August 28, 2020

520 Washington Avenue
Savannah, Georgia 31405
On my book shelf I have a collection of crosses. Their well-proportioned symmetry is pleasing and satisfying. In fact, most crosses are such attractive objects, it is hard to hear, much less comprehend, those words of Jesus, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

In notes for the HarperCollins Study Bible, Clifton Black makes the terse identification: “Cross, an instrument of tortuous execution.” An instrument of tortuous execution replicated out of silver or some other fine metal can conceal its grim horror. A cross, a real cross, certainly does not seem like a sign of life.
Yet that is precisely what Jesus says in Matthew 16:21-28, which is the text for Sunday’s
sermon, “Losing and Finding.” For those who would save their life, the cross is the only way. Clinging to life fearfully, we cannot open our hands to receive the gift of life; acquiring the things of life, we are dragged down and under by their weight.

During these unsettled times, consider the notion that you save your life by losing it in terms of a cross. Nothing is closer to the heart of the matter than the cross. We can contemplate from our armchair the life and death of Jesus, but then with this figure of speech, we too are called to bear an “instrument of tortuous execution.”

“Let them deny themselves and take up their cross…” These words challenge our too comfortable understanding of the Christian life. Other sayings are easier to tolerate. “What will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” sounds enough like “You can’t take it with you” to be useful. But what use can we possibly make of “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”?

Like Peter we object on reasonable grounds. There must be another way. Where is self-fulfillment, achievement, personal happiness? Can’t we find a way of phrasing Christian discipleship so it does not involve “instruments of tortuous execution”?

The words endure, however, haunting us. Deny yourselves. Take up your cross. Follow me. These words are unfashionable at all times and nothing about them appeals to our sense of beauty and proportion. Yet our best attempts to tame its dreadful claim ring hollow. Surely Peter is right. There must be another way… There is no other way.
The hymn for the service is “Take Up Your Cross, the Savior Said,” which was written by
Charles Everest and published in 1833. He was nineteen years old at the time and later
was ordained an Episcopal minister. Special music will feature Lola Gray Gaddy singing and her brother, Fletcher, playing the violin, “Will You Come and Follow Me.” Set to a traditional Scottish tune, John Bell wrote the first four stanzas in the voice of Jesus and the last stanza as the singer’s response. “Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.”