Sermon by Revd Iain Morrsion.
“Take up your cross and follow me!” says Jesus. Our response to these words may be, in modern parlance, “easier said than done!” Yet, should you and I expect anything less that sharing the Cross of Christ? If so, what would our reason be?
The climate of the world is changing drastically in so many ways! Sensitive public opinions and reactions allow teachers to appear free to comment positively about non-Christian religions, (comparative religion) but fear disciplinary if they say anything positive about Christianity. The media portrays not infrequently Christianity in a negative light and journalists tend to put aside the good work of the Church but revel in reporting its failings and misdeeds. Fundamentalists in Islam are quick to target Christians and others who do not share their beliefs as infidels and even in our own time we learn of Christian places of worship being targeted. So too, sadly, are synagogues, mosques and temples and many others. History does tend to repeat itself.
Let me, just for a moment, quote some words of Martin Luther King, that I think are very apt for us today:-
“Meanwhile Christians who are baptized in Christ’s Name must keep still and must put up with being trampled upon, and must still be patient. For in this life of believing, it is Christ’s will to appear small; but in the life of seeing, He will not be small but very great. Then Christ will show that He saw the suffering of His people and heard their cries and that His will was inclined towards them to help them, and that He had the power to help them. Now Christ hides His good will, power and strength; but when He appears He will reveal His will and power and strength. He could help and save now. Christ has the power to do it, nor does He lack the will, but all this is concealed in the Word so that we cannot see it, but must take hold of it by faith.”
PROPER 7 - BEAULIEU - 21ST JUNE 2020. Mt. 10: 24 – 39.
In today’s Gospel narrative by St. Matthew, in chapter 10, we hear the words of Jesus Himself Who is giving His Disciples both encouragement for their future ministry, but also some timely advice on their being aware of what dangers may lie ahead. Synagogues will not be entirely safe and those in high places may prove even dangerous. Yet, in all of this, Jesus emphasises the need to stand fearless in face of any threats and to remain firm in their new-found faith. He goes even further by adding the words ’even unto death.’ Those, surely, must have been words that would at first undermine their newly received conviction in Jesus that these twelve men held undoubtedly at that moment. Initially, they were told that there was no need to worry because God’s judgement, ultimately, would fall upon Israel. These words would not necessarily have been words to offer any encouragement. No immediate reassurance sensed by any one of them, at all, perhaps.
Our Lord then went on to urge them to become more like Him and this would to be their sole aim and purpose in life. Jesus is asking every Disciple to become more Christ-like - more like Him! The same call from Jesus with which are faced today! Yes, this is a tall order indeed so what must these men have thought, themselves, at that moment, I wonder? Jesus goes on even further to say that not even your closest and most loved one must come between you and your Lord and Master, for He must be and remain always your only focus for all things.
The most challenging and significant of Jesus’s following statement was that each one of them should take up their own cross and follow Him. If they do not, then, says Jesus, you are not worthy of Me.” How often have we heard the expression: “It’s a cross I have to bear?” These words, though, are a far cry from what crucifixion really means and in terms of personal surrender and even death as the ultimate price to pay. Our price!
In the first century it was not at all uncommon to be aware or even to be a witness to a public execution by mean of crucifixion. It was the punishment by law for specific criminal acts. Let us not bypass, however, what Jesus really means here:- He is asking for the very life-blood of every true follower if such a demanding sacrifice should ever arise. This begs the question:- How willing would we be today, if faced the same question? What happened to our Lord on Good Friday still happens to thousands of our Christin brothers and sisters world-wide. The early Christians were persecuted in that time then. They continue to be persecuted today. Why not us?
Amidst all this, there is a great Hope for if we understand that our being a Christian in these modern times in some ways removes from us from the difficulties and challenges we face now we need to think again for we would be wrong to think in this way. The ‘easy way out’ was not the purpose of our becoming Christians. Our faith does not act as a prop in our lives but as our firm and upholding buttress! In all that we face today, it is a wonderful thing to know that our Lord promises that we shall never be alone for like the small sparrow, we are not insignificant nor ever ignored by God. We are indeed valued by our Creator. We matter to Him!
Today’s Gospel concludes with the words:- “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake will find it.” In other words, live for yourself and you will never find Jesus! Live for Him only and you will become and remain His for ever! That is indeed a unique statement and a wonderful incentive and encouragement for each one of us to remain true to our calling as modern-day disciples of Christ. The first verse of the well-know hymn “Onward, Christian soldiers” well expresses our real hopes for our pilgrimage through life in the steps of Jesus.