Jesus tells is that to be his followers, we must take up our cross.
Now not even the most zealous Christians today
believe that Jesus meant that everyone should be
crucified like he was crucified.
But Jesus did say that we should deny ourselves and take up our cross.
Jesus doesn’t say that his followers need to believe
in a particular creed or doctrine, or need to sing
a certain kind of hymn, follow a certain kind of worship,
not even to subscribe to a certain morality, which is how we usually define Christian.
But he says If any want to be my followers,
deny yourself, take up your cross
In other words, sacrifice.
This is a vital attribute of the Christian community.
We are the people that sacrifice.
We put our own wants and even needs aside and give to others.
He didn’t say specifically what we needed to give
or how we should deny ourselves.
But he said that we should.
Die to ourselves is the way he put it.
These days it seems, like the prevailing identity of Christians is
Not people who deny themselves anything but people
people who demand, very loudly, for their own rights:
their right to say whatever they want,
their right to do whatever they want and not face consequences.
their right to deny services to people different from them,
their right to have their personal views dictate law.
During the height of the pandemic,
there was a really disturbing video of a man who identified himself
as a Christian pastor, and his mission was to go into stores without
a mask and pick loud fights with the workers who tried to stop him.
He said it was his Christian duty to defend his rights.
But Jesus defines his followers as the ones
who deny themselves, who give what they have for others.
Now I think that naturally, we’re generous people. We want to give.
But we’re taught over time to hold onto things
We have been taught to fear that there isn’t enough.
We’ve been taught to hold back, to hoard what we have, just in case.
To the rational world, and to many people,
just giving things away seems ridiculous.
And giving your money away seems especially ridiculous.
If you are like me, or most people, you have a
complicated relationship with money.
It’s a joy, and a pain. It’s a source of pride, comfort, and anxiety.
Habits and feelings about money are
hidden deep within the recesses of our brain
some where we aren’t even consciously aware of them.
Money is the cause of many family
arguments and many divorces.
It’s a motivator for crime, violence, and murder,
It causes wars, devastation and famines.
It can at once be freeing and constraining,
There is not one life in here that is not in some way,
determined or influenced by money.
Money controls where we live, what we eat,
where we go, how much power we have or don’t have.
Money is a huge determinate in our lives,
the lives of other and in the world.
And yet many people of faith feel like God doesn’t
have anything to say about money. Like it’s outside of God’s concern.
Mark Allen Powell, New Testament professor at Trinity Seminary
in Columbus tells the story about baptism in the first century.
New converts were devoting themselves to Christianity
and getting baptized.
But when they were baptizing in Gaul
the men who were soldiers
would go into the water to be baptized and hold their
dominant hand up outside the water because
that was the hand that would hold their sword
when they went into battle.
They wanted to reserve that piece of their lives
and not have it influenced by Christ’s teachings,
so they can go on and continue to do what they were doing.
Dr. Powell says that this is how many people feel about money.
He said we want to hold our wallets outside of the waters of baptism
so we can do whatever we want with it and not worry about God.
We want to follow Jesus, but leave our money out of it.
The way I spend and share and invest money are only my business.
Maybe our complicated feelings about money get in the way,
And maybe it’s a feeling that the most holy God
would have nothing to do with such a vile and profane thing as money.
But money is mentioned over 800 times in the bible,
Money is discussed in the scriptures constantly.
God is concerned with all that we are and all that we have
and in many, many different ways, the scriptures tell us that
God hopes that we share what we have.
Money is one way we deny ourselves and sacrifice.
Now a lot of churches have given themselves a bad reputation
by trying to separate people from their money,
and often with very bad and selfish intentions.
From indulgences in Luther’s time to many modern televangelists,
Some prominent churches have given
honest churches like our own a bad name.
People have found over the years that God’s hope
for our generosity is easily exploited.
And what they are exploiting is our basic need to give.
My first congregation had a relationship with
a community in Honduras. The children in Honduras had to pay to go to any
grade in school above Middle School
and we gave scholarships to them so they
The community was originally a large group of
people that had lived in boxes along the
banks of a river until floods had threatened
The homes that were built for them were cinderblock homes
with many people living in one room.
Dirt floors, outdoor kitchens.
Bare houses without much in them.
The people were poor. Very poor.
The bus across town to high school cost a quarter, and many
of them struggled to get that money.
One evening, they had a dinner for us at the school
and the teens who received scholarships
gave us gifts. They were all souvenirs of Honduras,
probably gotten from the mall in the city.
Trays, boxes with scenes of Honduras on them.
My gift was a little house, which my student Yasmine gave me.
These gifts were modest, but we knew they cost money
we knew they cost more money than they had to spare.
We asked our guide and translator –
who was also the young people’s mentor— where they got the gifts.
We were hoping maybe he gave them the money for them.
He told us they had saved up the money to get them.
They knew we were coming and they saved for months.
That freaked a lot of us out.
Someone kindly asked if they could give it back,
you know, so they could use these now super-precious
gifts for themselves or return it for the money.
Our guide and translator told us no.
They want to give something to us.
They need to give something to us.
That was their love.
This is their nature. Don’t deny them that.
As poor and in need as they were, they had a desire to give.
And it was true, whenever we brought out candy
or toys for the little kids, none of them grabbed
all they could, they were always concerned about
the other children around them.
They always made sure that each one of them had enough.
It was humbling to say the least.
We had so much, and we were hesitant to give.
They literally had nothing, but didn’t think twice about
giving away what they had.
Giving is a need we have.
It gets buried in us by our fear about the future,
our own desires, our own greed sometimes,
and we lose touch with that.
But the truth is, God gives, abundantly, lavishly to all of us.
God has given this world and everything in it.
God gave us Jesus to take away the sins of the world.
Giving is part of God’s nature.
When we give, we come close to the heart of God.
This weekend, we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
For his sacrifice to the good of our life together as a society.
He said: “An individual has not started living
until they can rise above the narrow confines
of their individualistic concerns
to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
When we give to one another, to another organization,
to a church -- when we put our own individualistic concerns aside,
and look beyond our own wants to the broader concerns of humanity,
we get back the life that God has sought out for us.
For those who want to save their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.