Taking Up The Cross

Sermon from Sunday, February 25
Mark 8:31-38

As we mentioned last week there is a theme running through the scriptures which the Revised Common Lectionary schedules for this holy season of Lent.

Once again, the common thread is revolving around the idea of covenant.

This time we begin with the ancient story of Abraham.

Actually, when we first meet him he is still Abram.
He is a man struggling to find his way in this world.
He is a man who is just as flawed and just as imperfect as any of us… but God has always had a bit of a knack for calling the imperfect or the unlikely.

Abram loved God but Abram assumed that his usefulness to God had long since petered out.

After all, he was 99 years old when God began to speak to him.
99 years old and pretty settled into life.
He had a wife he dearly loved.
He had a brother he sometimes squabbled with, but he and Lot were still tight.
He had a lot of grey hairs and wrinkles to prove his time here on earth…

But he didn’t have children.

Now, in this day and age, we don’t fully understand how important a fact that is.

A childless couple who had wanted a baby may find themselves feeling sad or unfulfilled… or they may seek out other alternatives to creating a family so that they can share their heart with a child in other ways… but we can still make a substantial impact on the world with or without becoming parents.

For Abram and Sarai, though, the lack of children meant their impact on the world, according to their culture, would end with them.

In a time and a place when family legacy was everything—
when possessions,
honor,
respect,
was passed from one generation to another, a 99 year old childless man just assumed that upon his death, everything he worked for would be lost. His name would wither away to dust along with his body… and although we don’t see much of the psychological impact this had on Abram, it certainly seems as if he’s accepted this reality.

Now, in Abram’s day most people would have anxiously tried to find someone or something to point their finger at as to why Abram’s life would be permitted to fade from memory in that manner.

They would blame the sinfulness of the father— he was being punished by God, so ultimately it was God’s fault Abram didn’t have a son. Or the woman had been struck barren and, once again, this was punishment for sin. Maybe an ancestor back a couple generations had done something?

But Abram doesn’t seem to be searching for excuses.

He seems to have just accepted that this is the way it will be with him and his love of God doesn’t alter at all. A lot of people would have been discouraged with God, but Abram just keeps nurturing his relationship.

And then, one day, when Abram is a very old man… when Abram and Sarai have settled into their lives with the intention of living out their remaining days— God makes an appearance.

God came to an old man who many would have assumed was useless to God and God called Abram to walk with God.

Walk with me and be trustworthy… and I will give you many, many descendants.

A childless man.
A barren wife.
And he will be the father of many descendants?

Now… don’t get me wrong here… I believe in miracles and all that, but if one of you gentlemen who are up in your 80s or 90s came to me and said that you had gotten a message from God and that you and your elderly wife are going to start having babies… well… I’m gonna worry about your state of mind.

I’m probably going to pull one of your family members aside and suggest getting you tested for senility. Just double check to make sure it’s okay for you still live on your own… you know… maybe it’s time to have that dreaded conversation about moving to assisted living or something.

Because what’s being talked about isn’t just your run-of-the-mill miracle.

This is pretty out there.
It’s hard to even wrap your mind around.

abraham-baby-hope-small

My great grandmother wasn’t quite ninety when she died. I can’t imagine, not even in my wildest dreams, seeing Great Grandma Birdie with the swollen belly of a pregnant woman.

I cringe at the thought.

The 50 year old woman who always wanted a child but could never conceive, let her get pregnant and that’s a powerful miracle! We’ll talk about it with awe and wonder… but let Great Grandma get pregnant and we’re all going to pass out.

But this is the level of miracle God is telling Abram is going to happen to he and his wife.

And Abram laughs.

Because it seems so absurd. Even with the primitive medical knowledge the people of Abram’s time possessed, they knew that a ninety year old woman conceiving was ludicrous.

It was impossible.

Whether Abram thought it was impossible for God isn’t quite clear, but we do see that Abram, whether he thought God could do it or not, clearly saw the situation as hilarious.

What would a 99 year old man do with a child?
What would a 90 year old woman do with a newborn?
How would they keep up?
How could they guarantee a child’s future when they couldn’t even guarantee their own?
A newborn wears out young and energetic parents, what would this child do to an elderly couple?

But that is the reality of following God…

we are called into impossible situations…situations we couldn’t possibly manage on our own.

We are given opportunities to live lives that we couldn’t possible begin to imagine on our own…

Do you think Abram and Sarai could conceive on their own? Even with today’s medical know-how, that would still be an impossible thing for man to muster.

And if they can’t manage becoming parents on their own, do you think they can mange being parents on their own?

At their age?
At that time?

God was asking Abram to walk with God, but God was asking for Abram to walk an impossible path… but for God’s part, God would be there with Abram every step of the way.

Walk with ME

God had said.

And many generations later, a descendant of that fulfilled covenant would look at the other children of Abraham and would ask the same impossible thing of them.

Take up your cross and follow me,

Jesus says.

Following Jesus with a cross on our shoulders is a march straight to death.

Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and to lift up the very instrument of death and torture he was suffer upon and follow him… if we want to live.

This is an impossible task.

In the world of science fiction, this would be one of those unsolvable paradoxes which can bog down an otherwise good plot.

If we want to live we have to march straight to death?
But if we give in to our human instinct to preserve our lives, we will die?
Living results in death?
And death results in life?
And the only way to live is to die?

It’s as impossible as a 99 year old man becoming a first time Dad, holding a tiny infant in his arms and knowing that even in his twilight years he would get to see a great nation begin to grow out of his up-until-now dying branch.

But God told Abram that if he would just walk with God… just hang in there,
believe the unbelievable,
accept the unacceptable,

God would make the impossible possible.

Crowd Cross

Walk with me, God says, Surrender your life to me… you may think there isn’t much left of it, but surrender it to me and I will make it prosper through the ages!

Likewise, Jesus is telling us… his disciples… that if we are willing to surrender our lives to him, if we are willing to walk with him and be trustworthy, the impossible will become possible.

It may seem insane, but if we are willing to pick up a cross and march straight toward death we find a new life.

Abram and Sarai, in their decision to follow God became new people.

They became Abraham and Sarah. In their old age, their devotion to God, gave them a brand-new life. They would life another whole life-time, this time as the parents of a growing people, not a dying family tree.

When we decide that we are willing to shrug off one of our most basic human impulses and to surrender our lives to Jesus— to follow Jesus wherever that place might be… well… we are brought into a new life as well.

It’s funny how it works.
The more we trust God with our lives the more life we have to live.

Our human instincts tell us to preserve what he have, to keep it under close guard, to hide it from danger or risk… but when we live in that sheltered, frightened state our lives become meaningless and useless… fruitless… though alive we aren’t living… not to our fullest selves, not in the image of God.

It is only in surrendering completely to God that we begin to see how large our lives can be.

So, when God shows up and begins telling tales about what your life can produce if only you will follow… don’t be so quick to laugh it off. Don’t shrug it off and turn away. Take up that cross, heavy and burdensome as it might be,
walk that road,
impossible as it might seem…
and live your best life
because you’re only living it the fullest if you are living it with Jesus.

Amen!

 

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