Taking up the Cross of Jesus

Two years back the movie, The Theory of Everything, came out. The story is about Stephen Hawking, the brilliant English physicist, who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease while he was still at University. Expected to live only two years he is still alive and continuing a luminous career in physics and unlocking secrets of the universe. I remember when we saw the movie at the Downing Film Center in Newburgh, Sharon Burke, the owner of the film center, announced with a smile and “After you see this you will know everything!”  Well, not so.
Personally, I find the command of Jesus, to pick up your cross and follow me a bit daunting. And, that dying to cross is the key to real life.  That’s quite a theory. It’s not that I don’t know intellectually what it means—and rest assure I’m going to do my best to unpack that theory—it’s just that it seems rather difficult to relate. You have to really think about and take a long hard look around to see it in action,  which is of course what Jesus is concerned about—putting the cross into action.
Now, I could tell you the story of Arthur Blessit. If you were here on Good Friday, you heard the story or perhaps you have seen the movie called “The Cross.”  Forty some years ago in Los Angeles, a young preacher was called by Jesus Christ to enter into a street ministry. As he tells the story, Blessit heard Jesus say, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” He took that message literally and found a large, wooden cross and proceeded to nail it to the wall of his Jesus Café on Sunset Strip. Then Jesus spoke to him again, and taking new orders he took the cross down off the wall and began a journey around the world—carrying the cross over his shoulder.
Arthur Blessit crisscrossed the United States and then all of Europe and the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South American—across prairies, deserts, and jungles. He was thrown in jail four times and in front of a firing squad once. All the while carrying the cross of Jesus. He preached a cross, not of power that promotes violence and coercion but the power of love and compassion. That’s pretty impressive but I ask you, is that something you would do?  Even if you heard the Jesus say, Pick up your cross and follow me?
To back up a bit, what is it that Jesus is saying? He heard him speaking to his disciples in the gospel reading just now. Actually he is in one of his rebuking moods. Peter is doing his best to try to save
Jesus from harm. (That’s what friends are for!) He has figured out that Jesus is the Messiah but in his line of thinking Messiahs do not suffer. That’s is not the way Jesus sees it.  His destiny as Messiah
is towards the cross. He connects the cross with suffering. We who hear the Gospel know from the vantage point of 2000 years that indeed the cross is very much connected with suffering. The cross as Jesus says is also connected with love—not self-love but love for others—self-giving love, love that is not intent of self-promotion or self-preservation but love that is willing to give without counting cost. He who is willing to lose their life will gain it. That’s tough love. Perhaps this is the reason that so many of us find the whole business of picking up the cross of Jesus so very difficult.
We are built for preservation, taught from early on the take care of ourselves, stay out of harm’s way, keep your guard up. I was listening to an anthropologist yesterday who was explaining that tools invented very early on in human evolution are extensions of our physical bodies. For example, the hammer is an extension of our fist, and the knife is the extension of our canine teeth. A tiger if she loses her long tooth, is unable to protect herself; but humans have a knife to do trick of protection.
So, here is Jesus saying, let the knife go, take down the guard. If you want to gain your life, you have to lose it. So, how does that apply to us? We can look around, and see throughout history and examples of people who clearly understood Jesus and willingly gave their lives for the sake of love. Many died in the act of self-giving—certainly there are examples of such people during wars. There were big, rather heroic, acts of giving up life for the sake of others.
But what I am interested in is what do we do to take up the cross of Jesus? Maybe there are ways we can take small steps toward the cross bearing. Take the advice of Major League catcher, Rick Demsy, the good baseball players can’t think of winning the World Series or even the 165 games to get to the WS. He said you have to break the game down one ending at a time, one pitch at a time and eventually look up and see that you won the game.
Small steps.
That puts me in mind of the Derby brothers, Henry and Harvey. The Derby brothers lived down on Garfield Road where we lived in our growing up years. It was farming country in Massachusetts and the Henry and Harvey did their best to tend the fields. As a small child I remember the night their barn burned down. Some of their livestock perished but all their old automobiles were in the yard behind the house. So after the smoke cleared and the rumble of the barn was cleared the cars and one truck were moved in to the cellar part of the barn that was open to the street. And, there they stayed for years unused, rusting.
Farming for the Derby brothers was a bit of a trick because by the time I was seven, Henry went blind and Harvey was unable to walk. Must have had something to do with the fire, or so I thought.  My father did the hay mowing and bailing for the brothers but the vegetable gardens were the domain of the two brothers—Harvey sitting in the wheel barrow and blind Henry pushing the wheel barrow, Harvey’s eyes to guide him through the fields. It was a sight to see the two brothers making it work.
My mother, who was not a church goer but in her own way a God Fearing women, said not once but several times, My goodness, look at those two bearing each other up on the other’s cross. I hadn’t got that far along in Sunday School so I didn’t the foggiest idea of what she meant. But it seemed particularly noble to me, those two making life work, giving what they had to make up for the other’s deficit. It all was so extraordinary and yet so normal at the same time.
Harvey and Henry’s life so intertwined, crossing and crisscrossing like the cross itself, the burden of love, holding each up unto death. They remind me of the small steps that all of us can take, bearing up one another in a time of need, making life work for another when the chips are down, accepting the guidance when for a myriad of reasons we just can see which way to go. It is the theory of everything that is worthy living and worth dying for.
Reverend Deborah Dresser
16 Pentecost September 13, 2015

Leave a Reply

Like St. Paul's on Facebook