Take up your Cross, by Pastor Noel

February 25, 2018    2nd Sunday in Lent, B


      St. George’s, Lee, had a magnificent stained glass window of the ascension over the altar.

      When a gifted carpenter parishioner offered to make a hanging cross for the chancel, we knew that we couldn’t hide that window.

      So he made a cross that was just the outline—boards forming the edges of the cross, but open, hollow in the middle.    

      We could still see the window, but now we saw it through the cross.

      The cross became the lens through which we saw the window, the altar and our lives outside of church, too.

      Some folks said that it was very clever, but it was much more than that.

      Using the cross as a lens to see and understand life is not a clever way, it is the only way for us Christians.

      Hear again Jesus’ words in our gospel, “If you want to become my follower, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

      Many believe that our crosses are huge burdens that God gives us so that we struggle through life, dragging a heavy weight along with us.

      I suggest another way of looking at the cross—the cross is not a burden, but an opportunity, an invitation, to live in faith, trusting in God’s promises.

      In our Collect we prayed that God’s “glory is always to have mercy.”

      A merciful God does not heap burdens on us.    A merciful God walks with us through life and helps us find companions so that we can cope with whatever life gives us.

      You have heard the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Did you think that was from the Bible?

      It’s from Greek philosophy, but more recently, from Benjamin Franklin. He was what is called a Deist. He believed that God created the world, and then left us to our own devices.

      The Bible doesn’t say that God helps those who help themselves. Why would they need God? The Bible tells us that God helps those who trust in him.

      Like Abram, whose name was changed to Abraham to show his trust in  God. “Abraham trusted God and that was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

      The Bible praises Abraham, and also shows us the many times that he did not trust God, but only himself.

      Still, God blessed him, so there is hope for us all.

      Then we come to Peter, who also had a name change. From Simon to Peter, or Petra, “rock”, and yet we know that his trust in God faltered and failed him.

      Still, he, too was blessed, as are we.

      Does God make it easy for us when we trust—and what does that trust really mean, anyway?

      I’ll answer the easy one first. No, God does not make it easy for us when we trust.

      Trusting God is not a test we pass and move into smooth sailing.

      Trusting God is a life-long journey that may be over very rocky paths, and take time and effort on our part.

      Learning to trust God is like falling in love. There is no one right way, and no short-cut. It is building a relationship.

      We have to spend intentional time with God—listening, being open to what we may hear in our heads or hearts.

      We all need some silent, meditative, time every day to do this.

      Jesus gives us three ways to open our lives to trusting God. Deny ourselves. Take up our cross. Follow Jesus.

      We deny ourselves as we learn to live knowing that God is God, and we are not. I don’t mean that we think God is going to move us around like puppets, but rather that we focus on how Jesus shows us to live.

      We take up our cross, not to shoulder a burden, but as a symbol of God’s reconciling and forgiving love for us all.        

      And, I admit, as the cross calls us to trust God, our lives may change. We may be seen as “good” and “different” in ways that annoy others.

      Then then they lash out at us in annoyance or even fear.

      We follow Jesus as we live with and share God’s promises of peace, love, mercy, joy—with everyone all the time.

      We do these with God’s help, and with the support of Christ’s body, the church.

      Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm has written, “To deny oneself is to place Jesus’ priorities, purposes, and path ahead of our own; to take up our cross is to be willing to suffer the consequences of faithful living; to follow Jesus is to travel to unknown destinations that promise to be both dangerous and life-giving.” 

      I have a priest friend who takes up the cross by being a staunch advocate for the health of the planet. She is Missioner for Creation Care in Western Mass. For years she has been in the forefront of ecological justice.

      She has protested projects that would result in dangerous changes and cause health problems to people and our environment.

      Her passion for God’s world has caused problems for her. She has been arrested more than once for civil disobedience.

      Still, she eagerly takes up her cross to keep us healthier and safer.

      I hope that each of us finds the passion to keep the world a healthier, safer place.

      I think that the students in Parkland, Florida, are taking up their crosses and fighting for a safer world. Not just in school but everywhere.

      I hope that the cross we take up is hollow, like that cross at St. George’s. I hope that we can see around and through the cross to the world that God calls us to love and care for. However we can.

            My prayer for us this Lent is that we will hold the cross before us and have the courage to trust God and let God lead us into whatever lies ahead

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details