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Bearing Our Cross With Jesus

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Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45 (C) -- "Make known his deeds among  the people."

Invitation to the Celebration

     Have an alarm clock set to ring as the organist/pianist finishes the music for preparation.  Wake up! We're here to celebrate life in the Presence/Power of God.  We gather weekly  (weakly?) in this sanctuary, not because God is more present here than anywhere else.  We gather here to announce to each other and to the world our experience of new life in Christ, our endurance in the midst of change, our enjoyments of God's presence everywhere.  Worship is the celebration of God's activity in the world, all of the world, for Christ's sake.

P: Now that we're awake (we are awake, aren't we?), good morning!  Who do you think you are?

M: Now that we're awake (we are awake!), good morning to you. We are the church of Jesus Christ.  We have come here to remember what it means to be Christian, and to be the church in worship, so we will be the church in mission.

P: Will you be honest during this time? Will your hearts, your minds, your wills be open to God's truth?

M: We will be honest and open to God's truth!

P: Then we shall continue to praise God.

M: Amen. Let it be so in you and me!    

* OPENING HYMN                           "Breathe on Me, Breath of God"                       # 139

* INVOCATION AND LORD'S PRAYER                God of righteousness:  we have tried this day to be faithful to our Lord.  We have fallen short, but not by intent.  There are those who do not understand us, who accuse us of self- righteousness, or of jealousy, because we try to remain steadfast.  Strengthen us in this resolve, we pray, that we may remain faithful in what we believe to be good and right.             Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And, forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever.  AMEN.

SCRIPTURE READING         Exodus 3:1-15  :1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the  wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. :2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. :3 Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." :4 When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." 5 Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." :6 He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. :7 Then the LORD said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, :8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

:9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. :10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." :11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" 12 He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain." :13 But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" :14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" :15 God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

OFFERING                 The real measure of our wealth and obedience is how much we would be worth if we lost all of our money.  No one really trusts God until he/she trusts God with his/her money



CHILDREN'S STORY TIME  Have you ever wanted something so badly that you think you will do anything to get it?  Give examples of people who have, and then, who went to jail.  Or, think of a swimmer who stays under  water too long; he/she wants air more than anything.  Tie this in with the second half of the Scripture.


PRAYER                     Arthur Boers, in an article from The Other Side (May/June,  1989), titled "The Fullness of Christ and the Small Church," points out this sin of the church (you and me): Many want to know what they can get out of the local congregation, so that churches are simply one more consumer commodity.  Thus, worship is not a place for us to serve God and our neighbors and enemies, but a place where people expect to purchase the best: inspiring worship, which never deals with justice issues; good music which they "like"; moving sermons which comfort and never confront; and quality child care for every age. As if we could buy God ...  (Silence for two minutes, with the question, "Is this your expectation and experience?")

P: Christ has set us free to live responsibly.

M: The past is forgiven, every bit of it to this moment; the future is before us, every bit of it from now on.

P: I invite us to love life, and the people who share it with us.

M: We embrace life, and we live in Christ.

* PREPARATIONAL HYMN            "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian" (African-American Spiritual).

SCRIPTURE TEXT                 Matthew 16:21-28

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. :22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." :23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." :24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. :25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. :26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? :27 "For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. :28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

SERMON                                            Bearing Our Cross With Jesus

     In contemporary society, where self-fulfillment, accomplishment, personal enrichment, and enjoyment are the goals sought by the majority, it seems inconceivable that people would willingly sacrifice, suffer, and be humiliated so that others  would benefit.  Yet, in the twentieth century alone there have been many people whose unselfish example and willingness to subjugate self for the needs of the whole have transformed individuals and nations.

