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Taking up a cross

Rev. Harry Currie

Sept 3, 2023

Exodus 3:1-15, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28

Canada participated in a national process of Truth and Reconciliation similar to South Africa and Apartheid. Canada’s process addressed residential schools and the systematic oppression of indigenous peoples.

       And people, who many, if not most, if not all, who were traumatized by being taken from their homes as children and forced into a different culture and forbidden from their language and culture, and abused in many ways…courageously stood at the microphone and shared their stories.

       When she was four years old Lynda Pahpasay McDonald was taken by plane from her home:       I quote her words:

 

       I looked outside, my mom was, you know, flailing her arms, and, and I, and she must have been crying, and I see my dad grabbing her, and, I was wondering why, why my mom was, you know, she was struggling. She told me many years later what happened, and she explained to me why we had to be sent away to, to residential school. And, and I just couldn’t get that memory out of my head, and I still remember to this day what, what happened that day. And she told me, like, she was so hurt, and, and I used to ask her, “Why did you let us go, like, why didn’t you stop them, you know? Why didn’t you, you know, come and get us?” And she told me, “We couldn’t, because they told us if we tried to do anything, like, get you guys back, we’d be thrown into jail.” So, they didn’t want to end up in jail, ’cause they still had babies at, at the cabin.

 

       This is just one of about 6500 witnesses who spoke to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, telling their story of trauma, at the hands of Empire, at the hands of the Domination System, at the hands of the Beast, at the hands of the Government of Canada, at the hands of the biggest churches in Canada.

 

       And yes, the Presbyterian Church have confessed to our sin, the sin of laying crosses upon little children and their families.

       We who hold up the cross as a symbol of our faith, made indigenous people carry the cross of residential schools where an estimated 6 thousand children died, where their culture was stolen, where they were abused physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally.

 

       We were Empire. We were the beast. We were the domination system.

       And so, when The Roman Empire and the Jewish High Council put Jesus on the cross, the Domination System, the Beast ….grinding up another insignificant in its jaws, let us not forget that Jesus was not the only poor, innocent to be crucified.

       The Beasts, the Empires, the Domination systems have ground up people for thousands of years before Jesus, and they continue to grind up people to this very day.

       They have ground up Indigenous people in most countries. And Canada’s story is a very sad story.

       We could just as easily go and look at others whom Empires have ground up. Jews, Armenians, Muslims, Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Gays, Lesbians, Transgender, Poor, Criminals, Women, Children, Blacks, other people of Colour, Disabled etc… etc…

 

       Jesus knew the system was going to grind him up. Jesus knew he was going to be tortured and killed. Jesus knew what was coming, because he knew that if you opposed the beast, the beast was going to chew you up and spit you out.

       If you opposed the Domination System and those who run it, they will dominate you and kill you.

 

       And Jesus opposed the system.

 

When he spoke harshly to Peter these words: “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.”

              …what Jesus was doing, is saying that there is a whole new way to be which is not the way of the domination system; and yet Peter you want me to fix the domination system by using the ways of the system and becoming a new domination system.

 

       The Domination System works this way. There are those in power. They make the rules. They use violence to keep the system the way it is. Violence is good and legitimate for the system to use. The Domination system will get rid of the bad people. The Domination system rewards the good people. The good people are those who support the system. The Best people are on top and run the system and therefore, they get the lion’s share of the wealth and power, because they have to run the system.

 

       The Domination system does not tolerate differences, and forces people to conform. The Domination system does not tolerate opposition. Yes, we can put up a suggestion box, but substantive change to the system is not allowed, because the system is working to give power and money to those at the top of the system.

       So, all in all, you better just be another brick in the wall of the system.

       Because if you buck the system, you will be crucified.

 

That in a nutshell is what happened to Jesus.

 

       Jesus had a completely different vision of how this world should or could be.

 

       Instead of winners and losers, us and them, it would be only us.

       Instead of winners and losers, there would be reconciliation and family.

       Instead of power dominance and violence, there would be mutuality, respect, submission and peace.

