“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8 NIV)
I remember a friend of mine who once tried to sell me his cold. “Just a couple bucks and it will be all yours!” he said. Needless to say, I did not buy his cold!
Who wants a cold? Who wants to suffer with a fever, achy head, and runny nose? Not me! And what about more serious sufferings. Like losing of one's life! Who would want to buy or take upon oneself that kind of a problem?
Most of us run the other way when we hear about problems and sufferings. But today, Jesus calls us to embrace such problems. Only here's the thing about Jesus, we don't just embrace problems for the sake of embracing them, but we embrace problems in a spirit of Easter and the resurrection. For because of Easter, we know that where ever there is a crucifixion, there is a resurrection. Wherever there is a death, there is the promise of a new and better life. Wherever there is a cross to bear, there is Jesus, walking with us to bless us with his hope and love. And “that,” as they said at our National Youth Gathering in Houston Texas, “changes everything.”
Doesn't that just blow your mind?
You know I can think of some examples of Jesus doing that very thing in our midst. Examples we have seen, heard, and even participated in, in our own little community of Bethany Lutheran Church in Red Lake Falls.
Next month we are going have some guests come visit us that I'm sure many of you know. Their names are Keith and Linda Axvig. Keith and Linda Axvig, former residents of Red Lake Falls, have been retired for some time now, and spend their summers in Bemidji but go down to Texas for the winter. While in Texas they began a little ministry that started with just bringing clothing and food to poor Mexicans living just across the boarder. Their ministry has grown to include not just clothing and food, but building materials for small churches and homes, that they help build.
Think of one or two stall garages. Now that's the kind of churches and homes we are talking about. Just the basics. But is that not sharing in the “sufferings” of our fellow human beings? “Bearing one another's burdens”? And is that not what it means to “bear a cross for Jesus”?
Keith and Linda are not spring chickens, yet year after year they cross the boarder to aid their brothers and sisters in Christ. And you know, they “embrace” this “bearing of burdens”, this “suffering” or “cross to bear”, with joy and thanksgiving. Because this is not suffering for the sake of suffering. This is suffering, transformed by the presences of the risen one who walks with his people when ever they serve in his name.
Keith and Linda are having a blast! Bearing a cross for Jesus is fun! And if you don't believe me, come hear them on Oct 20th at our Gala event fund raiser for them! Keith and Linda build houses and churches for Jesus, and they are having the time of their lives!
The world looks at such behavior and says, “You've got to be kidding!” But that is what Jesus does with our crosses. He transforms our “sufferings”, our “bearing of one another's burdens”, into experiences of great joy!
We've experienced such transformative suffering too. It comes in the form of funerals.
Funerals are much like colds, they are not the kind of thing one buys a ticket for. People want to go to a funeral about as much as they might wish to go to a dentist. But here at Bethany, whenever we have a funeral, people turn out in droves!
They come not just to comfort the grieving, but also to work in the kitchen, and serve a meal. They come to bring salads and hot dishes that can be sent home to feed the weary and heavy hearted. They come to weep and share tears of sadness with those who are experiencing great heartache.
Serving or going to a funeral is an “embracing of suffering”. A “bearing of one's cross for Jesus”. But at the same time it is a transformative experience. For so often it is in the context of funeral that we experience the presence of our risen Lord. A Lord who comforts us with his great love and reminds us that "though we die, yet shall we live.”
And how does that affect our experience of such suffering? We might weep for sadness at funerals, but we also weep for joy! We might remember stories of a beloved one who has passed on, but we also remember THE STORY of Jesus and his Easter victory over death.
“Though weeping might come in the evening, joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) With Jesus all the tears that we shed as we bear one another's burdens, can be transformed into tears of joy.
“Cold for sale! Just a couple of bucks!” How sad if would be if Jesus called us to simply embrace suffering for the sake of suffering. How pointless it would be if there was not someone who walked with us, blessing us, strengthening us, and empowering us along the way.
Without Jesus and his resurrection, today's gospel would be little more than "a tale told by an idiot". But that's not what millions of Christians bear witness to. It's not what Keith and Linda Axvig experience as they break bread with fellow Christians in tiny churches down in Mexico. And it's not what we experience when we sit side by side with good neighbors whose hearts are broken by loss and grief.
What we experience is not just suffering, but suffering transformed by the presence of the risen one who walks with us, as we serve in his name. It is his mysterious presence “that” as they said in at our youth gathering in Texas, “changes everything."
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