     The Gilded Age and Progressive Era were periods of massive immigration to the United States.  Most immigrants initially found themselves in the urban squalor of an ethnic ghetto.  New York's Hell's Kitchen was one such place.  An environment of poverty, unsanitary living conditions, and a general sense of hopelessness was the common lot of thousands of immigrants who resided in the district.  While most Americans either ignored or refused to listen to the cries of the immigrant masses, there was one man who heard their pleas and acted to change the social order.  Walter Rauschenbusch was an American Baptist minister who had been  raised and initially educated in Rochester, New York.  As pastor of a small church in Hell's Kitchen, Rauschenbusch took on the pain and suffering of his people.  He lived through their daily struggles and worked to alleviate their pain.  Later, as a renowned theologian and principal spokesman for the Social Gospel movement, Rauschenbusch wrote, in such books as A Theology for the Social Gospel, that society could be transformed if people were willing to apply the gospel message, despite its challenges and difficulties, to contemporary problems.  Rauschenbusch was a man who took seriously Jesus' injunction to bear the cross and follow in his footsteps.

     The Great Depression was the worst economic disaster in American history.  While historians well remember the efforts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal to right America's economic ship, few recall or even know of the work of Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day, and the Catholic Worker movement which they founded.  Maurin, a French peasant who had emigrated to the United States via Canada, possessed many ideas for the social transformation of society, but he had no way to publicize his views.  Dorothy Day, a journalist who had formerly associated with radicals and Communists in Greenwich Village and recently had converted to Christianity, was a woman looking for her vocation.  When the two met in December 1932 it was a good match of theory and practice.  As founders of the Catholic Worker movement, which sponsored roundtable discussions of contemporary issues and established houses of hospitality and farm communes for the poor, Maurin and Day offered another solution to the Great Depression, namely personal involvement with the lives of the poor.  They voluntarily lived simply so others could simply live.  They too took up the challenge of the cross.  Dorothy Day said, “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love each other we must know each other in the breaking of bread and we are not alone anymore.  Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.  Love comes with community.”       In 1970 Oscar Romero was a quiet, but well-known, priest pastor, radio preacher, and newspaper editor in El Salvador.  That year he was appointed auxiliary to the archbishop of San Salvador; four years later he was given his own diocese, Santiago de Maria, in a rural section of the country.  Romero quickly became involved as an advocate of land reform; he became a vocal champion of the rights of the poor in his diocese.  In 1977 he was elevated to the position of archbishop in San Salvador at the urging of local political leaders who believed that he would be "safe" and not meddle in the affairs of state.  But Oscar Romero's recent experience in Santiago de Maria convinced him that injustice of any nature was wrong, but especially wrong were actions against the defenseless and those with no voice in society.  He continued as the principal organ for the poor, playing loudly and constantly.  He took on the cause of righteousness which had been so long ignored by church and state alike.  Romero paid the ultimate price for his stand when he was assassinated in March, 1980, most probably by a death squad working for the very government officials who had originally championed his cause.  The story was similar in the case of Martin Luther King, Jr., and even fresher in our memory is Columbine, Colorado -- April 99, a teenage girl simply affirmed her belief in God, and although she lost her physical life because of it her father praises God because of the ripples effect that has had in the lives of many in turning them toward Jesus as Lord and Savior.

     Are you a person who feels burdened with many afflictions, like those in Hell's Kitchen, the poor of the Great Depression, or those plagued with injustice in Central America or within the United States currently?  Are you one who seeks the assistance of the Lord in carrying your burdens, or have you sufficient strength and courage to be the one who takes on the burdens of others, as did Walter Rauschenbusch, the proponents of the Catholic Worker, Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King Jr.?  Today's Gospel contrasts those two questions in its challenge that while we may be burdened we nevertheless are asked to help others with the crosses of their lives.

     Today's Gospel passage follows the reading we heard last week.  Again we hear of an encounter with Jesus and Peter.  Peter had just professed his belief in Jesus as Messiah and Lord; he has demonstrated his faith through his ability to see beyond the obvious human characteristics of Jesus.  Now, however, we observe another side of Peter, the counter side of all humanity.  We see the side of Peter which refuses to accept God's plan.  Even experiencing the privilege of walking in the footsteps of the Lord has not provided Peter with the ability to understand the Master's plan.  He refuses to accept the fact that Jesus has come to suffer and die.  He does not want to cover the crosses of loneliness and fear which Jesus' departure will bring.  This is the cross that Jesus himself will shoulder, but Peter cannot bear to face it.

