Sometimes I feel like I’m just not a very nice person. And then I read some things Jesus says, like today, and pretty much quit worrying about it. Here Jesus calls Peter, one of his leading disciples, “Satan” and “a stumbling block.”
Then he goes on to tell all the rest of his disciples, including us, that if we want to be his disciples we need to take up our own crosses, deny ourselves, follow him, and lose our lives. He makes it sound like all this isn’t optional for those who are his followers, and that we are Satan and stumbling blocks if we don’t. And he tops it off by saying that only through dying to our own desires can we live.
No matter how often we hear about taking up our crosses, denying ourselves, dying to selfishness for Jesus, we still aren’t very good at it. If the reign of God is dependent on us following Jesus as he demands we follow him, we’ll be waiting a long, long time.
We know the situation of our world. Israel and Gaza, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine. We know the racial divides that exist in our own country. Central American children by the 10s of thousands continue to seek help and refuge among us. Republicans and Democrats in congress demonize each other at the expense of all of us. Sports heros cry about the unfairness of not getting the millions they deserve while school children at Molholm Elementary don’t know whether or not they’ll get lunch today. There’s so much wrong that we become immune to it and try to ignore it.
And yet, we long for the reign of God to come, for things to be made right, for justice and for peace to be the way of the world. We yearn for the time when the wolf lies down with the lamb, when the blind will see and the lame will dance as Isaiah describes. When it all gets overwhelming, we shake our fist at God and shout, “How long?! When will you step in and do something?!” When nothing seems to happen, we question our faith, the existence of God, and the purpose of Christ’s Church. Because it seems there’s nothing we can do. We can feel powerless to make any difference.
In the midst of all this, we Christians claim and profess that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” for our world. And he tells us right here how we can participate with him. Take up our own cross, put aside our personal desires, consider the needs of those around us, and follow him to Calvary.
In the early church they understood that their actual lives were in danger. In some places that is still true. For us, you’d think denying ourselves and taking up our cross to follow Jesus would be easier, wouldn’t you? Yet we think about taking up our crosses as being a bit inconvenienced. Or maybe doing a little extra volunteer work in the church. So we sigh and show up on a ministry team sometimes, bearing our cross.
But Jesus is talking about his disciples showing the world what the reign of God looks like. It’s not about inconvenience or adding another commitment into our schedules. It’s about dying to our own desires, preferences, selfishness for the sake of the other person. It’s about knowing we won’t get everything we want because others have needs too. It’s about giving up some things so others can have some things. It’s about being concerned for one another, caring about one another, sacrificing for one another, going out of our way to love others. Whether they deserve it or not, want it or not, are like us or not. Unconditionally, constantly.
And then doing it again the next day.
We cannot make the reign of God come. We can’t speed it up or slow it down. But if we are disciples of Jesus Christ, we make sure we reveal it to the world. We make sure that Christ, who lives within us, doesn’t have stumbling blocks as he works through us. We make sure we are dwelling on the divine things–giving away ourselves, our resources, our love. We make sure we dwell less on human things–our own preferences, our stumbling block agendas, our satanic selfishness.
And we learn it here in this congregational community. We practice it here. We learn to recognize the divine things here so we aren’t stumbling blocks to the work of Christ and the reign of God.
We deny ourselves starting here.
Here’s what it looks like here:
• We are just as concerned about LCM ministries we aren’t part of as those we are.
• We support and encourage those who disagree with us.
• We let go of our preferences and power, and instead work to make sure others have room at the table.
• We make a point of getting to know people at a different worship service, and encouraging their faith journey.
• We worry less about adult needs, and more about the children’s.
• Our own likes and desires are less important than the LCM community as a whole.
• We accept our own responsibility for our brokenness, admit our own way of being satanic stumbling blocks, and let other people do the same for themselves–without our help.
• We don’t look for scapegoats, and we seek the presence of the divine things in those we may struggle with.
As we deny ourselves, as we pick up our crosses so we can follow Jesus, we find our resurrection lives in him. We reveal God’s reign to the world. And we experience a little bit, a small taste of God’s vision for the world right here among us.