      

       Instead of taking, having, possessing, amassing and accumulating, there would be sharing.

 

       Instead of blaming, accusing, excluding and executing, there would be forgiveness, understanding, compassion and reconciliation.

 

       Instead of crushing opponents, there would be freedom of thought and expression, there would be mutual respect, there would be a thirst for the truth, and there would be tolerance of differences.

 

       In short, Jesus envisioned a world ruled not with power and violence, but with love, and people doing to each other as they would have done to them.

 

       And the only way to beat the domination system, was not to fight it, crush it, and use the ways the system uses, but to use the ways of the divine. Love, kindness, sacrifice, service, sharing, giving, humility and grace.

 

       And so, Jesus went to the cross and from the cross, pronounced forgiveness and love.

       And Jesus entered into the pain of every victim of the domination system.

       He stands beside every person who has been crushed by the system.

       He stands with the different, the displaced, the enemies, the outcasts, the abandoned, the executed, the murdered and missing, the ones with unmarked graves…

       …because everyone is loved, everyone is important, everyone is family and everyone is a child of the divine.

      

       What does it mean to take up a cross and follow Jesus?

What does it meant to lose your life for the gospel?

 

       What does it mean to deny yourself?

 

What it does not mean, is that you don’t have a self and you are not to care for yourself.

       You cannot take on the domination system if you don’t grow physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

 

       You are one of a kind, a unique person, made in the image of God, designed to grow and mature, and build relationships and contribute to this world. And what you contribute is your self, your uniqueness, your personality, your ideas, your gifts, your strengths and your weaknesses. You will bring you to take up your cross.

       So, in order to take up your cross, there has to be a you to take it up, not some automaton robot, who parrots religious phrases, and has no personality or self.

 

       And what it does not mean is that you have to deny yourself every fun thing in the world. Denying chocolate, joy, dancing, the arts, music, sexual pleasure, wine, or other things that bring joy is not what it means when Jesus talks about denying self and taking up a cross.

 

       Some Presbyterians, Reformed and Puritans from our past were extremely austere, and had no adornments in worship, disdained musical instruments as devilish and had not art in their homes.

       We are supposed to enjoy God, each other and life. Denying joy and fun is not what Jesus is talking about.

 

       So, what is Jesus talking about?

 

       I think he wants us to enter the trauma of a little girl forcibly taken away from her parents at age four to go to residential school where she will be denied her language and culture.

       I think he wants us to enter the trauma of families whose sons were shot by white men primarily because they were black.

       I think he want us to enter the trauma of this earth groaning under the weight of climate change.

       I think he wants us to enter the trauma of all those evacuated by fires and the trauma of those who lost homes in fires in Canada this year.

       I think he wants us to enter the trauma of every person who has experienced racism this year, and every gay, lesbian, queer or trans that has been assaulted or abused.

 

       I think he not only wants us to enter their trauma but stand with them, and seek to change the system that hurts people.

 

        And we take up our cross when we use the tools of Jesus. Love, kindness, forgiveness, sacrifice, our wounds, our hurts, our stories, our faith, our non-violence.

 

       We are not seeking to set up a new domination system where we rule, but a world where everyone is seen, and cared for and respected.

 

       And if we do enter the struggle and stand with the traumatized we risk…

       We risk pain…

       We risk exclusion…

       We risk false narratives spun about us…

       We risk being crushed by the system…

       We risk sometimes our very lives to bring life…

 

       This is more than charity. This is more than taking a few bucks out of one’s pocket and giving to a needy cause. This is more than taking a lot of bucks out of a pocket and giving it to a needy cause.

       This is changing your life, my life, so we don’t use the ways of the domination system but the ways of Jesus.

 

       Our Old Testament story is about God appearing to Moses in the burning bush. It is about God telling Moses to go back to Egypt and enter the trauma of his people, and stand with them and fight the Empire and the Domination system and lead them out to a new way of being, a way of covenant and promise, and living in relationship with the divine.

 

       And our epistle lesson is about learning to live peaceably with all and not repaying evil with evil, but heaping warmth on those who hurt us and praying for them.

