lent wk 2 – take up your cross

Well we are in the season of Lent. And today is the second Sunday of Lent and it’s a church lectionary that I am more than happy to follow and speak of.  Lent marks 46 days until Easter Sunday where we celebrate the risen Christ.

The Lent season is a time where we reflect on our sin and imperfectness and renew our mind to help us to truly see and appreciate Jesus Christ and the good news and hope he brings into our lives.

The Lent period represents the 40 days Christ spent in the wilderness before being tested by the devil.

And just like Christmas has advent and a whole month of preparing and sharing in the excitement of the birth of Christ and the gift of Gods Son, our Saviour.

Lent allows us the month to prepare and share in the excitement of Gods gift to us through Christ death and resurrection. The gift of Gods Grace and an example to us that God works for the good of all of us and his plans are good.

But why do we as a society seem to get more excited for Christmas than Easter. As a Christian, no, as anybody, believer or not.

Easter is the more important, most life changing and life saving. As without the events of Easter. There would be no hope for any of us. Each of us would be succumbed to death because of sin. No eternal life. No comfort. No source of strength or love for that matter

However through Christ suffering and his living sacrifice? Gods plan. Gods glory, was displayed to all and for all.

Yet at Christmas we decorate our houses. We organise Christmas parties. We dress up. We have family gatherings. What do we do at Easter.

 Traditionally I’m not sure about your own families, but mine growing up, it was business as usual until the Friday we’d have fish for dinner and then celebrate with chocolate eggs on Sunday morning, before resuming life as per normal again. The holiday seemingly over before it began.

By far this is the most important and crucial event in the Christian calendar and Christian doctrine.  In Your own faith!

Christ Birth, was the pre show entertainment. Easter is the main event.

Easter seems to get lost amongst the wilderness. The outside noise.

The happenings around us are over shadowed by a world that wants you to focus on self. Not just on your own happiness and desires and how more money and power equals more success and happiness.

But like Job teachers us, a world that can so easily allow us to focus on our,  your successes and or own self wallowing. and fostering resentment not just towards family and friends but towards God.

Where Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. The son of God.

Easter is about Gods love for us. It is about the redeeming of man, savings us from ourselves and the broken world which we live.

Where is that love displayed, through sacrifice of his one and only Son.

What is the gift. The gift of Christmas was a Saviour to the world. The gift of Easter. Is Gods Grace for the world.

 Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do

I wonder if you were there devil, also fallen from Gods Grace. What holiday would you like, less celebrated amongst Gods creation.

Our faith. Your faith.

We are saved through our faith. Simply put, our trust in Christ.

But oh how our faith can be tested. It is also why I believe we experience suffering and self wallowing.

So we, our faith is provided the opportunity to grow and strengthen. How strong would your faith be if life was always easy and happy. No experience of loss, or hardship. If I did Oliver’s homework and his school assignments. He would receive praise and accolades at his school. But come the end of year test. How would he go?

Come your test, on your death bed. How will you go?

But the beauty of a Christian life, is we are always learning. And If you answered, oh crap, I don’t know. I hope I’m doing okay for the test. Find peace in that. As blessed are the humble.

Our readings today are both from Mark’s Gospel and they surround  the Transfiguration.

The Transfiguration.

Of note the transfiguration is believed to have occurred 40 days before the crucifixion. (In this scene, we have a core group of people, we have the rock to which Christ will build his church, we have the first disciple to be martyred disciple and the last disciple to die.)

Mark 9:2-8 NLT

Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, [3] and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. [4] Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus. [5] Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials-one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” [6] He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified. [7] Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” [8] Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them.

We read that so much is going. Christ body shinning brightly. Jesus talking in the company of Elijah and Moses. Real life prophets, And although terrified and not knowing what to say, peter wanted to start building little houses.

Thankfully God interjects himself here. And picked the most important moment to do so, as I believe Peter wasn’t going to wait for an answer before starting to build. GOD interjects himself and speaks. And what he says is most relevant to all of us here today.

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

This is the 2nd of three times God audibly speaks out loud in the new testament. The First time is Christ baptism. Mark 1:11 And a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

And the thirds time is at the conclusion of a prayer by Jesus, days out from the crucifixion After he predicts his death and tells of his necessary sacrifice.

