You Must Take Up Christ’s Cross and Follow Him

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 29:11 and Matthew 16:24, 25:40.

Dearest Members and Friends of Tuskawilla UMC,

I am so very humbled by all the expressions of appreciation I have received over the past few weeks – the cards, sweets, grill seasoning and apron, gift cards for date nights and coffee, contributions to my shoe fund (are you surprised!?), dinner out with the staff, and ELEVEN fruit trees for the parsonage! These gifts have truly warmed my heart and will continue to do so!

I also received one gift of appreciation that literally made me laugh out loud – an elephant. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. (And I prefer mine with tabasco!) Elephants – figuratively – represent hurdles, obstacles, and big ole bumps in the road. And while I have encountered a number of elephants since arriving at Tuskawilla, I am not discouraged.

Confession: I may be initially discouraged, but because of the strength of this congregation’s leadership and the wonderful friendships that I have here, Onward! and Forward! have become my rally cries when I see another pachyderm appear.

In Matthew 16 Jesus makes the first prediction about his death and resurrection; “Jesus began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and legal experts, and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day.” And Peter lost it! “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.” And Jesus turned to his friend, his principle disciple and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts…All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them” (Mt 16:21-25).

Sometimes our thoughts, worries, desires, ambitions, projects, and motivations become stumbling blocks that manifest into elephants. Sometimes circumstances caused by others become stumbling blocks that manifest into elephants. These elephants have the potential to distract us from God’s work and God’s intentions. Jesus shows us in this encounter with Peter that when we encounter an elephant, which Jesus calls a cross, we are not to run the other way. We have to work our way Forward! and Onward! in pursuit of God’s plan and God’s desires.

John Wesley, in his Explanatory Notes, writes the following on Matthew 16:24,

Crosses are so frequent, that whoever makes advantage of them, will soon be a great gainer. Great crosses are occasions of great improvement: and the little ones, which come daily, and even hourly, make up in number what they want in weight. We may in these daily and hourly crosses make effectual oblations (offerings) of our will to God; which oblations, so frequently repeated, will soon amount to a great sum.*

In Christ elephants – crosses – transform from obstacles to opportunities for offerings. When facing adversity – whatever adversity – we have a choice – to turn the other way or to pick up our cross and follow Christ.

After I unwrapped the elephant, Samantha said, “Looks like you are starting another collection in your office.” By the time Charge Conference concluded I had my second elephant! And bonus! Both elephants have upturned trunks. In Nepal, elephants that have their trunks turned up bring good fortune. They still require work, but they bring good fortune.

It is even better with the crosses we bear for and with our Christ – they require work, but they bring everlasting life.

Please join us in worship this week as Dean Paulus shares with us a very good word on these texts from Jeremiah and Matthew. I am looking forward to worshipping with you and learning from Dean.

Sweet Blessings,

Pastor Sarah

 Prayer: “We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord. We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord. And we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Amen.**

*http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/wesleys-explanatory-notes/matthew/matthew-16.html 

**”They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” The Faith We Sing, 2223.

Upbuilding: Caught Up Together

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 4:13-18

One of the first gifts Andrew ever gave me was – wait for it – a mixed tape.  That’s right – legend…ary.  Legendary.  It contained music from his favorite band – which is now one of my favorite bands – Great Big Sea.  The mixed tape included GBS’s rendition of It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.  The only words of the song that I can understand to this day – in R.E.M.’s or GBS’s version – beyond the chorus are breathing down your neck!

Pretty much sums it up – when life is a struggle it feels like the world is breathing down your neck and that the end is coming sooner rather than later.

These past few months I have felt like I have barely been keeping the tip of my nose out of the water much less my head.  I keep saying, “Just a few more tasks…just a few more days…”  I wonder if that was what Jesus was thinking as he approached the cross.  In no way am I saying that my recent journey is in the same league as the path to Calvary, but in our own worlds, in our own minds, in my own perspective it sometimes feels that way.

As I wonder in my end of the world feelings the wise words of two friends come to mind:

1 – How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

2 – Everything is better in three days.

The first aphorism is a testament to keep on keeping on.  Even when it feels like you are not / I am not making progress, turns out we are. And the second aphorism is an allusion to the resurrection.  At a very very minimum, the cross teaches us that everything is better in three days.

The Thessalonians bring their concerns about the end of the world to Paul.  They believe that the end of the world is at hand. They question the fate of those who have already died.  They wonder – we wonder – what is the reassurance of our faith as we wait for Christ to come?

The cross looked like the end of the world and the grave appeared to seal our demise, but then Jesus busted that grave wide open.  Jesus released from our slavery to sin and death.  Freedom reigns.  Life wins.  Freedom and life in Christ always wins.

And that, my friends, should make us all feel fine.

What do we do on the days when we don’t feel fine?  On the days when it feels like the world is caving in?  I find comfort in first naming that I feel overwhelmed and then I take a break to gather my thoughts – or as my friend Lee would say – get all my putty in a pile.  I inhale.  I exhale.  I get to a place where I feel safe – a place where I feel like I can start again.  This may be a mental transition, but it could also be a physical transition.  And I find a friend.  God has blessed me with so many seasoned and new friends that I am not without someone to hold my hand, to come alongside, and to assure that everything will be okay.  Then, I start working again.  Sometimes the best way for me to begin working again is for me is to make a to-do list so I can check items off as I complete them…and more than once the top item on my to-do list is “make a to-do list!”  Whatever it takes friends – whatever it takes.  As I work I am able to take one bite at a time.  As I work I know that things around me are improving.  I am improving.  Christ is improving me.

Do not be discouraged, my friends.  Chin up.  Keep moving forward.  In steps, in crawls, in leaps, in breaths.  Keep moving forward.  Even when it feels like it the world is not ending.  Everything will be better in three days.

Prayer: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.  When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace.  In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.  His oath, his covenant, his blood support me in the whelming flood.  When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.  When he shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in him be found!  Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne!  On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”* Amen.

*”My Hope Is Built,” The United Methodist Hymnal 368.