 

       One of the problems though is that we like Empire, and we like the Domination System, and we like law and order politicians, and those powerful people who promise us peace and security through bigger armies and bigger jails and bigger police forces and tougher laws.

 

       Why? because a lot of us have benefited from us being part of the domination system?

       And a lot of us have a vested interest in the status quo.

      

 

That is why in some ways it can really be a sacrifice to take up a cross.

       Sometimes it means voting in way that will not increase one’s bank account but will look after the poor and needy.

       Sometimes it means not only being willing to give to charity but changing the system so that more of our dollars go to the systemic problems of homelessness, mental health, racism, vulnerable adults and children, poverty, addiction, job creation and affordable housing.

 

       Sometimes it means standing up to peers and co-workers and other people of influence with the truth that every life matters, but the ones who need it most, are the vulnerable, the excluded and the victims of the domination system.

 

       Sometimes it means changing your lifestyle, so that caring for others, becomes as important as eating and exercise.

 

       This isn’t just telling people about Jesus. “Believe in Jesus.” This is telling people what Jesus is about. Love for everyone, equality, justice, and care for those we consider the least of us.

 

       What Jesus did was enter the trauma of the victims of the world. He suffered with them, he listened to their stories, he brought healing, he cried with them, he comforted them, and he died with them, and he showed them a way to have dignity and life, no matter how the world treated them.

 

Taking up a cross. The writer and pastor, Debie Thomas sums up what I hope I am getting at

 

Taking up the cross means recognizing Christ crucified in every suffering soul and body that surrounds us, and pouring our energies and our lives into alleviating their pain — no matter what it costs.  It means accepting — against all the lies of my culture — that I will die.  It means following up that courageous acceptance with the most important question I can ask: given my inevitable death, how shall I spend this brief, singular, God-breathed life?  

       https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2733-losing-and-saving

 

 

     On June 1, 2019, Nadia Bolz-Weber preached a funeral requiem sermon for her friend, the theologian and writer Rachel Held Evans. The text was John 20, in which Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb of Jesus while it is still dark. Mary does not find Jesus’ body as expected. Weeping, she confronts the angels in the tomb, saying, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

      Bolz-Weber wonders why it was Mary who was chosen for this particular task in the holy story:

 

      I think Mary was chosen because she was a woman from whom demons had fled. I think Mary was chosen, because she knew what it was like for God to move; not when the lilies are already out in church and the lights are on—but while it is still dark. Because unlike when the men looked in and saw only laundry, when Mary Magdalene looked in the tomb, SHE saw angels.

      Mary Magdalene saw angels, because she was not unfamiliar with the darkness. She had the kind of night vision that only comes from seeing what God does while it’s still dark.

       I do not know why this is God’s economy. That it is while we are still in despair. That it is while we are still grieving, while we are still sinners, while we are sure that nothing good will ever come. That it is when we are faced with the nothingness of death—that we are closest to resurrection. That is while it is still dark that God does God’s most wondrous work.

 

Travis, Sarah. Unspeakable: Preaching and Trauma-Informed Theology . Cascade Books. Kindle Edition.

      

       We in the church often want to move quickly through that whole cross thing, that whole suffering thing, to joy and resurrection….

 

       But often the real work is done in the dark with those who are carrying their crosses and are familiar with suffering, darkness, grief, despair, loss, victims, exclusion and persecution.

 

       Church and worship is not just about whooping it up because we are saved and happy and it’s all over. It is whooping it up and finding that joy and life so we are strengthened to take up our crosses.

 

       It is about preparing ourselves to take the same journey as Jesus, and enter the trauma of this world, and change the systems that cause pain, by using the tools of healing, love, reconciliation and forgiveness.

 

       There is a lot of walking in the dark, and a lot of walking in pain and trauma, and a lot of walking in someone else’s shoes, and a lot of walking with victims, and a lot of walking with peace and non-violence, and a lot of walking with Jesus yet to do.

 

       A lot of walking. At least if we want to take up our cross, there is.

 

Amen.

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