curtis4Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

The English word, paradox, means something that is true, even though you wouldn’t think it could be true.  Paradox is something that would be contrary to normal belief.  The word has Greek origins: para+doxaDoxa means “glory.”  (We get our word “doxology” from the same root.)  Doxa is glory.  Para means “other.”  Other glory; glory in a way other than we would have expected.  When we hear paradox on Jesus’ lips, he’s talking about the glory of God being revealed in a way other than what we might have imagined.  That’s paradox.  And paradox seems to roll off Jesus’ lips.  He has many one liners: “whoever would be first must be last…” about our needing to be “born again…,” about our “growing up to become children…,” about “losing our life if we want to save it”  And, the most shocking paradox of all – what we hear in the Gospels: “if any want to be followers of me… they must take up their cross and follow me.”

If only we could get out from under the cross, but it seems to hang over us all the time.  Christianity would seem so much nicer and neater if we could take just the second half of Jesus’ invitation.  If we could say, “Okay, Jesus, I’m willing to follow you, but you can keep the cross to yourself, thank you.  I would just as soon not take up my cross, but simply follow you.” But that does not seem to be Jesus’ bargain.  He says that if we want to be his disciple, we must “take up our–not his cross but our cross – and follow him.[i]  If only we could get around the cross… but it seems to be everywhere.

If only the archetypal symbol which we wore around our necks and stained into our church windows and placed behind the altar could be something other than the cross.  If only the chief Christian symbol were something else, say, a tree of life, reminiscent of the garden of Eden, it would so much more pleasant and less troubling.  Or if only the chief Christian symbol, our archetypal image, were, say, light, transfiguring light, or maybe a scene from mountain top.  If only our chief symbol were a rainbow, or the song of muses, or a mighty wave of the sea, or a great rock, or a temple or a totem or a place of  Mecca.  But it’s not.  The chief Christian symbol, on which everything else hangs, is the cross, the rather off-putting contradiction of the cross.  “If you want to be my disciples,” says Jesus to all of us, “you must “take up your cross and follow me.”  And Jesus goes on to say, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”  Someone has said that the Gospel, the good news, is bad news before it is good news.  And I would call this some of the bad news – at least the tough news of the Gospel.

So what is it “to take up our cross”?  I don’t think we have to go out and look for it.  I think it’s probably already there, in all of our lives.  The cross, for each of us, is not some kind of exalted thing.  The cross is some kind of lowly, humbling thing in our lives,  something which we would probably never have chosen to be there, but also something from which we cannot escape.  So where is the cross for you?  Or, what is the cross for you?  I’ll ask the question in very down-to-earth terms: What is killing you right now?   What is consuming the life right out of you, because that may well be the invitation of the cross for you?

Jesus says, “Come, follow me.”  And the way he goes, his truth, his life goes via the cross.[ii]  I don’t think we’ve got to go looking for the cross; the cross has a way of finding us, and we either trip over it, or we must pick it up.  And if you understand just now what it is to have been handed a cross, to be carrying a heavy cross, or to be nailed to a cross, and it is undeniable and unavoidable and inescapable, then do it.  Surrender to it.  Take up your cross and take Jesus at his word: wait for Jesus or wait with Jesus to discover the life that he promises comes through the cross, the paradoxical glory of the cross that he does not spare us of, but rather shares with us.  Our theology hangs on this paradox.

[i] This invitation of Jesus is consistent in the three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 10:38, 16:24;  Mark 8:34;  Luke 9:23.

[ii] John 14:6.

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  1. Elizabeth on September 14, 2014 at 19:29

    Thank you, Curtis, just thank you.
    Our world does not encourage us to think that carrying our cross is and will be a blessing – but rather leads us to feel that our cross is something we should get out from under as speedily as possible.

  2. Fred Whipple on September 14, 2014 at 15:29

    Thank God he also said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

    Curtis – I was a regular at 980 in the 1990s. Moved to California in 2000. Thank you for the on-line ministry of SSJE.

    With love for all of you,
    Fred Whipple

  3. Meg Smith on September 14, 2014 at 14:50

    The Cross has paradox built into it: opposing directions, tensions pulling at 90° angles. If only our creed-based or fundamentalist Christian cousins recognized that while the Cross is about personal salvation, it is also about being challenged from multiple angles at once.

  4. Monte W. on September 14, 2014 at 09:00

    Thanks Brother Curtis, indeed the Cross is so hard to embrace. Years ago I learned that our word scandal comes direct from the Greek “skandalon.” And truly, it causes offense and is a stumbling block, but we are called by our Master to hear this word.

  5. Pam on September 14, 2014 at 04:46

    I have just returned from Australia where I had the privilege of listening to Gurrumul Yunupingu sing in his language Yolngu. He is an indigenous Australian who was born blind. He has this song, a mixture of Yolngu and English – “Gurrumul history (I was born blind)”and it starts with the words “I was born blind and I don’t know why, but God knows why because He loved me so”. I would send the link but have tried unsuccessfully but I do hope that anyone who reads this would find him on YouTube.
    Previously I thought those words of Jesus ‘take up my cross’ meant … forgive and love the unforgivable , to show mercy, overlook an offense, die to self …. O just so much that is hard or impossible to do by myself and in the process be humbled and moulded. But after hearing this man I wonder is it more than that….. Part of the words he sings in this song are “I heard my mama and papa crying their hearts in confusion how can I walk? Straight and tall in society please hold my hand trying to bridge and build Yolngu culture”. I see how this man, this aboriginal man who was born blind, has done much to build bridges between those that have done so much harm and those that have been harmed so badly and it’s a beautiful thing, maybe because it’s from a place of clay in a loving and wise Potter’s hand. When I hear him sing, it is a song straight from the freedom of God’s heart and I think maybe, just maybe the things that cause me to have to ask , please hold my hand, is what taking up my cross means. How amazing brother Curtis that Jesus’s words grow and breathe into such expanse. Thank you

  6. Ruth West on September 21, 2013 at 21:31

    I have a beautiful collection of crosses in my jewelry box. My husband loved buying ecclesiastical pieces for me, especially ornate crosses. But I know when I wear them, they simply symbolize that I am a Christian. The gospel song “The Old Rugged Cross” describes how I feel about it, “So despised by the world…stained with blood so divine…the emblem of suffering and shame…” To that old rugged cross I cling because He died
    there for me. Thanks for this good sermon.

    • Frank on September 14, 2014 at 06:05

      Leave it to us Episcopalians to have such fantastic Sermons.

      After all, my late Mom was a Fellow Clergy of Chris Almquist.

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