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.

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We Don’t Have To Go Home, But We Can’t Stay Here

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 9:28-36

I returned from an eight day pilgrimage across Israel on Wednesday and a word that resonated with me and my fellow sojourners throughout our travels in the Holy Land was home.

We visited Bethlehem where the Holy Family had their home during Jesus’ infancy. We visited Nazareth where Jesus lived as a boy and youth and would eventually be expelled from because “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town” (Lk 4:24). We visited Capernaum and journeyed throughout the Galilee where Jesus accomplished most of his ministry before he set his eyes on Jerusalem. And in Jerusalem we visited places where Jesus taught, prayed, worshipped, and wept.

Throughout the course of our trip our group took turns teaching, praying, worshipping, and weeping together. We followed in the steps of our Lord in the land of his home, which each of us came to see as our home as well.

Our guide for our trip was a fella named Mike. He quickly became one of my favorite people…mostly because within 10 minutes or so of knowing me he understood that Sarah is Hebrew for “trouble maker…”

I smiled. Mike smiled. The Bishop smiled. And our journey continued.

Towards the end of our journey across the Holy Land Mike posed this question and challenge to our group: What would it take, what would I need to consider, how would I need for God to transform me so that I could become home for someone else? To be a home for someone else means becoming a safe place, a place of support, a place of comfort, a place of care, a place of sanctuary. Serving as a home for someone does not mean that together we escape reality; rather, it is a means that where two or more are gathered Jesus is there with us, lightening our burdens, easing our hurts, providing for our needs, and walking with us as we commit to walking together whatever the path is before us.

In a sense Peter wanted to create homes for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah atop Mt. Tabor at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration. Peter’s intended to construct permanent residences that would take him, Jesus, and the other disciples with them away from the world. Why would Peter want to do this? Because days before Jesus foretold his coming passion. Luke 9:21-22 writes, “[Jesus] sternly ordered and commanded [the disciples] not to tell anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” If Peter was successful in keeping Jesus on the mountain, then Peter could keep Jesus from this fate. Jesus could go on teaching and healing and bringing good news without enduring great suffering.

But Jesus was not seeking a savior or protector. Jesus was seeking – and seeks – partners, friends, and homes to serve others. Jesus sought in his disciples – and seeks in us – the commitment he introduces in his continued conversation with the disciples before his transfiguration, “Then [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves'” (Lk 9:23-25)?

The Good News of Jesus was and is that he became and becomes home for all. He put himself to suffering, bleeding, and dying so that we – his followers, his sisters and brothers – would know that while on life’s paths we do not walk alone. Not even death could separate us from Jesus for in three days time he was raised in glory.

So if nothing can separate us from Jesus – our eternal Savior and home – then why would we who are faithful separate ourselves from opportunities to be like Jesus and continue his ministry by becoming home for others? We can only be these homes if we open ourselves to be used by Jesus in this way and if we draw near to the portions of Christ’s Body that are in pain. Being a home cannot be accomplished at a distance. Jesus did not complete his servant ministry from on high; he was so close to humanity he could literally and did literally rub his nose in all of our hurt. And he redeemed it.

We can enjoy our times on the mountains, those high points in life. My trip to Israel is certainly one of them! And equally I believe Jesus wants us to enjoy our times in the valleys because that is where he served and calls us to serve by becoming home for others – for all.

Prayer: “You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat. As when the shepherd calls his sheep, they know and heed his voice, so when you call your family, Lord, we follow and rejoice. You give yourself to us, O Lord; then selfless let us be, to serve each other in your name in truth and charity. You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.”* Amen.

*”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 629.