Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

Text: Mark 8:34-36
Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to him. "If any of you want to come with me," he told them, "you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me. For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for me and for the gospel, you will save it. Do you gain anything if you win the whole world but lose your life? Of course not!"

Carrying crosses

Alexander and Rufus Ė do you know who they are?

No they are not members of Australiaís Commonwealth games team,
And no they were not gold medallists from Russia in the Winter Olympics.
And no they are not Peter and Mavis Thammís grandchildren.

If you donít know who Alexander and Rufus are, I donít blame you. But would it help if I told you their father was Simon Ė not Simon Peter, but Simon of Cyrene?

We first hear of Rufus and Alexander in Markís Gospel account of what happened that first Good Friday. He tells us how the Romans soldiers dressed Jesus in a purple robe, hit him, spat on him and bowed down in front of him making fun of him as a king. Mark says, "Then they led him out to crucify him. On the way they met a man named Simon, who was coming into the city from the country, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus' cross. (Simon was from Cyrene and was the father of Alexander and Rufus.)" (Mark 15:20,21).

Jesus is in agony, staggering along the road, body raw and bleeding from the beating, the roughness of the cross rubbing and digging into his wounds, falling on the hard road under its weight. It seems that Markís brief mention of Alexander and Rufus in the middle of all this seems a little out of place, just a tad irrelevant. I donít know about you but the temptation is to skip over this seeming unrelated and inappropriate detail about Alexander and Rufus.

We arenít told that Alexander and Rufus were there that day. If they were they would have been very young. Itís possible that they may not have even been born yet when Jesus died.

But their inclusion at this point is not a mistake and a trivial detail. In fact, they are mentioned in such a way as if the readers knew Rufus and Alexander Ė perhaps they were leaders of the church in Rome. Itís like Mark is saying as he is telling his readers, "Jesus was too weak to carry the cross and so a man was ordered to carry it for him. This man was Simon from Cyrene, you know his boys - Rufus and Alexander."

Itís as if Mark wanted to make a connection between Jesusí death and resurrection and these two men, Alexander and Rufus, whose lives had been influenced by the events of that day. Iím sure they must have spoken about the day their dad carried their Lordís cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Calvary. Perhaps Mark is saying also to the Roman readers, "If you want to hear this story from two people who have been touched by the events of that day, check with Alexander and Rufus."

In his letter to the Romans the apostle Paul sends greetings to Rufus and his mother whom he says "has always treated me like a son". So there is someone else whose life has been shaped by what happened to Simon from Cyrene. Rufus and Alexander and their mother may not have been there on the street the day Simon carried the cross; but their lives had been shaped by his experience.

Today we hear Jesus talking about carrying crosses saying that when we do this our lives will never be the same. He says, "If any of you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me." (Mark 8:34).

Often when we hear these words of Jesus we think of the "cross" that each of us are forced to carry.
That cross might be poor health,
family struggles,
caring for an aged parent,
making ends meet with the rising cost of feeding a family,
temptation,
a disability, and so on.
These "crosses" are unpleasant. We have no choice whether we carry this kind of cross or not and with a sigh we say,
"Thatís a cross I just have to bear!"

But what if the kind of cross that Jesus is talking about comes as a result of our walking with him, hearing the abuse, suffering because of our commitment to the man on the cross, hearing his words of love toward his enemies, "Father, forgive them" in much the same way as Simon experienced that day.

What if bearing a cross means being dragged out of the plans we have for the day (as Simon was) - even plans we have for the whole of our lives - and we are suddenly drawn completely into the moment when God, in his grace, calls us to witness and to share in his act of salvation and bring God's grace into the lives of the people we connect with in our corner of the world?

We can presume that from the moment Simon carried that cross on the road to Calvary, his life was never the same. The only real evidence we have of this is not found in the Gospels or even in the writings of historians, but we see how the cross of Jesus affected Simon as we get to know Alexander and Rufus. Their lives of faith and leadership in the church were a result of the impact Jesus and his cross had on their fatherís life. They were the children of the cross-bearer.

For Simon, and Rufus and Alexander, and Peter, James and John, and Mary and Martha, and Paul and Silas and Timothy, and all those who took up the cross and followed. The cross had been a symbol of shame, betrayal, sin, mockery, cruelty, death Ė the death of the man who had called them to follow and whose love led him to Calvaryís Hill.

