All ye that carry heavy burdens

Matthew 16:21-28
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “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 will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Pent11 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 8-28-11

Children’s Time: What does it mean to “bear the cross?” Have you ever had to carry something really heavy? Like a suitcase when you go on a trip? Or some groceries from the store? Or how about a backpack at school? It’s heavy isn’t it? Sometimes we’re okay with carrying things… for awhile at least. But when we carry something for a long time can be very tiring. Jesus was made to carry his own cross the day he was crucified. It was so heavy he needed others to step in and help him. In our lesson today, he says that we should take up OUR cross and follow him. That there are things in our lives we’ll need to carry – and it might be too hard to do alone. That’s when prayer and trusting in God comes in. Can we remember to trust in God when things get heavy? Let’s pray: Dear God, we are sometimes very tired carrying things that are heavy. Help us to do our best and to trust you when we fall. Amen.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

What I like about Peter is that he’s so human. He follows his heart, offering to write Jesus’ job description for a Messiah (no suffering necessary). At another time, he’s eager to set up a few tents on the mountain for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Still another time, Peter gets so excited to see Jesus on the shore when they are at sea, that he puts on all his clothes and then jumps into the water to swim to Jesus. Peter acts first and thinks later. Maybe that’s why Jesus calls him ‘Satan’ in today’s reading – as a simple reminder that sometimes we don’t have a clue what we’re talking about. And, when we say it anyway, we run the risk of letting the devil get his say in matters of grave importance.

Have you ever spoken too soon, without all the information? Only to be left with egg on your face? When we’re clearly found to be totally in error – having absolutely no idea what we are talking about… well, that’s when we’re invited to sit down at the table and to ‘eat those words.’ Or begin ‘Eating Crow.’ Or, perhaps you’d like a serving of ‘Humble Pie?’ Or, since we’re onto foods, how about some ‘Just Desserts’? Because, when you’re ‘full of baloney,’ you can be ‘Taken down a notch,’ ‘Put in your place,’ or ‘get your comeuppance.’ Or, as the young people like to say: ‘You got served.’ Nice comeback, Peter. Oh, that’s right, you didn’t have one!

I mean, imagine Peter’s embarrassment (in front of all the disciples) when Jesus calls him ‘Satan!’ A bit harsh, don’t you think? Especially since Jesus had, only seven verses earlier, named Peter “the rock” on which he would build his church. He was just trying to make sure Jesus had his facts clear on all this “dying-on-the-cross” business! “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus chides, “You’re setting your heart on human things, not divine.”

It’s like that Living Will we keep putting off – or that important ‘sex talk’ with the kids. There are a few things we’d rather not have to deal with in life. And suffering is one of them. And yet, there is a cost to discipleship. The same Jesus who bears the cross bestows the cross to his followers. We can’t carry his cross for him, but neither does he carry ours for us.

Anna Carter Florence reminds us of a key word in this reading that comes from the first sentence in our gospel for today (Matthew 16:21): “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering…”

He had already ‘told’ them about it – but hearing is often selective – in one ear, out the other, like when your father says: “Did you take out the garbage like I asked you?” “Oh, yeah, I’ll get right on that!” Or Jesus may have ‘taught’ them about suffering that was to come as a Christian way of life. But they could always rationalized it away – “Oh, you mean suffering in a metaphorical way, like a parable?” But when he shows them it forces them to actually look upon the suffering.

“This won’t be easy,” Jesus says. “But here we are, setting a course for Jerusalem. There’s no turning back from this cross.” Ironically, it’s what we claim as our namesake: HOLY CROSS LUTHERAN CHURCH. But is the cross a part of our mission statement? Is suffering for our faith, or with hurting people, on our long-range goals?

This week I read a story about Sebastian Cross, an eleven-year-old boy, who woke up to find a letter from his dad saying he was “on his own.” His father, Steven Cross, from Lakeville, had raised him since he was a toddler. Recently, he had become overwhelmed with financial woes and civil suits that had been filed against him. Out of work and facing foreclosure on the home, he took to living on the streets. The night before he left, he wrote a letter in which he told his son to go live with the neighbors next door.

Where was his family in all this? His friends? His neighbors? His church? Our calling is to stand with the suffering – to reach out as best we can, bearing one another’s burdens and offering a word of hope. Families should never have to suffer in silence and be separated because of hardship. And the church has a fundamental calling to stand in the places where people suffer.

Fred Gaiser, from Luther Seminary, conducted a survey of church mission statements to see how they would describe themselves and their mission. And what he found surprised him. Many churches described themselves as welcoming and as servants to their communities. There were notes about education and fellowship – but not a single church mentioned suffering for Jesus’ sake in their mission statements. What was missing was the cross.

It’s in our nature to want to talk about something more cheerful. No one chooses to suffer. Often, suffering comes to us without warning. But, so long as Jesus is still around, you can bet Judas is not far behind, and Caiaphas, and Herod and Pontius Pilate.

Another Bible character who knew about suffering was Jeremiah, a prophet from the Old Testament, who we hear from in our first lesson today. For forty years, Jeremiah had been God’s spokesperson to the people. And over the course of that time, he’d been beaten and ridiculed, placed in the stocks overnight, thrown down a well, and imprisoned and tortured. God had forbidden him to marry, so he didn’t even have a shoulder to cry on in his greatest time of need. All this suffering, he bears for his words: “Thus says the Lord.”

It’s no wonder that he would come to these words of complaint in our first lesson: “Know that on your account I suffer insult… Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.”

It’s a very personal, up-close, look into the loneliness of God’s servant. Anyone who has suffered for their faith can relate to his words of lament. And God’s reply to Jeremiah comes in the form of a promise: “I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the Lord.”

Old Testament scholar, John Bright, reminds us that “God does not make his call to his servants conditional upon their purging themselves of weakness and achieving a measure of perfection. He does not extend his call only to the brave, to the saintly, to those who are strangers to doubt and despair. Rather, it pleases him to entrust the treasure of his word to earthen vessels. It is precisely in their weakness and frailty—even in their rebellion—that God calls his servants.”

Like with Peter, as with Jeremiah, and as with you and me – we have but two options: to bear the cross or refuse it. Either way, God is there, whether – in our weakness – we refuse or complain… God is there to tell, and teach, and show us the way. Or, when we by faith bear the cross that is given to us, God is there with a promise: “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Amen.

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