Sunday's Sermon (Print Copy)

 

"Take Up Your Cross"

 by Pastor Wayne

February 28, 2021 - 2nd Sunday in Lent - B

 

Sermon text: “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.’” – Mark 8:34

 

“Hey you there!... Come here!”

The gruff words of the soldier startled Simon.

He wondered to whom the soldier was speaking.

Simon was one of many in the crowd that day.

He was a visitor in Jerusalem.

His home was in Cyrene...

            a city far away in northern Africa.

He was a faithful Jew

      and had traveled hundreds of miles to Jerusalem

            to partake in the Passover festivities.

But while walking a Jerusalem street during Passover

            suddenly a commotion was heard on the busy street.

A harsh voice shouted: “Make way!  Make way!”

      “Let us through here!

      Romans soldiers here!

      Make way!”

The crowd of pilgrims parted to each side of the street

            to make room for the detail of soldiers.

Simon wondered what the fuss was all about.

He took his place with the others on the side of the narrow street

            and soon saw soldiers marching boldly forward.

     

After the soldiers came three men... each carrying a cross.

Many in the crowd ridiculed them...

            and cast stones and names at them.

Simon suddenly realized what was going on.

It was a crucifixion detail.

These three men carrying crosses must be criminals.

These men were on their way to be crucified.

 

Simon was well familiar with the Roman custom

      that a criminal to be crucified

            must carry his cross to the execution site.

He was just starting to make sense of the whole scene,

      when he heard a soldier yell out:

            “Hey you there!... Come here!”

The soldier’s eyes looked squarely at him.

“Come here, I said!” the soldier gruffly commanded.

Simon took a hesitant step forward.

The soldier impatiently grabbed Simon’s arm

            and dragged him out of the crowd.

 

At Simon’s feet lay one of the prisoners...

            collapsed under the weight of his cross...

                  bloody, weary, and in agony.

“Pick up his cross!” the soldier commanded.

      “Do it!...Now!... Carry his cross!”

Simon eased the cross from the bloody shoulders

            of the prisoner sprawled on the stone pavement.

The man groaned softly

            as the burden was eased from his back.

Simon took the cross on his shoulders.

It was heavier than he imagined it would be.

As he carried the cross through the streets...

      the people now made fun of him...

            the people now thought him a criminal...

                  the people now condemned him.

Simon carried the cross through the streets...

      out the gate of Jerusalem...

            and up the hill to the place of crucifixion.

 

That’s about all we know about this man...

            this one pilgrim called Simon.

The Bible has but one verse about him:

      “As they led him (Jesus) away, they seized a man,

            Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country,

                  and they laid the cross on him,

            and made him carry it behind Jesus” (Luke 23:26).

     

Simon carried the cross of Jesus

            when our Lord could not.

Simon eased this burden of Jesus

            in our Lord’s time of great suffering.

Simon carried the cross of Jesus.

 

Carrying the cross of Jesus

      is the focus of our gospel reading for today.

“If any want to become my followers,” Jesus told the people,

            “let them deny themselves,

                  and take up their cross and follow me.”

 

Many of us like to watch sports.

Sometimes we go to games

      and from the stands we watch the game in person.

At other times we like to watch a game on TV.

Of course, watching a game as a spectator

            is far different than actually playing in the game.

 

Well, Christianity is not a spectator sport.

Christianity is not an event that one can watch from the sidelines.

Christianity demands involvement.

As we hear the events of the Passion story this Lenten season...

      as we hear about Jesus’ agony and suffering...

                  we need to realize that his passion story

            is not just something for us to watch from the sidelines.

It also demands that we participate.

 

 “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus said,

      “let them deny themselves,

            and take up their cross and follow me.”

 

These are hard words for us to hear.

What does it really mean to “take up our cross?”

Well, as it meant for Jesus, so it means for us –

            taking up the cross involves sacrifice and suffering

                  but always for the purpose of helping others.

 

 

Sometimes Christians deny themselves of something during Lent.

But what we really need to deny ourselves of most of all

            is not a certain food, habit, or activity, but our selves!

Jesus said: “If any want to become my followers,

            let them deny themselves, and take up their cross.”

 

So taking up our cross begins with a denial of self.

But it is a denial of self for a purpose.

We must say no to our self, so that we can say yes to God.

We must pray not “my will be done,” but “thy will be done.”

 

Having first denied our selves,

            we then are free to follow Jesus

                  and all his ways of helping people in need.

                 

Some examples of taking up one’s cross might be:

      Fasting once a week and giving the money saved to the hungry.

      Donating clothes to the poor.

      Taking the time to call a sick or shut-in neighbor.

      Forgoing the purchase of a new item

                  and giving the money instead to a worthy cause.

      Weeping with a friend who is grieving.

      Giving of one’s talents to help the ministry of the church.         

 

This Lenten season as we hear how Jesus made his

                  way to the Calvary cross,

            we cannot be merely spectators.

Of course, we cannot physically carry a cross as did Simon.

But there are many other ways to take up the cross of Christ

            to make sacrifices in order to help other people.

Jesus put it this way:

            “If any want to become my followers,

                  let them deny themselves

                        and take up their cross and follow me.”

Amen.