That cross became a symbol of Godís absolute love for the world. Now it was their turn to carry the cross - the symbol of their salvation, the mark of belonging, and the mark of ministry and service to others. Carrying this cross, they didnít know where it would take them and what it would mean for them. But one thing is for sure, crosses always entail pain, suffering and hardship.

Jesus says, "If any of you want to come with me he must forget himself, carry his cross, and follow me. Carrying this cross means "forgetting oneself". Forgetting oneself and carrying a cross means we are committed to only one thing: fulfilling God's plan of salvation for the world with lives that are dedicated to being truly his disciples. Make no mistake about it, Jesus is saying to his followers, "Becoming a disciple is a radical step; being a disciple involves the cross of dedication. Being a disciple and carrying a cross and being a disciple is tough work". The cross Jesus carried was no walk in the park, and he is saying that carrying the cross of discipleship is no different for us today.

We live in a world today that has little understanding of what this kind of commitment means. The attitude we see so often is expressed in this way, "Commitment is okay so long as it doesnít upset me, get me ruffled, ask too much of me, and expects me to look after the needs of others above that of my own". If thatís the kind of commitment Jesus had, then he would not have gone down the road to Calvary. Todayís Gospel places us in a head-on collision with the self-first attitude of the world and our sinful human nature. Suffering and discipleship go together. Hardship and the gospel go together, even today.

But one thing is clear, Simonís life was never the same after that day and this impacted on the next generation as he taught Rufus and Alexander about the man who carried a cross and was their Saviour.

Who knows what carrying the cross and following Jesus will mean for us in the future. Where will this journey take you and me in the next five, ten or twenty years? Iím not really sure.

There is no doubt that the Church which we are part of is not the same as it was 20 years ago - it has changed very, very dramatically.
This town of which we are a part and to which we are called to minister, is very, very different to what it was 20 years ago (when this church was built).
Will future events of which we presently know nothing lead to a huge turning back to God and a renewed desiring to know his love?
Or will the church be forced to go Ďundergroundíóas it did, and survived and even grew in Eastern Europe and China?
Will the churches in Third World nations send out missionaries to support and help shape the churches here in our country?
What will faithful cross bearing mean for our congregation and the way we serve our community mean in the future?
Will it mean hardship, being uncomfortable, and disturbing what we like about the church so that we can be true children of the cross-bearer?

All this might fill us with anxietyÖor maybe even excitement!

This much is clear. In our text today Jesus is calling us to carry the cross Ė now - for Christ and his church, and his world, and every person in our community here at Caboolture who does not know that they have a God who loves them and has died for them. Just as the lives of Rufus and Alexander were changed and shaped by their cross-bearing father, likewise the Caboolture community will be changed and shaped by this cross-bearing community we call St Paulís hand in hand with every other cross-bearing Christian in this district and across the nation.

Our ministry to those we meet here in our community will shape the way that the next generation knows the loving will of God. Our support and prayers for the pastors, leaders, principal and teachers in our school, staff at our Aged Care Village, those involved in music, the stewards, the sound and projection operators, the youth leaders, those visiting the sick and house bound will shape the ministry of ten and twenty years down the track.

It will not simply Ďjust happení. It has never Ďjust happenedí Ė
our presence here in this church today didnít just happen,
nor the establishment of this church, and school and aged care just happen;
our faith and trust in Jesus didnít just happen.
The love, effort, sacrifice, commitment, struggle and example of the cross-bearers who have gone before us have passed on a legacy to each of us - to continue on in the way of discipleship. If we fail then we are not only letting down Jesus, but also those who have been instrumental in bringing us to this point in our walk as disciples and those who have gone before us making this congregation a light in our community.

Two thousand years later, Simon of Cyrene is only known for one thing about his life - he carried the cross. There was nothing easy about carrying that cross. His sons are only known for one thing - they were children of the one who carried the cross.

God grant that if people remember only one thing about us after we have left this life this would be Ė "he/she was a child of the cross-bearer, a disciple of Jesus, and how, through us, the lives of others were changed".

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
St Paul's Lutheran Church, Caboolture - 12th March, 2006
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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