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Monday, November 9, 2015

Today’s Reading | Matthew 16:21–28

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. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 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.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 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? “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. 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.” (NRSV)

In my early years as a Christian, I formulated the perception that one wasn’t really being a faithful disciple if one wasn’t suffering. I never heard anyone teach or preach that. This was my own screwed up interpretation of teachings such as this one from Jesus: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

I was challenged by other Christians who taught that God loves us unconditionally and blesses us with abundant life. God desires our joy and wholeness and gives us eternal hope. I became a feminist and realized that women—and any people diminished by society—are called to claim their self-worth, not to be doormats quashing themselves in subservience to others. I discovered that being a martyr doesn’t necessarily express love for others and advance justice. Depriving oneself doesn’t automatically improve the quality of life for others or express faithfulness to God. I now cringe when I hear people say “that is my cross to bear” when referring to an unfortunate burden in life over which they feel no control.

So what does it mean to deny ourselves and take up our cross? Jesus gives us a clue in his preceding interchange with Peter. To deny ourselves means that we seek first what God desires for us and with us, not first what we want. To take up our cross means we obey what we sense God calling us to do and be, regardless of the cost. We may suffer in our obedience, but that suffering is neither the end nor a mark of discipleship. Faithfulness is seeking first and foremost God and God’s will.

Guide me, Source of Life, to turn to you, to seek you, and to follow you above all else. Amen.

Written by Vicky Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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