Sermon – August 28, 2005

Choosing the Cross

Matthew 16:21-28

 

There’s a story that comes to mind that I ran across a while ago that makes me scratch my head in bewilderment…and yet it’s a story that may well represent the “give-us-what-we-want” culture in which we now live.  A church wanted to improve attendance at their major worship services, so they hired a powerful advertising agency to come in, study their situation, and make their recommendations.  The ad agency did their research and finally suggested to the church that they should get rid of all the crosses in the church…because the church might send a negative message to prospective worshippers!

 

Now, I’m sure that in its history, that advertising agency has come up with some brilliant ideas.  But, as I’m sure you will agree, that was not one of them.  We can’t get rid of the cross! The cross is the dramatic symbol of our faith, hope, love, and forgiveness.  The cross is the powerful reminder of God’s sacrificial and redemptive love for us.  And the cross is the constant signal to us of how God wants us to live and love today—as sacrificial servants.  We are not called to be prima donnas.  We are called to be servants.  We are called to take up the mission of Christ and to emulate the servant spirit of our Lord.

 

Have you heard about the man who went up to Alaska?  After he had been there for a few months, her ran into a priest and said, “Father, I hate to tell you this, but I’ve lost my faith in God and the power of prayer.” “Why is that, my son?” the priest asked politely. “Because,” said the man, “a few weeks ago while hunting in the Alaskan wilderness, I became separated from my friends.  It was terrible!  I was out there all alone.

 

I was in danger of freezing to death.  So I prayed and prayed to the Lord to save me, but nothing happened.” The priest was perplexed and he said, “But you are here now telling me this story, so obviously you were rescued.” “Oh, yes,” the man said, “but the Lord had nothing to do with it…I was saved by an Eskimo!”

 

Well, millions of us are saved by “Eskimos” and sadly, all too often we are blind and we do not see the hand of God in it.  The point is that God chooses the work through God’s people—through Eskimos and Samaritans, through mothers and fathers, through Sunday school teachers and council members, through neighbors and strangers.  God does much of God’s best work through regular folks, folks like you and me.  Jesus knew this well, and that’s why he called disciples to follow him, to learn from him, and ultimately to take up the torch of his self-giving and sacrificial love.  And he taught his disciples that the way to do it, the way to be God’s servants, is to not arrogantly grab for the crown, but rather to humbly choose the way of the cross.

 

We see this in Matthew 16 where he says to his disciples, and indeed to us: “If you would come after me, first deny yourself, then take up your cross and follow me.”  No crown offered here, only a cross.  No throne offered here, only a task.  No mantle offered here, only a ministry.  No scepter offered here, only sacrificial service.  These were not just high-sounding words that Jesus was speaking into the air..he meant it.  He showed us he meant it—on a cross.  This is the message of the Christian faith, isn’t it?  Jesus chose not the way of the crown, but rather the way of the cross.  That is the spirit in which he wants us to live. He calls us to follow his lead and to choose the way of the cross.

 

How do we determine the value of something?  How do we decide what is really valuable?  We in America have been highly “success-conscious,” and “success-oriented.”  And most have agreed with the definition in Webster’s dictionary: “Success is the attainment of wealth and fame.”  Now think about it. Is that success?  Isn’t it true that when we think of success, we immediately pull out names like Rockefeller, Ford, Dupont, and Gates?  They symbolize the “sweet smell of success.” But Webster was wrong.  Money and fame are not enough.  Those who have risen to the top of the heap are sometimes the most miserable. Their success is often a sham, because you see, there is more to successful living than eating well and counting wealth and wearing crowns.

 

For the moment, let’s forget those selfish, shallow, superficial values and telescope in on Jesus.  In Jesus, we see a whole new and refreshingly different understanding of what success is.  His approach startles us.  It’s so different.  Jesus says, “Those among you who would be great or successful, let them be servants.”  Let them be servants?  What on earth can Jesus mean by that?  Successful people aren’t servants; successful people have servants!”  We cry out.  What is Jesus trying to do here..upset our whole scale of values?  Yes. That is precisely what he is trying to do.  Jesus is giving us a whole new scale of values, a new measuring stick, a new standard for measuring value and success.  And he says to us discipleship is better than material things, service is better than securities; choosing the way of the cross is better than grasping for crowns.

 

When we in faith accept Jesus Christ into our lives as Lord and Savior, he changes our perspective.  He gives us a new vision, a new wisdom, a new stance, new priorities, a new way of deciding what is really valuable.  Jesus shows us how to choose the cross.

 

There is a story of a guy who landed a job painting the yellow line down the center of a highway.   This he had to do by hand.  After three days the foreman called him in and said, “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but each day your work is slacking off.  Your first day out, you did great.  You painted that line for three miles.  Your second day wasn’t bad.  You painted two miles.  But today you only painted one mile.  Could you explain that?  Could you tell me why your work fell off each time out?  “Yes, sir.  It’s not my fault,” said the man. “Every day I got further away from the paint can!”

 

Some of us are like that in our faith pilgrimage.  Each day we move further and further away from God..and life becomes increasingly more difficult and burdensome.  Christ calls us to a life of service and commitment.  It is a close daily walk with God.  This isn’t always easy for us as the world pulls on us from either direction. However, when we seriously take up the cross of Christ-like commitment and trust that God will guide us and care for us along the way, we can live our lives as God wants us to.  We can be the servant who does God’s work of justice, love, and forgiveness in the world. 

 

As we study the life of Jesus carefully, we see his incredible commitment to our God, and to do the will of God.  Jesus’ death on the cross rising again has freed us from the world to be Christ-like in the world. As we journey through life let us remember what we are called to do and who we are called to be.  Let us remember the words of a sacred hymn and pray these words as we go through each day..

 

Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord, to thee.

Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.

Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

 

Take my voice and let it sing always, only for my King.

Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.

Take my intellect and use every power as Thou shalt choose.

 

Take my will and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine,

Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love, my Lord I pour at thy feet its treasure store.

Take myself, and I will be ever, only all for Thee.  Amen.

Amen