John 12:28-30,

Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came!

Father, bring glory to your name.” Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.” [29] When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him. [30] Then Jesus told them, “The voice was for your benefit, not mine…. trust me

Each time, the voice is the benefit of his followers. His disciples. And as such the voice is also for the benefit of us. As we read and muse over Gods word.

Life is like being on that mountain. So much going on. Trying our best. obeying the law. Wanting to please people. And we too need the word of God to stop us and remind us to listen.

GODs interjection here reminds me of a parent patiently watching and waiting for their children to have a penny drop Moment. To see the light go on upstairs. But it hasn’t happened and needs some prompting.

Gods prompting here, bluntly reminds us as Christians to listen to Christ. Just like we discussed   in Job last week, during his suffering, self wallowing and questions of fairness. Job didn’t really find  peace until he stopped and listened to God. Job admits this and writes in Job 42:4 – 4 You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! And he did listen. Humbly.

God speaks for our benefit not Christ’s.

So we are to listen too him. To listen to Christ.

I had to then explore what was spoken by Christ in the lead up before God spoke on the mountain, that would be most relevant to us as Christians. The chapter before immediately grabs our ears.

Mark 8:34-35 NIV

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. [35] For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

What a phrase. What do you think it means. More importantly. What do you think it means to you? I kept asking the question to myself through the week. Trying to figure out how best to describe take up your cross.

I bet each of you have differing opinions on what it would be and mean. I bet your thinking of examples in your life which you believe or relate to carrying your cross.  

And I bet, most of you would be thinking of a time of struggling and suffering. And I did too. Until I pondered over Christ’s words, to which you’d agree, there are many.

So what would be the most important we are to listen too.

 Searching the pages of red writing, following Christ’s words, I came to a passage in Mark and immediately found what I believe to be an answer we are to truly listen too and guide us in carrying our cross.

Mark 12:28-31 NIV – Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

I am not surprised to find the word Love used. And, it does not say love yourself, or do what you love.  It clearly says. Love your God. With all your heart. All your soul all your mind and strength followed up by love your neighbour as yourself. Reminding us to love others. To love those around you.

This I believe is our cross to carry. To love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And to love those around us.

And what perfect example to portray this to you than Christ carrying his cross to Calvary. To follow him.

From the night of his arrest, his questioning by the Pharisees, his meetings with Pilot to the chants of abuse by the crowds. The physical abuse by the guards. The mocking and the unjust treatment and suffering he received. The hate of the world around him.  Why Did this all occur.? All this is experienced because he had faith in God. He trusted God. He believed in God in a world that didn’t believe. Thinks it knew better. Ignorant to God’s word and teachings. A world Just like each one of you is Living in today. A world as a Christian where you are judged by others and at times fearful of ridicule if you were to express your faith and beliefs. We are living in a broken world where Sin is rife and surrounds us all and that of which we are also guilty of sharing in.

Carrying your cross is to love God first before anything denying yourself.  With all your might in this broken world. And to love your neighbours.

Again this is our cross to carry. Our cross is our faith, our love for God. The same faith Jesus had and has today alive seated at the right hand of the Father.

The same faith that gave him the patience, when persecuted, listening to mockery and accusations and then the unjust sentencing and punishments he was to endure unfairly.

The same faith that gave him the perseverance and strength to endure the physical and mental sufferings of his crucifixion. The same faith that gave him the power to trust in God. Our God. To accept his cup. To accept Gods will.

The same faith that through Christ’s love for God and his neighbours, denying his self, enabled Jesus to offer himself as a sacrifice for you. A neighbour.

He put you, before the love he had for himself to ensure you received Gods gift of Grace. How many of us would do that. Who would sacrifice their life for a stranger?

In this broken world, we are steered or too easily to loving ourselves first. To do what we love before anything else. Effectively, putting down our cross as it is too heavy. To bulky. To awkward. Gets in the way of our own happiness and worldly comfort.

In other words. It hinders the lifestyle we feel we deserve And want. Or it may be a weight we don’t believe necessary to carry when we feel down with the weight of the world heavy enough.

