September 16, 2018
Who do you say I am?
This question alone could keep us in thought and prayer for a long time. I have been confronted with this question, or similar ones, several times in the past few months.
Twenty years ago, as a non-church goer. My answer would have been simplistic and secular. Of course, I knew who Jesus was as a person. I knew he was connected to God in some manner and I knew that he was the part of the reason that Easter and Christmas were celebrated. I believed in him as a historical person and I knew that he did not look anything like the famous Warner Sallman painting, which Trinity has a copy of hanging in the front entryway.
I connected the cross to Jesus and I knew that where there was a cross I would be able to connect with a community of Christians. The cross has been depicted in many ways as you can see around the sanctuary this morning. May of you are probably wearing a cross.
Who do you say I am?
Since joining the church, I have gotten to know Jesus Christ, and I am still striving to know him on an even deeper level. We can never fully know Jesus Christ until we are willing to carry our own cross and put up our own lives. This is a tall order and not easy. I have gotten to know Jesus Christ through a point of grace since the first time that I walked into a Lutheran Church. A grace that welcomes all people, saints and sinners alike.
While grace is abundant for all of God’s people, another challenging question was asked of me this past week, “When is it as a pastor, do you remind people of God’s grace and when do you remind them of Christ’s request that they die unto themselves?”
It is easy to go heavy on the grace and look completely past your own sins, and possibly even the sin of the neighbor or family members. Dietrich Bonhoeffer raised this same concern in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, when he talks about cheap grace. Do we take grace for granted, and think that we can do anything that we want and yet still be forgiven for it? Do we fully understand the measure of what Jesus means when he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me? For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
We don’t like to suffer. We want to be as far from it as possible, whether it be health, finances, or temptations that pull us into a pit of despair. If I could give up my high-blood pressure medication I would jump at it. If I could find a way to pay of the church mortgage and ease some our financial stress, you bet I would in a heartbeat. To bear a cross is really the last thing any of us would want to do. Yet, that is where we find ourselves day in and day out as Jesus challenges us with the gospel.
Do not think for one minute that the disciples had any clue what they were doing either. Peter even begins to rebuke Jesus as he makes the first of his three predictions of his upcoming death on the cross. The death that Jesus speaks of is not something that they are expecting. It definitely is not something that they want to see happen.
When Jesus instructs them that they are going to have to take up their own cross, they are left slack-jawed. The cross that they know is a device of torture. It represents shame and death! The cross is nothing that they want to associate with. Like us, the disciples fail to understand what Jesus is saying at that moment. They have encountered a lot with Jesus as they have walked throughout the country and now it seems as Jesus is telling them to take it even one step farther and possibly give up their own lives.
Their image of Jesus coming to save them from the Roman Empire has been shattered. They were hoping for a conquering warrior to go against the Roman Empire, and now Jesus tells them that he is going to be killed. Yet, the second part of what Jesus tells them seems to fall on deaf ears. He will be raised in three days. Perhaps they looked over this, because they did not know what that means either.
While the cross represents torture and shame for the disciples, it will soon come to mean something even more. In the cross they will begin to understand what Jesus has been talking about. In the cross, they will find transformation and triumph. G.K. Chesterton says, “But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its center it can grow without changing. … The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.”
It is here and, in his questions, that Jesus asks the disciples, that they begin to understand his true calling in the world. It is here in Jesus’ teaching that their formation as disciples is progressing. While Jesus still shy’s away from wanting the rest of the countryside to know that he is the Messiah, he is beginning to open himself up to those that are following in his footsteps.
We can follow in those same footsteps that the disciples walked.
We do experience grace from a loving God. However, this grace would not have been possible without the cross to show us the way. Gilberto Cavazos-Gonzalez speaks of the cross in terms of spirituality when he says, “Christian spirituality begins with the cross; The cross of Jesus Christ, our own cross, and the crosses of our neighbors, especially the poor and the marginalized. The cross is encountered and embraced as a paradoxical sign of salvation. That which often seems bitter and fatal can be sweetness and life.”
By taking up our own cross, we begin to die to ourselves. When we do so, we begin to let Jesus into the recesses of our heart. As we welcome Jesus into those places that we have a hard time letting others see, we can begin to answer the question, “Who do you say I am,” in a way that opens up the reign of God for us to experience in the present.
What is your cross you are called to take up? Or better yet, how are you called to follow Jesus in the world today? How do you choose to share the Gospel that is just as alive today as it was nearly 2000 years ago? How does it affect your relationships with others and are you as open as Jesus was?
May you begin to discern this for yourself as you meditate on the various crosses in the sanctuary. May you encounter life in the cross that once represented death.
Let us pray. God of Glory, you changed the meaning of the cross for all of us as Christians. May we continue to experience the change that you work in our hearts and lives daily as we come to the cross and in repentance and seek love. Amen.
 Cavazos-Gonzalez, Gilberto. Beyond Piety, The Christian Spiritual Life, Justice, and Liberation. pg 26.