Thursday, March 24, 2016

Who Bears My Cross?

Who bears my cross?  How we answer this question will reveal much about what we think about God,  the world and our own selves.  Perhaps you have an obvious answer or you struggle to figure it out. maybe you have never even thought about it.  This Holy Week and Easter I would like to wrestle with this question and see how different answers lead us in different directions.

Answer 1: Jesus Bears My Cross

Perhaps if God has gotten you through a tough time in your life recently this is your answer.   One looks at a situation that seemed impossible to overcome and yet by God's grace that person is still standing.  One realizes his or her limitations and relies on the power of God to make up for one's weakness.  The strength of this answer is that it can lead one to a powerful, daily, and living relationship with God.  

The problem with this answer is that Jesus specifically excludes it. 

Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't be my disciple. Luke 14:27(Message)

The way of Jesus Christ demands that we carry our cross behind him. In fact Jesus never tells us that he will bear our cross, he promises life eternal, forgiveness, healing, and hope, but not an escape.   There is a way that the statement "Jesus bears my cross" can be used to justify not living out one's faith at all.  One simply states "Jesus is my Lord and Savior" and "he took all my sins upon the cross" to justify a lack of transformation in one's life.   Then that one can go on living the way they always have.  

This answer can lead to a narcissistic focus on the self.  Jesus becomes our personal servant to bear any on the hard spiritual work we should actually be doing.  In this picture Jesus becomes "the help" and one barely knows his name and certainly little about what he is actually doing.   

Unfortunately, using the answer that Jesus bears my cross is good business.   It can be used to market a consumer friendly version of the gospel that makes no demands on life of the believer.   Just accept a few words as true and drop a few bucks in the plate is all they will ask.   This is what Diettrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace,  grace bought and sold on a religious marketplace.  Seeing this picture in all its gory detail leads me to ask did Jesus really die for this? 

Answer 2: I Bear it by Myself

This answer seems to correspond to Jesus' call carry one's own cross in discipleship and follows the pattern Jesus himself set.   Jesus carried his own cross after all. 

Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. John 19:17-18 (NRSV)

The strength of this answer is that it does place accountability for the spiritual life back onto the shoulders of the believer.   One is taking up the cross head on.  One is making the changes in his or her life that should lead to transformation.  It confirms the truth of the the saying "we all have our cross to bear." It also recognizes the truth that Jesus' cross is different than mine. Jesus bore the sin of the world, I only bear an image of what he did.   

However,  as tempting to see this as the final answer it also has some serious weaknesses. If one focuses too much on our bearing the cross on one's own, one crowds out God.   Bearing the cross on one's own becomes a path to self righteousness.  It is all about what I do and not what God does. It also is over focussed on the self; the struggles of others have little meaning. This leads me to ask along with St. Paul the question "if I bear it myself then why did Jesus have to die?"  (Galatians 2:21) 

Answer 3: I Bear it with Help 

The simple fact of the matter is that when Jesus bore the cross he did not make it all the way on his own.   

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. Luke 23:26 (NRSV)

Jesus the human couldn't do it all on his own, he needed the power of the Father and the help of others to carry the cross. This was all part of  God's plan to show us the way of salvation and peace.  A clue can be found on the night in which Jesus was betrayed when he gave a new commandment 

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. John 13:34 (NRSV) 

We are limited sinful human beings we can not always bear our cross on our own.  One centered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ realizes that while one is accountable to carry one's cross and follow Jesus, we are not always able to do it, and sometimes we will even rebel from doing so.   I have noticed in the churches I have served over these 20+ years that often when I ask for a deeper commitment to Christ or the congregation someone will not able able to make it. 

Jesus realizes this and that is why he gave us the gift of church.  By this I do not mean the institution but the Christ centered Spirit filled organic community that is the Body of Christ.   We are called to help each other bear our crosses.  Yes we all have our cross to bear, but that does not mean that can't help each other carry them.   An individual can never separate his or her personal discipleship from the rest of the body of Christ.  We are connected to each other. 

When we focus exclusively on Jesus bearing the cross for us, or it's opposite, our carrying exclusively it on our own, we individualize and spiritualize the gospel.   When we realize that we are called to not only carry our own cross but to help each other along the way the gospel becomes more tangible.   My personal cross to bear has spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, and political hang ups.   When we bear each other's cross we get involved in the reality of our world because we get involved in the reality of our fellow children of God's actual lives.  

So this Holy Week and Easter I ask that we follow the advice of St. Paul: 

Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2(NRSV)

Be blessed, 
Pastor Knecht 

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