But I don’t want you to think of carrying your cross as a burden or as an extra effort. I want you to simply see carrying your cross as being more loving. More loving to your God. More loving towards Jesus who’s crucifixion and rising from the dead ascending into heaven, gave you the undoubted promise of eternal life, eternity with your loved ones! More loving to your neighbours. To those closest to you and those far away. More loving of your faith!

It is the love of your faith through which will get you though this life in a broken world. It is carrying your cross.  

A life where sickness and ill health is prevalent , and death is a  certainty, however never spoken about until it is at your door.

You see, God doesn’t give you a specific illness or specifically choose bad things to happen to you. That is the lot of living in a broken world were sin is rampant.

However, God provides you a way to finish the race and to get through it to fast the test. it is carrying your cross that will see you through. Listening too and loving your God, who loves you. I can again speak of like last week, Jesus testing in the wilderness. Carrying his cross got him through. Shall live on the word of God. Shall not put God to the test. And to worship and serve God only.

Emotional. Physically Spiritually. Integrity and uprightness.

Carrying your cross is so easily seen as a specific burden one faces or is facing. People often tell a suffering tale before finishing with, but that’s my cross to bear.

That’s what the world wants you to think. As it takes your ears and eyes away from Christ and onto suffering. It diverts your attention away from your faith and instead to the suffering or period of sickness that is confronting you. And here amid your suffering, your attitude can easily be swayed to one of self pity. Self wallowing. There is no strength in that. There is no love.

On Friday I decided to Moe my lawn with my push mower. It was 40 odd degrees. The sun was burning down in me and the heat and humidity was making we sweat like a human water fall.

I member I was 2 thirds of the way though with the backside of the house to go. I was buggered and looked up, thinking crap iv still got a good ages to go, but knowing I just had to keep on going… I mouthed to myself.

Oh well, this is my cross to bear. I started thinking, hang on, mowing is not my cross. God didn’t make me mow this today. I chose too, knowing it was a hot and sunny day. I freely chose to mow it. The gift of free will.  

I started thinking why I wanted to mow it. And even had the Epiphany that this wasn’t the first or last time I would mow this lawn and would most likely be put through this same self inflicted suffering in 2 weeks time.

It got me thinking about suffering and how we can go from one season of suffering into another. And that Suffering through something, is not bearing our cross, what is. Why was I doing this was the first question I asked my self. I wasn’t getting paid for it. I wasn’t trying impress anyone. It was just, The love of my house.

That 4 letter word. Love.

In simplistic terms, in my own words, the love of my house, caused me to bear my cross and mow the lawn. However, in mowing the lawn, experiencing suffering and musing on Gods words.

My focus turned from the heat, sweat and the effort needed ahead of me, and Instead turned to Christ and his words. A comfort in communion with God that made light work. In that comfort I found that bearing my cross was actually love. Listening to Christ.

I was able to see that each of us experiences different  types of sufferings and illness. Some as a result of decisions we made and some like, job, just accepting bad things can happen to good people.

But no matter what we are going through, we can all relate and pick up the same cross. Love. Jesus Christ. Our faith. We can all love our God with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul. Carrying our cross, maintaining the house of God inside of us.

But that there is the hard part.  To deny ourselves and love God first before anything. As we are easily distracted by worldly concerns and self righteousness. Whether it be pride or self wallowing. They both lead down the path of bitterness and anger. Something Christ never was.

But that is our cross. Loving God first. It can be confronting to hear it and a bit off putting to new ears. But by listening to Christ and the word of God we are able to carry our cross and through love, we are able to live a life in Glory to our God. For he is good and loves you. For

1 Corinthians 13

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. God is patient. God is kind

By Stopping and listening to Jesus. We find the answers we need.

And the answers we need are found in loving Jesus, our Lord and God first. Denying our selves and following Christ. His teachings, his actions and his words.

For God is love. How can I love without having a source for love in my life. Gods Love helps me to love. It helps me to pick up and carry my cross, listen to Christ and strengthens my faith.

I pray his love also helps you.

Amen

Romans 12:1-2 NIV
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship. [2] Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Amen

Benediction

Benediction. Beloved, go from this place in the love and power of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—to meet your neighbours and yourself with an open heart as we take up our cross and follow Jesus for the sake of the gospel. Amen.