Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pick Up Your Cross, It’s Moving Day

The other day I spoke with a gentleman who had just helped a friend move. He shared with me how long of a day it was as they filled a 17-fout truck TWICE as full as they could get it. Just hearing him give me the details of moving brought flash-backs of the times I moved or helped someone else move. I could almost feel my back tighten up as we were talking. I’m sure we’ve all moved at one time or another so whether it is the burden of packing or the muscle of moving boxes that were too full, when someone mentions moving we can all relate…and if you’ve never moved or packed a box or carried a friend’s boxes to a truck, you’re really missing out. The best part of helping a friend move is the fellowship. It’s pretty much the same thing every time especially if everyone has helped before. Everyone knows his or her own limits as to how much they can pick up so we all look out for each other. Every move needs a supervisor, who is normally the one who is moving, who not only knows where everything is going but also watches to make sure the right people pick up the right box. The supervisor’s responsibility is to guide each member of the moving team to the right box so they don’t pick up something that is too heavy for them or place a box where it doesn’t belong. It’s almost like he is calling out, “If you want to help me move, pick up your boxes and follow me…to the truck.” By the end of the day, the truck is full, the house is empty, our muscles are sore and everyone sits back to admire the full truck as a symbol of accomplishment. It can be quite an enjoyable, yet difficult day picking up boxes on moving day.

Today is moving day…not to another house but to another way of life. This morning’s Gospel is a simple invitation by God for us to follow Him in a new way of life. Just as a move from one house to another involves some heavy lifting our move today will involve some lifting. Jesus calls out to us, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34) And just as every move has a supervisor who helps us pick up the correct box, Jesus has appointed His Church to help us pick up the right cross – OUR cross.

Each one of us has a certain ability and strength that has been given to us by God. He knows our strengths and He knows our limits. He knows better than we do how much we can lift. So when He invites us to pick up our cross, He means OUR cross and not anyone else’s. Some of you know I have a bad back. I have to be very careful exactly what and how I pick up boxes when I help people move. If I reach for the wrong box or turn the wrong way, it only takes a second; I can hurt my back and be bent over for a week.

Christ has invited us to pick up our cross if we desire to follow Him. That is the message I wish to bring to you this morning. He doesn’t say, “Everyone pick up any ole cross,” but “Whoever desires to follow Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” The emphasis is on free will and personal burden and following Christ.

It is quite clear in the original Greek, “Οστις Θέλει οπίσω μου ακολουθείν, απαρνησάσθω εαυτόν και αράτω τον σταυρόν αυτού, και ακολουθείτω μοι.” “Όποιος θέλει να με ακολουθεί, ας απαρνηθεί τον εαυτό του, ας σηκώσει το σταυρό του κι ας με ακολουθεί.” There are three key words: desire, pick up, and follow.

Just like if we were trying to help someone move. We wouldn’t be doing them any favors if all we did was stand there and look at all the boxes stacked around us and refuse to help. Our friend would wonder why we even showed up in the first place. It also would do our friend any good if we volunteer to help move and then, with a weak back, head straight for the heaviest box and spend the rest of the day with ice packs watching everyone else do all the work.

When it comes to our spiritual moving day, we must first and foremost desire to follow Christ. Christ doesn’t want us against our will. If we do not desire to follow Him the cross which we will bear will be too heavy for us. It will be like ignoring a bad back and trying to lift a heavy box to show how strong we are. Who are we helping? To whom are we showing our strength? Frankly, who are we fooling? What will it profit a man if he lifts a heavy box if he then hurts his back? Of course Christ said it another way. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8.36)

If we first desire to follow Christ then He will watch over us to make sure the cross we pick up is our own. We are not asked to pick up anyone else’s cross but the one that best fits us. For our moving day, every box is labeled so we know which box is for us. If we spend time trying to pick up someone else’s cross, which of course we know means struggle, we may get hurt or we may think we are doing something we are not. In other words, Jesus has made sure that our cross, our struggle, fits each one of us and until we focus upon our own struggle, we will never accomplish what the Lord has for us to accomplish.

So first we must desire to follow Christ. Second we must be willing to pick up our own cross. Third, then, we must follow Christ. Again, just like moving day, if we just stand their holding a box and not carrying it to the truck, we accomplish nothing. There must be movement in our legs on moving day and there must be movement, or direction, in our spiritual life. We must always be walking toward Jesus Christ. As soon as we stop or turn another direction (or we turn away from God) then He cannot guide us to the Kingdom. We must never forget the first name for Christianity was “The Way” because it was a way of life, a journey with Christ in His Kingdom. There was always movement.

My brothers and sisters, if we desire to follow Christ, let us pick up our Cross and follow Him. Today is the third Sunday of Great Lent and we will pick up the cross and lift it high and carry it around the Church for everyone to see. God has conquered death because of His Holy Cross. Now it is our turn to pick up our cross and follow Him to a new way of life, to an Orthodox Christian way of life.

Being Orthodox Christian is about living ever day for Christ. We are in the midst of Great Lent. What an excellent chance for us to deny ourselves and follow Christ. Jesus Christ could just as easily say today, “Whoever desires to follow Me, let him pray, fast and do works of charity and follow Me. For what will it profit a man if he eats a steak, cusses out a store clerk, and walks right by a woman lying who is bleeding in a grocery store doorway, if He spends the rest of eternity suffering?”

The rewards for following Jesus Christ are well worth not eating meat. Jesus said and He says to us today, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” (Mark 9.1) My brothers and sisters the Kingdom is already here. Let’s move in together!

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