Nauseating, isn’t it? What’s worse than hearing all these words spoken or reading them? Actually seeing them carried out in the lives of others…and in our own lives.
All those selfies that people post on social media. Nothing wrong with sharing happy moments. But could you imagine selfies of angry moods and words, hurtful actions, when we are less than our best? People/we tend not to post those kinds of things. We want people to see us at our best, even if we’re not always on our best behavior.
Can you imagine a self-absorbed, self-promoting, selfie-stick holding, selfie taking Jesus? No. Self-denying, selflessly dying – that’s the Jesus we know. That’s the Jesus who saves. And this is the Jesus who invites us to give up self, not just for Lent, every day.
“If anyone wants to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34,35)
Self-denial, cross-bearing, and following Jesus – can we fit this into our busy lives? More than that, we want to know, how much will it cost to give up self? Will it hurt? Can I afford to follow Jesus? Wrong question. Can I afford NOT to follow Jesus? Of course not. Who else can we follow? Only Jesus has the words of eternal life. He is the way, the truth, the life. The cost of being his disciple is not a payment, but a joyful attachment to Jesus made possible by grace through faith.
(Those who you attended worship at Trinity last weekend – either in-person or online – will recognize some of these thoughts; I’m expounding a bit here for further meditation.)
So what is a cross? There are people who think they’re bearing the cross every time they stub a toe or have a pounding headache. The cross refers to hardships that come because we’re followers of Christ. We’re not talking hangnails or clogged plumbing. We talking about persecution, ridicule, strained relationships because we follow Jesus. Peer pressure to follow others rather than follow Jesus. The cross means serving rather than being served. It means to deny yourself when everyone around you indulges the self. The cross is really an essential part of God’s refining and strengthening process: no cross, no crown; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory.
It’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves. But let's remember that the devil makes it his business to discourage and distract, and we have no reason to assume that we're exempt from the worst he can throw at us. Martin Luther said, "If Christ wore a crown of thorns, we should not expect people to place wreaths and roses on our heads." Let's remember that Christians and churches that refuse to give in to the tolerant ways of false teachers and teachings – while to the world this may seem stubborn, ugly and intolerant - to God, it is a breathtaking spiritual sight.
Again, the motivation? Jesus’ Lenten journey to his cross is our focus: “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)
So we are to give up self, deny ourselves, that is, lose our identity in Christ, make sacrifices and choices that please God. We are to take up our cross, to be ready to endure hardship for Christ’s sake, knowing that all things really do work out for our good. We are to follow Jesus wherever he leads us and not even doubt for a second that his way is best. Easy to say. Difficult to do. But Paul’s words in Philippians are ours, too: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (4:13).
When Jesus is at the center, when he is the focus, words and attitudes are different: Selfless, serving, sacrifice, denial, humility, peaceful, helpful, patient, loving, others first, losing means gaining, losing means saving… All when Jesus is at the center…
With the help of God through his powerful Word and Sacraments, seek to deny self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus. Strive for this – again, with God’s help - not just during the Lenten season, but at all times. May this all be to the glory of God’s holy name!
In Christ our Savior,
Pastor Stephen Luchterhand