothing grim about the command "Take up your Cross Daily,"  It is not intended to make us wince or clench our teeth.  It is an invitation to experience the joy of a living, working, growing relationship with Jesus and his love is with us always.  It is an invitation to experience the joy of demonstrating our love for God through our love for one another.

Jesus hanging from his cross is God's way of saying to us: "Now do you see how much I love you?"  "God has to hollow us out, before he can fill us up with Life and Love."  Amen 



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