The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 8th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
31 Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace to you and peace from the Lord who took up a cross for us. Amen.
Today, Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him.
Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Many people have interpreted that passage throughout the ages as a call to bear the burdens of suffering we have in this life.
They would tell people who were born with a disability that the disability is their cross. They would tell you that any disease you get is your cross to bear.
They would tell you that living with an abusive spouse is your cross to bear. They would tell you that working for an abusive boss is your cross to bear. They might say that taking care of a sick relative is your cross to bear. They might tell children that putting up with abusive parents is their cross to bear.
They might say poverty is a cross some people need to bear. They might say hunger is a cross some need to bear. Historically, some people have even said that slavery is the cross that other people must bear. Every oppression that has been inflicted on humanity has been interpreted as a cross to bear.
I am here to tell you today that none of these are crosses that you must bear. When Jesus said, "Take up your cross and follow me," He did not mean that your hardships in this life are burdens you must carry around - so you can be more like Him. No, Jesus did not say that the hardships of this life are crosses you must bear so you could be more like him.
Your burden is not your cross. Your burdens are things you would not choose to carry, if you had the choice. Burdens are the bad things that happen to us because we live in this sinful and broken world. They include things like illness, disabilities, poverty, hunger, and abuse.
We know our world is broken. The burdens we carry around give us plenty of evidence. We know we make bad choices sometimes, despite our best efforts. We know everyone else makes bad choices, too.
Relationships get broken, people fight, nations wage wars, the earth itself suffers from abuse. We have not been good stewards of the creation God has given us. Brokenness exists on both a personal and a global scale.
Our burdens in this life are not our crosses. How do we know this? We look at what Jesus said and did when he was on earth. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He helped the poor. He preached good news. He said he came to give us abundant life. He didn't tell us to buck up and carry our burdens.
What did Jesus mean then, when he said, "Take up your cross and follow me?" if he didn't mean your burdens. He meant the cross you carry with you always. You do have your cross that you carry with you always. It isn't a piece of jewelry that you wear all the time. It isn't one of those crosses you can put in your pocket to remind you to pray, either.
You bear the cross of Christ on your brow. You were marked with it forever at your baptism. The mark is permanent. It may not always be obvious that you are bearing it, but is can never be erased.
A few years ago, there was a trend in France for people to ask to have their names removed from the church rolls. They are calling it "de-baptism". Some have even taken the Catholic Church to court over the issue, but the church maintains they cannot undo what God has done.
The church speaks clearly. You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. As our choir sang earlier, baptism is the mark we bear that says to the world, “You can have all the rest, give me Jesus.”
When we are baptized we are marked with the cross and we take on a new identity. We die to our old selves. Like Abraham and Sarah, we receive new names. Just as God gave them new names and made a covenant with them, when we receive the name, "Christian" and God calls us by our names, God makes a covenant with us.
God adopts us as children and promises to love us and care for us forever.
Our names signify our identity. When we are baptized, we die to the old identity. We die to the identity that the world gives us. We no longer have to live the way the world would tell us to live.
Did you ever wonder why we pray for everyone using their first names? We use the names they were given in baptism. We do that because that is what God calls them.
The world would tell us to live in fear of scarcity. They would tell us to hoard what we have, because we may need it later. They would tell us that the suffering of others is their problem, their cross to bear, so we don't need to be concerned about it. The world would tell us to fear death because this life is all there is.
But we are baptized into the death of Christ. Our old selves, the selves of this world, died in our baptism. The only death we have to fear is behind us. When we leave this world we will claim the promises God made - when God named us and marked us with the cross of Christ forever.
That mark is the cross we take up and wear when we follow Jesus. We can only bear the mark, carry our cross, because the Holy Spirit has filled us with life and gives us the will to follow Christ.
When Jesus says, "Take up your cross and follow me," he calls us to live our lives as if everyone could always see the mark on our foreheads. He calls us to follow him and help each other with our burdens.
We do this in a very real way with our tithes and offerings each week and with our benevolence offerings for people in places we will never see.
Our burdens are not our crosses. Our crosses are what give us the strength to live as followers of Christ, and to help others with their burdens.
You are filled with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Take up your cross and walk with Jesus. Amen.