…Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Jesus, Luke 9:23
Day by day we make choices. We discern how it is our words, our actions and our thoughts are cross worthy. On an individual basis, this makes for daily discernment. As a people who are citizens of a larger world, our decision to take up the cross of Jesus the Christ matters; it matters greatly.
This is a challenging time to approach a pulpit, brothers and sisters. I want to share a bit about that.
The UM church teaches that the world is our parish. John Wesley and United Methodists who followed espouse a faith that is individual and communal. There is no such thing as a private faith. Wesley taught that the cross of Jesus must be taken up by the people of Jesus as we together work for the teachings of Jesus to be made tangible here, in this world and in this life. There is no holiness but social holiness.
Jesus, good Jew that he was, echoes the teachings of the prophet Micah. It turns out the Lord requires of us that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6: 8)
Scripture is full of teachings about how it is we are to care for the poor, the immigrant and the refugee. Scripture is full of admonitions for a people who forget that God’s vision for full life is not found in our own individual comfort. God’s vision for fullness of life is lived when we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly knowing that God is the ethical and foundational ground of our being.
During the month of February, when our president was issuing orders that will scatter families and deeply impact the lives of countless human creations of God, we followed a series of readings from scripture used by people of many denominational affiliation. Our scriptures have been about tending the needs of the poor, about making sure that the poor and the immigrant are fed, and about turning the other cheek rather than nursing outrage. Those readings are being shared in congregations and parishes across the world.
As an ordained minister of the gospel, I simply cannot ignore the teachings of scripture and the ways our world has yet to learn and live them. The world is our parish. The teachings of our faith are not meant to be cloistered in our sanctuaries, they are meant to be taken up daily as we seek to follow Jesus.
There are those who visit our church or who have long shared community here who bristle at what they term “political” sermons.
There is a difference between partisan and political.
I seek with all the wisdom I can to craft sermons that are not partisan. To endorse one or another political party from the pulpit is a misuse of the privilege of preaching. Neither justice nor Jesus belongs solely to Democrats or solely to Republicans.
And, I will not and cannot preach the gospel of Jesus the Christ without considering what it is to deny self and take up the cross of Jesus in this day and this time. I seek to follow Jesus and I keenly seek to unpack what it is to take up the cross of Christian discipleship as we encounter questions of the life we share. How will we name the challenge of racism, violence, oppression and poverty? How can we “resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves” (UM membership vows) if we are not willing to name them and voice the pain of those too long oppressed?
Taking up the cross of Jesus means we Jesus followers are unwilling to go along. It means that we will suffer the pain of knowing that we have participated in systems that oppress. To take up the cross means that we pledge allegiance to Jesus the Christ before any power or principality, including our nation. It means that we are willing to hear voices and opinions that are not our own and we are willing to bear the discomfort of being a cross bearing people.
I know that across this city and across this land each preacher tussles with what it means to bear the cross of Jesus.
Here at Christ UMC, bearing the cross of the Christ means that we will not pretend that systems and humans have been redeemed and that all is swell in the world. We know that systems and humans continue to harm each other in ways grievous to the heart of our God. We believe that we are called to take up the cross of Christ in order to learn and live another way – in our hearts and in the polis.
We know we need each other in order to live the message of Jesus in this church and beyond this church.
We trust that God is in this with us, breathing and leading us to the living of justice, kindness and humility.
Come to church. Struggle in community as we seek to lift high the cross of Jesus the Christ.