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Worship and Sermons
Feb. 26, 2017

 

“The Way of the Cross” by the Rev. Don Wahlig

Year A / Transfiguration  -  Exodus 24:12-18  •  Psalm 2 or Psalm 99  •  2 Peter 1:16-21  •  Matthew 16:21-17:9

THEME:  Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him in serving others, especially the least, so that both we and they might have new life in Christ.

 

          Did any of you read comic books when you were young?

When I was a kid, I loved comic books.  Especially, the ones about super heroes.  There were so many of them!  It seemed like every year or two I discovered a new one: Aquaman, Wonder Woman, the Incredible Hulk, the Green Hornet, the Flash, Captain America. But it was always the big three that I liked best:  Batman, Spiderman, and Superman.

          I loved all the miraculous things they could do.  I was most intrigued by the way they each maintained the outward appearance of regular, everyday people.  It was as if they all shared a similar burden:  they had to do extraordinary things to save people from harm and evil, but they could never reveal their true identity.  As a result, even those closest to them didn’t understand who they really were and what their mission was.  That was frustrating for them.

          I have to say that Jesus must be feeling a lot like that in our gospel passage. 

          He’s just finished asking his disciples who people say he is.  One says “Elijah”, another “Jeremiah”, and still another “John the Baptist”.  Then he asks the real question:  “Who do you say I am?”  Peter seems to get it right.  “You are the Messiah,” he says.  Bingo!  And then Jesus swears them all to secrecy, “Tell no one until after I’ve been resurrected.”

          But then, almost in the next breath, they prove they really don’t get it after all.  Jesus begins to explain what it really means to be the Messiah:  he has to suffer and die in order to be resurrected on the third day.  Dear, impetuous Peter takes him aside and tries to persuade him otherwise.

          But Jesus will have none of it.  And then he really takes them to task.

          Not only will he have to suffer and die, but anyone who wants to be his disciple will also have to sign on for the same treatment. 

          “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” 

          Can you imagine what Peter and the other disciples must be thinking? 

          In their minds, being the Messiah means being, first and foremost, a military hero, a conqueror, a king – like David.  Surely, they’re wondering what’s all this crazy talk about denying themselves and giving up their lives in order to save them?

          Then, just when they must be thinking this can’t get any weirder, Jesus takes three of them – Peter, James and John – up a high mountain.  There he shows them a vision of his true, divine identity as the resurrected Son of Man.  Can you picture the three disciples, with their mouths hanging open as Jesus, in dazzling white robes and glowing face converses with Elijah and Moses?

          Now, they’re really confused.  Just a week before, Jesus was talking about having to suffer and die.  Now he’s revealed in all his spectacularly divine, resurrected glory.  

          It’s the Christological equivalent of Clark Kent letting Lois Lane see him change into his Superman outfit before he flies off over a few tall buildings in a single bound. 

          Peter can’t contain himself.  He wants to capture this moment.  He wants them all to stay up there and enjoy this heavenly vision.

          But before he can even finish his sentence, the voice of God interrupts: “This is my Son.  Listen to him!”

          As impressive as this is, it’s only a preview of the glory to come.  The only way to reach that new life in resurrected glory is the way of the cross.  That’s what Jesus has been trying to tell them.       

Much as they might want to, they can’t stay up on the mountain basking in divine glory.  They’ve got to come down and walk the lonely road through the valley to Gethsemane.

          In other words, it’s time for them to get going on the way of the cross.

          That’s what you and I need to do, too.  

          That journey begins in earnest on Wednesday.  That’s Ash Wednesday when you and I enter the holy season of Lent.  It’s our time of preparation; time for us to take up our cross and follow Christ on his way to the cross.

          That means giving ourselves in the service of others; foregoing our ego-driven desire to be the highest and best, and instead humbling ourselves and seeking the well-being of those whom Christ calls the least.  That may seem to be the way of humiliation and death, but it’s actually the path to true life.

          That’s the secret wisdom Jesus gives his disciples.  “If you want to save your life, you’ve got to lose it first.  If you want life that really is life, then spend your life serving me and those I’ve come to serve.”

          This is exactly the wisdom that inspired the writing of one of my spiritual mentors.  His name is Father Richard Rohr. He’s a Franciscan pastor and writer in Albuquerque, New Mexico.         

Father Richard describes this paradoxical wisdom like this, “One of the [soul’s] best-kept secrets, and yet one hidden in plain sight, is that the way down is the way up.”

          He believes that when Jesus calls us to lose our life he’s calling us to lose what he calls “the false self”. 

          What is the false self?  Here’s how he describes it: “Your false self is your role, your title, your personal image … [It’s] largely a creation of your own mind and [your own] attachments.”  

          By attachments he means all those status markers we accumulate in order to convince others and ourselves that we really are successful and important people. 

          The false self is really oriented toward ‘me’.  Letting our false self rule our lives leads to a lonely life, lacking in meaning.

          That’s why, sooner or later, the façade of the false self always crumbles.  As Father Richard puts it, “It will and must die in exact correlation to how much you want to be real.”  By real, he means recovering our True Self – the person God intends us to be.

          The trouble is that letting go of that false self is painful – it means suffering.  Yet, that’s the way of the cross.

          But when we do that – when we uncover our true self and start living for others instead of just ourselves – something truly miraculous happens.  We discover that by giving our life away, we gain a life worth living, life that truly is life. 

          This is the wisdom behind the 12th and final Step of Alcoholics Anonymous.  AA materials describe this final step in the program as “the payoff, the magnificent reality [where] even the newest of newcomers finds undreamed rewards as he tries to help his brother & sister alcoholic.” 

          On Thursday of this past week, I saw a wonderful example of someone living this kind of real, abundant life and reaping those undreamed of rewards.  Her name is Marsha Banks.  Those of you who attended the Adult Forum a few weeks back know her story.  

          After bring abandoned and abused as a child, Marsha drifted into drugs and addiction as a young adult.  In 1994, she was arrested. Her children were taken from her and placed in Foster Care while she spent three years in prison.

There she got clean.  When she was released, she realized she needed Jesus to help her turn her life around.  It was tough shedding her old life, getting rid of her false self and taking on that new life in Christ, but eventually she did.

          And as she walked the way of the cross, Marsha realized Jesus was calling her to help those who had fallen just as she had.  Inspired by the joy she felt in serving the lost and the least, she founded a non-profit organization 6 years ago in Harrisburg called Amiracle4Sure.  

          Since then she’s helped hundreds of men, women and youth transition from prison back into the community.  She provides housing, mentoring, addiction counseling and a host of other services to help them experience the rebirth she did.

          Marsha doesn’t wear a mask or a cape, but you can be certain that to these men, women and youth whose lives she helped turn around, Marsha is a super hero.

          Friends, Christ is calling you and me to be super heroes, too.  He’s calling us to walk with him along the way of the cross, denying ourselves and living for others so that we might have life. 

          But in order to do that, we have to do some self-examination.  Let’s ask ourselves this question.

          “Is my false self getting in the way of leading the life that Christ wants me to have?  Do I need to lose my self-centered inclination to live for myself, and let go of whatever attachments I’ve been accumulating just because they stoke my own ego?”

          If so, then let’s not waste another precious minute.  Let’s repent – let’s change. Let’s turn around and walk in the way of the cross, following Jesus’ example of living for others.  

          It may be tough – especially at first – but what lies ahead is the most joyous, fulfilling and rewarding life imaginable.  Not only for you and me, but for those we serve in Christ’s name.

          Whether you know it or not, in their eyes, you’ll be a super hero.  May it be so. 

Last Published: July 3, 2017 11:35 AM
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