     Peter does not appear to be ready to accept God's plan, which brings with it a cross for him and for every human person.   Unlike the poor in New York and the destitute in El Salvador, who bore their suffering, their cross, and were rewarded by courageous Christians who shouldered their burden for them, Peter runs away from the challenge he faces.       Jesus, on the other hand, is the Rauschenbusch, Day and Maurin, Romero and King of contemporary society who accepts his role.   Freely he carries the cross, which is the burden of human sinfulness.  Rauschenbusch, the Catholic Workers, and Romero bore the pain, indignity, and suffering of those they encountered.  Jesus also bore the pain of the world in the weight of his cross, but he was not afraid to profess its necessity and power in his life.  The Lord challenges Peter and all of us to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow in his footsteps.  No one looks for the cross and the various forms of pain it brings, but Christians must not run away from the reality of life and our necessity to walk the road with Jesus.  Contemporary conventional wisdom says it is foolish to give one's life away.  We are bombarded with advertisements and slogans in multi-media which tell us life is here and now.  We must "go for  the gusto," live today, and secure the great "treasures" of power, wealth, and prestige.  As the commercial says, "Who says you can't have it all?"  Jesus, however, leaves no doubt that if we seek to save our life today we will lose the gift of eternal life tomorrow.  If we, however, like those courageous Christians, take up the cross, shoulder the burden, and lose our life now, then we will experience eternal life when God calls us home.       As the stories of Walter Rauschenbusch, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Oscar Romero Martin Luther King Jr. pose the question, "Where do we find ourselves -- shouldering the cross or having it lifted?" so the gospel challenges us to move beyond ourselves, and accept the cross when it comes, but always with the certain knowledge that Jesus is ready to aid us if we will only ask for assistance.  Jesus' message is clear -- we must carry the cross!  To reject the reality of life, which at times comes with obstacles, pain, and uncertainty, is not the road of discipleship.  But we do not walk alone.  Jesus is present every step of the way, leading, guiding, and ready to help us when we call to him.  The popular poem "Footprints" illustrates how Jesus never abandons us.  Rather, the Lord is carrying us when the road is most difficult and the weight of the cross beyond our strength.       Discipleship will lead us to the cross, but we may be called upon to assist others in their time of need. We have all experienced times when family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues at work have sought our assistance in carrying their crosses.  Peter could not accept this role at this particular hour, but after the resurrection, when he was transformed and converted to a fuller understanding of discipleship and its requirement to be present to others in their need, he was able to help.  We cannot be present to all people at all times; we cannot shoulder the world.  But we must be willing to assist others as good people we know have helped us in our time of need.  Jesus  tells us that when he returns in glory with the hosts of angels we will be repaid for our conduct.

     Let us, therefore, reflect upon the reality of life, with its beauty and its pain.  When obstacles and difficulty enter our lives, let us shoulder the cross and follow Jesus, giving our lives today in order to gain eternal life tomorrow.  Let us, when we are able, assist our neighbor in shouldering his burden as did our Christian champions.  If we can it is certain that when Jesus calls us we will hear him say, "Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the beginning of time."

Read the second half of the text, and ask the people to charge themselves silently.  Ask them to write down their charge when they get home, to bring that charge with them next week, and to place it in the offering plate, unsigned.  Get their permission to use those charges in future worships, and in the church newsletter, anonymously.

* INVITATIONAL HYMN                Crown Him with Many Crowns                        # 3

* BENEDICTION                               "Perfect obedience would be perfect joy if only we had perfect confidence in the power we were obeying" (author unknown,  slightly revised)


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