“…the tough get going

There is nothing like the cross to get a conversation going…

Jesus invites his friends and foes alike to “take up their cross and follow…”

but only Peter seems to understand what that really means.

There must be another way –

this is a particularly dangerous path,

as the cross was not merely a decoration,

nor was it (yet) a statement of faith – it was an instrument of torture and execution.

Take up your cross.

We have given this particular phrase an entirely different meaning –

we read it as an invitation to “bear our sufferings”

to hold on to the promise that, as bad as things might be,

they will be better in the sweet by-and-by.

But thus far in Mark’s telling, there has been no hint of a sweet by-and-by.

Mark lives, writes, and worries in the moment.

Mark’s gospel has brought us to this point by way of the miraculous:

the preceding chapters are littered with stories of healing,

deaf ears opened, a gentile woman healed of a demon,

a hungry crowd fed on scraps, and a blind man made to see.

These events have brought Peter, at least, to the edge of recognition –

you are the Messiah, he boldly declares –

and then Jesus tells them what lies ahead.

Suffering, rejection, death and resurrection –

for those who would set their minds on the things of God, these things surely will come –

a particular kind of suffering, for a particular kind of rebellion –

for Jesus words were rebellious in the eyes of the powerful.

The penalty for provoking the powerful was, predictably, harsh.

a cross the reward – even so, Jesus counsels, not apathy, but determination!

Predictably, no one hears the resurrection promise – least of all Peter.

What Peter hears – what most of us hear, when this Scripture is read –

is that the going is about to get incredibly tough.

Peter – God bless him – doesn’t want to hear that sort of discouraging news.

Yet Jesus responds with more sharp words – and a call to action.

Take up your cross – face the harsh reality of rejection,

but rather than angling for acceptance, get on with the task.

Accept, instead, that the ‘world’, whatever form it takes,

is going to be threatened by any individual or group that behaves differently.

If we open our arms (and hearts) to the wounded – to the stranger –

if we take the side of the oppressed,

and dare to claim that God loves the weak and outcast,

we should not be surprised if,

at the very least, society scoffs.

Take up your cross –

be bold to ‘live as we say we believe’ –

trusting God rather than the government or the economic system,

or even (gasp) our own wit and resources.

Claim a kinder, gentler view of the world,

following the one who included the least of the least

in his invitations, his celebrations,

and in his descriptions of the kind of kingdom favoured by God.

Take up your cross and follow, he says.

Not -‘stand idly by’ – or ‘be patient and long-suffering’

get up and go – with the knowledge that there will be certain difficulties

as a result of our choices, our declaration of faith,

and our decision to seek the Holy in all things.

Jesus call is to action – to life; not simple , or easy , or even care-free

but sacred – satisfying – and abundant;

conscious of the grace that is ours

because of the infinite love God has for us.

That love of God does not eliminate the rough places –

all actions/choices have consequences; no less the choice of a life lived in faith.

These ‘trials’ we face as a result of our choices

can be overcome/endured because of the promise that we,

like Peter, often fail to hear.

“Then he 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.Mark 8:31

Take up your cross, Jesus says – the going shall get tough.

But your choices in faith;

our choice of the cross – a symbol of shame and suffering –

shall open to us the promise of life.

Life changed – life restored – life renewed.

And that promise will sustain us, whatever comes.

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