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"Take Up Your Cross" 4th Sunday After Pentecost - June 25, 2023




Something remarkable happens in our Gospel reading from Matthew today. And I don’t mean the shocking revelation from Jesus that he did not bring peace but instead a sword. We’ll get to that later.

No, I mean the fact that Matthew uses the word cross for the first time in his gospel. Only, it is not a reference to The Cross that Jesus will die on, it is not a reference, not a foreshadowing of the crucifixion. Isn’t that curious and interesting? The first use of the word cross, and it isn’t about the crucifixion? The cross Jesus talks to his disciples about here is a way of following Jesus’ very footsteps, to imitate Christ. “Take up your cross” Jesus says to them. By placing this personal cross before the crucifixion in his Gospel, Matthew might try to show us that unless we take up our cross, we will not be ready to truly recognize Jesus Christ of The Cross. Unless we take up our cross we cannot begin to comprehend the way of Jesus Christ, who took up The Cross. Mission in the way of the cross comes before salvation by The Cross.


So, what does it look like to take up your cross? Anyone else ever wonder about that? When I was young, I had an image in my heart of people carrying invisible crosses. Sometimes, in my mind’s eye they become too heavy. People would put them down for a while, or forever. Now, what does that look like in real, unimagined form? How do we pick up our cross, follow in Jesus’ footsteps? Imitate Christ? To confess our faith and loyalty to Christ our Lord is certainly a necessity. However, it is not only faithful proclamation of the Gospel that is needed, but also faithful practice of the Gospel. The mission of the Gospel, the mission of the cross, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, welcome the stranger, to take on your cross means to align yourself with the marginalized people in the way Jesus did. And that faithful proclamation AND practice of the Gospel puts disciples on a collision course with the powers of this world. Jesus tries to prepare the disciples for their mission, and so is honest about the reality, the danger of this mission. Naming aloud the pain and suffering they will endure is the first step to freeing them from the tenacious grip of fear they must be in. After all, worldly powers can and will end your life. The very act of peacemaking, as shown in Jesus’ ministry, generates violence. We have more examples of this unfortunately. Martin Luther King Jr for examples jumps to mind. Why is that? Why does the act of peacemaking so often result in violence? Because healing, restoration, and a lack of fearing death threaten human powers, human institutions that are built on fear. Fear of being cast out, invisible, shamed and humiliated, on the margins, or even dead. Fear is the driving force behind vast segments of our economy, as well as, increasingly, our political landscape.


To pick up our cross, to imitate Christ is to align with exactly these people, the cast out, the invisible, the shamed and humiliated, the marginalized. Thankfully, Jesus does not simply leave the disciples and us hanging with the promise that following God will bring us sheer misery and potentially fatal physical harm. Instead, Jesus explains that while the worldly institutions have real power over us, over our bodies, they do not have God’s ultimat