Faith column: Our cross to bear – The Globe | News, weather, sports … – The Globe

WORTHINGTON — Many of our churches heard Matthew 16:24 over Labor Day weekend which says, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”
I find that Matthew 16:24 is a difficult text for a sermon.
Why? On one hand, I think Matthew 16 powerfully summarizes what it means to be a disciple. We often want to believe that being a Christian means we will be wealthy, powerful, well-respected and successful. Many times, we can be lulled into believing that if we are faithful enough and pray enough, we will have an easy life.
Even Jesus’ closest followers, the disciples, thought Jesus, as Messiah, would conquer enemies and return power to his Jewish community. However, Jesus explained to the disciples that he would suffer and be killed.
Peter simply could not believe this would be Jesus’ fate. Peter responded, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you,” (Matthew 16:22). But Jesus told Peter in no uncertain terms that suffering was definitely a part of his (Jesus’) calling.
Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mathew 16:23). He continued, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).
Through our own experiences and those of our neighbors, we know that suffering is a part of the Christian life. Visiting people with severe illnesses or injuries makes us realize that suffering is real. Sitting with people as they grieve is an essential part of discipleship even if it’s not always easy to know what to say or do.
Serving in leadership capacities usually entails receiving criticism, giving of one’s time, making hard decisions and more. Practicing good financial stewardship means we place giving to God over meeting many of our desires for extra material possessions or extravagant self-gratifying experiences. Forgiving people who have wronged us is painful and sometimes feels unjust.
It isn’t realistic or even possible to follow Jesus and have an easy life. Much like a cross, these things can feel weighty and burdensome. Similar to dying on a cross, when we follow Christ by serving in these ways, we die to the desire to live for ourselves. Then, we choose to live for God and our neighbors instead.
This being said, I know Matthew 16:24 has been misused frequently throughout the centuries. People experiencing violence or exploitation have believed their suffering was “their cross to bear.”
The church has often been — and sometimes continues to be — complicit in encouraging or allowing people to believe that God doesn’t care or even wants people to suffer. However, just because something is painful or causes suffering doesn’t mean it is a cross God wants us to bear.
What do I mean by that? The cross that Jesus died on was an instrument of pain, suffering and death used by the Roman Empire to humiliate, torture and punish people under its power. However, that same instrument of death — the cross — became an instrument for life when Jesus rose from the grave. The cross became a symbol, not of death, but of life for people. The empty cross shows us that death couldn’t hold Jesus. Nor will death and destruction ever be the final answer for us!
Therefore, God does not call us to suffer solely for the sake of suffering. God calls us to suffering that includes making hard choices that will bring life and wellbeing to our neighbors. Discipleship may mean making some personal sacrifices so that all people’s needs are met. We may be called to speak difficult messages that help right the wrongs that hurt our neighbors. As churches, we may find that when we open our doors to newcomers, we might need to sacrifice some of our past practices in order to achieve new life for everyone.
Discerning what is a cross and what is useless suffering is challenging work. It requires prayer and consideration together as members of the community of Christ. It requires people to talk with and intently listen to each other about all of our needs, pain and burdens. Only then can we discern together how to respond to help bring about new life and wellbeing.
We do not suffer alone simply to suffer. Instead, we are called to “bear one another’s burdens.” (Galatians 6:2)
As you consider how you are called to take up your cross and follow Jesus, I encourage you to ask yourself, “What sacrifices can I or we make — what crosses can I/we bear — to bring new life to all neighbors?”
Then, pray, read, talk together and listen to each other to discern God’s call. May Christ guide us in this important life-giving work.
Rev. Jeanette McCormick is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Worthington and Grace Lutheran Church in rural Round Lake.


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