Project Description

22A Jeremiah 20:7-9 / Romans 12:1-2 / Matthew 16:21-27

 

On Palatine Hill in Rome—

etched in rock sometime during the

first couple of centuries after Jesus,

there is a well-known cartoon.

 

And whoever etched

this cartoon into rock

was making fun of a Christian. . . .

 

the Christian’s name was Alexamenos.

 

The inscription reads:

“Alexamenos worships his god”

 

And right above this inscription

is an etched picture of a crucified figure

meant to be Jesus. . . .

with a donkey’s head.

 

You see, to make the case that God

was crucified like a common criminal. . .

nailed to a tree. . . .

was sheer madness.

 

Crucifixion was. . .

one of the cruelest

forms of torture that we humans

could ever devise

for our fellow human beings.

 

The very mention of crucifixion

was taboo in polite Roman circles.

 

That’s why it was mocked as a religious symbol. . .

 

etched in Roman stone. . . .

Jesus depicted as a donkey—

an ass—

hanging from a Cross . . .

 

So when Jesus says to his followers:

 

“Whoever wishes to come after me

must deny himself,

take up his cross,

and follow me” . . . .

 

Can you imagine how confusing. . .

 

and how scary it must have been?

 

You know one of my favorite authors

on this subject is Henri Nouwen. . . .

 

the now deceased—

internationally known priest—

and author—

and professor—

and some would say Christian mystic of the 20th century.

 

Nouwen had many crosses

to bear in his own life.

 

He struggled with depression for years. . . .

 

He endured periods of crippling self-doubt . . .

 

and went through many dark. . . .

dark nights of the soul.

 

So I want to take a few points

from Fr. Nouwen on the subject of us

denying ourselves. . .

and taking up our crosses. . .

and following Jesus.

 

First, Nouwen says that we humans. . .

we like easy. . . . easy victories.

 

We prefer growth without crisis. . .

 

We prefer healing without pains. . .

 

We prefer the resurrection without the cross!!!

 

But, Nouwen points out. . . .

That is just not Jesus’ way.

 

While Jesus did bring great comfort . . .

and came with kind words. . . .

and a healing touch. . . .

 

Jesus did not—

Jesus did not

come to take all our pains away.

 

Jesus entered into Jerusalem

in his last days on a donkey,

like a clown at a parade.

 

Nouwen says that

this was Jesus’ way of reminding us

that we fool ourselves when we

insist on easy victories.

 

Much that is worthwhile in life. . . .

Nouwen says,

and a major way we grow as Christians. . . .

 

is through the trials and suffering

that human life throws at us.

 

I think Nouwen is so right about this.

 

As I look back at my own life,

 

I realize that the times I have really grown. . .

 

That I’ve become a just little less selfish. . .

 

That I’ve become a just little more giving and forgiving . . .

 

That I’ve become just a little more loving. . .

 

have not been easy victories.

 

There’s usually been some suffering involved.

 

For me to realize how important every second of life is. . . .

 

For me to realize I have only a

limited amount of time to give of myself

and prepare to meet my maker. . . .

 

It took a serious bout with cancer.

 

And any growth in authentic love

will require denying oneself and

putting the interest of the other. . . .

first!

 

And for us Christians. . .

that even includes even our enemies.

 

Those are no easy victories.

 

Another major point that Nouwen makes,

is that when we bear our Crosses. . . .

 

they are times that afford us the

opportunity to grow closer to Jesus.

 

Nouwen writes,

“I am less likely to deny my suffering

when I learn how God uses it to mold me

and draw me closer to him.”

 

“I will be less likely to see my pains

as interruptions to my plans and

more able to see them as the means for

God to make me ready to receive him.”

 

He’s right, isn’t he!?!?!?!

 

There is something mystical that happens

when we link our own suffering

with the suffering of Christ.

 

There is something mystical that happens

when we let our Crosses becomes one with His Crosses.

 

Nouwen says,

“[Our lives] are short opportunit[ies]

to say to the God that loves us. . . .

“I love you, too.”

 

“Life, in all its joys. . .

and all its sorrows. . . .

 

in all our excitement. . .

and in all our depression. . . .

 

in our wholeness. . .

and in our brokenness. . . .

 

In our wellbeing. . .

and in our sickness. . .

 

is a short time in which we can say to God,

“Yes, we love you too,” . . .

 

Our Crosses. . . .

no easy victories. . . .

 

Our Crosses opportunities for growth

in our relationship with Jesus,

especially when we unite them with his Cross. . .

 

Our Crosses. . . .

opportunities to say “I love you.”

 

Another major, major

point that Nouwen

makes about our crosses:

 

Nouwen points out that

Jesus did not say,

“Go and make your own cross.”

 

Jesus did not say,

“Go and look for a cross.”

 

The crosses God gives us to bear

are right in front of us and

probably already part of our lives.

 

Nouwen says

 

“Maybe we can’t study. . .

 

Maybe we’re handicapped. . . .

 

Maybe we suffer from depression. . . .

 

Maybe we experience conflict in our families. . . .

 

Maybe we’re victims of violence or abuse.

 

We didn’t choose any of it,

but these things are our crosses.

 

None of us chose to live in a

time of worldwide pandemic. . .

 

or in such times of division and violence.

 

So a Cross right in front of us. . .

 

So how do we give of ourselves for the suffering. . .

 

How do we stand up for the dignity of every human being. . .

 

While at the same time doing it with Christian love. . .

and turning the other cheek. . .

and loving our enemy!!

 

That one is right in front of us.

 

Nouwen says

we can ignore it. . . .

reject it. . . .

refuse it. . . .

or hate it.

 

Or. . . or. . .

we can also take up these crosses

and follow Jesus with them.”

 

Embrace the Cross that is planted right in front of us. . . .

or that is already part of our lives.

 

Because I know,

If I choose my own,

I’ll probably pick one that is not as heavy. . .

 

One that God did not choose. . .

 

So I miss out on the benefits

God has in store for me.

 

I want to end with a last quote

from Fr. Nouwen.

 

This is from a letter he wrote to

his young nephew. . .

 

trying to explain this strange religion

we Christian adhere to.

 

Nouwen says that through Jesus. . .

 

The cross is transformed from a sign of defeat. . .

to a sign of victory,

 

From a sign of despair. . . .

into a sign of hope,

 

From a sign of death. . .

into a sign of life.

 

And that holds for all our Crosses

That we unite with His. . .

 

Defeat into victory. . .

Despair into hope. . .

and death into life.

 

Holy Spirit 08/29-30/2020