What Does It Mean to Carry Our Cross
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 14: 25 – 33. Focus on how our cross is different from Christ’s cross. Check out Kelly Crandell and our soloists following the sermon.
Our text starts off by telling us “large crowds were going along with him.” And the reason that this is important to remember is because everything else he says in this passage is based with that audience in mind. Like sheep without a shepherd these were the folks who were following the latest movement of the moment. They wanted to be part of something bigger than themselves. They probably followed for all kinds of reasons. He was healing and feeding people, maybe he’d heal and feed them. He was teaching amazing things, maybe he’d teach them something amazing. He was challenging conventional religious and political authority maybe he would challenge the whole system and bring it to its knees.
But whatever the reason they were following him. He didn’t want them to follow any more. So Luke puts what he does in stark relief. He turns on the crowd Luke says. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, and brother and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
His message is completely uncompromising. You are not able to be my disciple if you place anything including your most cherished relationships, your life, or your property ahead of following me.
It’s not the only time that he has said something that could be interpreted as being “anti-family. He said earlier in Luke’s Gospel (12: 49 – 53) that he came to cast fire upon the earth; to bring division; to set Father against son, mother against daughter and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law.
So it shouldn’t surprise us that he tells us that we should “hate” our families but it should concern us. Why? Because he’s using hate here in an idiomatic way. He’s not advocating that we take an emotional stance of hating our families, but rather we can see what the cost will be to them in terms of their honor and shame if we continue to follow where he’s going.
The word he uses here is miseo, which we have translated as hate, which is laden with all kinds of emotional content in our context. But in the ancient world hating one’s family meant doing something that injured them, particularly by disgracing them. In essence this is what the younger and older brother are doing to their father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. They are hating, or more accurately dishonoring and shaming their father.
This would have been of real concern to Luke’s community. Division within families was commonplace for those who were following Jesus. They were upsetting their family’s honor and standing in a community. A scholar by the name of Tannehill cites letters dating back to the 1st century in which Roman families complain that their son or daughter had run off and joined a group called the “Christians.”
Now as if that saying weren’t enough, Jesus follows with another whopper. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Which is another way of stating the obvious. Anyone who follows Jesus must live with the expectation that doing so could lead to the same fate that Jesus will face in Jerusalem.
For which of you wanting to build a tower, does not first sit and count the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down and deliberate if he can win with only half the men that the other king will bring to battle.
These two parables suggest the importance of making a reasonable assessment of success or failure before embarking on a task. It’s something to bear in mind when it comes to the wars we are fighting today, because if you don’t succeed you bring ridicule and shame upon yourself and your community – not to mention DEATH.
Our text concludes with a summary statement: “So therefore, whoever of you does not give up or renounce everything that one has cannot be my disciple.”
Now this is the third time in this passage that Jesus has said a person is “not able to” do something. First, any one who puts family before Jesus is “not able” to be his disciple. Second, anyone who does not bear his cross is “not able.” And last, anyone who doesn’t forsake “everything s/he has including their religion, is “not able” to be my disciple.
Thus, we can assume that Jesus is laying down in no uncertain terms what it means to follow him. Now if you want to get off the Christian bus, at this point, I understand because that’s what I would be doing. Jesus is challenging everything that is near and dear to us. And he is doing so purposely – winnowing away those willing to follow him.
So why? And there is no consensus on why he is saying this: Maybe Jesus thinks he has too many people who are hanging around for the wrong reasons, like free food or in the hopes of seeing another miracle. But I think it is this. He has too many people who have no idea what going to Jerusalem means for him or what it will mean for them if they continue to follow him.
So like Gideon fighting the Midionites in Judges 6 – 8, Jesus looks out at this huge crowd and realizes that his army is too large to do battle with the enemy. And like Gideon who kept winnowing away at his 32,000 man force so Jesus is winnowing down his.
Thus, we can assume with all of this that Jesus is laying down in no uncertain terms what it means to follow him.
People must have thought that Gideon was crazy for wanting to eliminate 31,700 willing troops. But that’s what he does. He winnows his troops down to just 300, which is all it took for Gideon to defeat the Midionites.
Likewise people must have thought Jesus nuts for winnowing down his troops as he approaches Jerusalem – the center of religious power. But in this case Jesus isn’t winnowing down to 300 troops he is winnowing all the way down to one – Jesus alone and by himself will take on the powers and principalities and defeat them.
Like a medic who rushes out onto the battlefield with nothing more than a medical kit, with machine gun fire flying all around, that medic will use his or her body to shield a wounded soldier, just as Jesus will use his body to shield those of us who willing follow in his way, truth and life.
When you think about it. It’s what a hero does? A hero risks his or her life for other people. And in this way Jesus models what a true hero and a real leader does on behalf of his troops. He is the first to face the winnowing fire and only after he has conquered it will he call us to come into the fight with him.
And by using this tough language he is in essence saying, the path I have chosen is for me alone to travel at this time. Eventually you will follow. Eventually you will have a cross of your own to carry, but that will come after I have defeated the foe, which is death. After I have secured the victory then you can come and pick up your own cross and follow after me.
So maybe, just maybe, these harsh words about cross bearing are a call to ask of God what does it mean for me, today, in my own life to pick up my cross and follow after Christ?
What do I have to give up that gets in the way of being who God wants me to be? Do I cling to family for my identity? Do I cling to my possessions for my sense of self worth? Do I put religious doctrine ahead of the needs of a human being who is standing right in front of me?
I don’t know the correct answer to these questions. To be honest I think I will wrestle with these hard words of Jesus for the rest of my life? Because with Jesus I too pray: If it be possible take this cross from me, but let your will not mine be done. Amen