Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Maybe you’ve noticed….conference staff communication often includes the audacious tagline: “Boldly following Jesus.”
A friend of mine humorously responded with his own tagline: “Timidly following Jesus.” To which I responded, “Well…Jonna is ‘boldly’ following Jesus…the rest of us are tagging along!”
The exchange was mostly in jest, but the concept is arresting. There’s no ambiguity about Jesus’ challenge. The context for the invitation is sobering – Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem, and as Matthew records it, he does so with a ghastly sort of transparency about what lies ahead….suffering, and death (and, oddly enough, resurrection). Peter intervenes with counsel entirely sensible, “You’ve got to stop this talk, Jesus.“ Peter’s implication is pretty obvious – this is demoralizing talk. Jesus has to be more upbeat. It’s upward and onward….get with the program!
It would be a whole lot easier if the sentence were amended to omit the words “and take up their cross.” The remaining sentence would make perfect sense and still be challenging. But it’s not the text that’s been delivered to us.
I don’t presume to understand what “taking up one’s cross” precisely denotes, but it can’t be pleasant or easy.
Cross-bearing comes, I suppose, in many shapes and forms. I don’t feel compelled to speculate on the multitude of potential permutations – you can do that well enough yourself, I imagine.
Instead I want to suggest something different – that in my rejoinder to my friend about “tagging along with Jonna” I may have buy generic paxil cr been revealing a deeply seated and hopefully helpful conviction – that “cross-bearing” – or to put it more fully: “Following Jesus” might sometimes be done alone, but is CERTAINLY a more sustainable enterprise when done together with others.
There is a question that I’m only occasionally asked but which I think about almost every day: “Why even have conferences, associations and the national church?” In other settings it might be asked why have districts, or synods or dioceses?
In a nutshell the answer is clear – because this business of following Jesus is so important and it is often so hard (the cross part) that to do it faithfully, one needs all the support one can get. This assertion, it seems to me, isn’t just true of individuals (who can, after all, find support in their own congregation), it’s true of congregations themselves. Congregations need the support of a community….not so we can run programs, or authorize ministers, or operate camps and retreats and food pantries (though all those have their place) – congregations need other congregations because the work of following Jesus is rigorous and without the insight and resources and encouragement and challenge and wisdom and prayers of those beyond us we’ll melt at the challenge.
But we are NOT alone! We have each other, praise God!
So…follow Jesus! Whether boldly or timidly….do it! And do it in community….with your local community of faith and in solidarity with countless other communities of faith….communities nearby and far away and communities now long gone and communities yet to come. Carry your cross…and do so confidently and in hope because in community and with God’s spirit we will bring hope and life and joy to a hope-starved and life-starved world.
With great hope!
UCC in Iowa