February 19, 2022
There the disciples witness Jesus’ appearance change and witness him talking to Moses and Elijah. Peter is so awestruck that he wants to commemorate the occasion by erecting tents for Jesus and the two prophets … just as they would for a festival. Then, just as was the case when he was baptized by John, a voice declares that Jesus “… is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased… and then adds “listen to him!”
This morning, Jesus and three of the disciples have climbed a mountain.
One Lutheran scholar says that today we see the Jesus that we want … on Golgotha … at the cross … we see the Jesus that we get.
Seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah is a reality check for the disciples … they get a glimpse of what it means to suffer and to lose their lives and to find divine life.
Today, Jesus instructs to the disciples … “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it…”
This probably is not what the disciples expected to hear from the person Peter had already called the Messiah and who … it was hoped … would release the people from bondage to the roman rulers..
This passage from Matthew is an invitation. It invites us on a journey that will take us back down the mountain … across the region … and to the top of a mount outside Jerusalem.
The Lenten journey is bookended by trips up large hills … today’s passage takes us to a place where we can experience the nature of Jesus and witness his glory. In a few weeks, we’ll be at the foot of the cross where we can bear witness to Jesus’ suffering and death … and to the promise of new life that is offered through the cross.
Take up your cross, Jesus says. This is a pretty radical invitation.
In the time of Jesus and the disciples, the Romans made frequent use of imprisonment and of crucifixion to deal with those who would buck the status quo … like the followers of Jesus.
In many cases, the person was made to carry their own cross to the site of their crucifixion.
To take up a cross, meant that you were an active participant in your own death. It was meant to be a demeaning … humiliating … act. It was meant to be a public display intended to intimidate all those who witnessed it.
But that changes in this morning’s reading from Matthew. The cross comes to represent the death of our old life and becomes a sign of hope and of new life.
Taking up the cross is at the centre of Lutheran theology. The theology of the cross stands in opposition to such popular modern theologies as the Prosperity Gospel.
The theology of the cross … is aimed outwards … at serving those around us … at taking in a person’s pain and suffering and making it our own. The alternative is to look at faith solely as a means to better your own condition – that is to make faith a means to gather possessions and status.
Faith then becomes little more than a self-help practice.
German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said the way of the cross … “the first Christ-suffering … is the call which summons us away from our attachments to this world. It is the death of the old self in the encounter with Jesus Christ.”
…the death of the old self.
Bonhoeffer wrote that, “The cross is not the terrible end of a pious, happy life. Instead, it stands at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ.”
The theology of the cross changes things … it changes our perceptions of the world … it transforms people and … by extension … transforms the world.
This transformation begins with the act of listening.
Listen to him… the voice tells Peter, John and James.
Listen to him…
To properly listen, you have to hear what is being said … understand what’s being told to you or asked of you … and then act based on that understanding.
Listening is a process and it is an essential one for discipleship since we need to listen to the needs of the world.
We need to listen for the cries of the oppressed and marginalized … to listen to the anguish of those seeking shelter and security … to listen for those simply seeking a place to belong.
Jesus tells the disciples to take up their crosses … to follow him … and to deny themselves. This is necessary if we are to fully shed our old lives … the skin that the world has grafted onto us. Taking up the cross means accepting our responsibility to others … discomfort and pain included.
In a recent podcast, Professor Joy Moore said that Peter loved the privilege that comes with being one of Jesus’ followers, but didn’t want the responsibilities that come with being a disciple.
To take up the cross means you are willing to embrace those responsibilities.
This is where Peter ran into trouble just before the beginning of today’s passage.
When Peter denied what Jesus told the disciples awaited him in Jerusalem, Peter placed the privilege of following Jesus ahead of the responsibilities that come with being a follower.
To take up the cross calls us to consider the full effect of our choices and our actions.
In giving his instructions, Jesus calls the disciples … and us … into a community that bears witness to the crucifixion. It’s a call to be a church that bears witness to the power of the cross … through our words and deeds … through the inclusive love that is grace.
The cross calls us to let go of our own desires … to let go of our desires for wealth … for goods … for control… to let go of suspicion of those who are different… so that they may have a new life … and we can find our true self in the process.
The beginning of Lent is just a few days away.
Our Lenten journey is a time of reflection … of self-awareness and self-evaluation.
It’s a period when we assess how well we carry the cross in our lives … how we have been transformed by the experience … how transformative our actions have been for those around us.
Have we acted in a way that is consistent with our call to discipleship? Have we truly answered our call with love?
These are all questions we are invited to ponder during the coming days as we make the journey to Jerusalem and up the mount to the foot of the cross where the beginning of new life for the world is made known.
May we all walk humbly in this journey.