31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
March 3, 2019
Matthew 11:28-30, 16:24-28
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
For 51 years, Arthur Blessitt has carried his all over the world, earning him the Guinness World Record for longest walk. Joe Shortino carries his to thank veterans and their families for their service, and Mitchell Manning lost his when he left it overnight in a ditch in a Seminole, Texas park on his way from Florida to California.
When someone in Bible study mentioned a man who walked cross-country carrying a cross, I was surprised to discover how many people have taken Jesus’ words literally and have taken up their crosses, often 12 foot and often on a wheel, to follow Jesus Christ.
I always took Jesus’ words a little more metaphorically. I thought that Jesus was inviting his followers, inviting his disciples, inviting us, to follow him on a journey that would challenge us; that would require us to deny ourselves; that would include sacrifice, suffering, and loss.
In these words from Jesus, I hear Jesus speaking to his committed disciples, and telling us that this way, his way, will not be easy; this way will not be glorious; this way will not be about power or status.
At this point in his ministry, as Jesus was nearing Jerusalem, he began to emphasize for his disciples, his inner circle, how his three years of ministry would end: “that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and the chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day by raised” (Matthew 16:12).
Jesus says exactly this in the verses recorded before the ones we heard this morning, and he says it two more times before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Jesus’ way is not about glory, power, status, importance, or wealth. Jesus’ way is about love and that often includes sacrifice, suffering, and loss. But Peter, representing Jesus’ disciples, does not get it. And as story after story comes out about Christians and especially Christian clergy using their calling from God as power over others, using their Christian pastoral authority to harm others, it’s clear that we still do not get it.
We have promised, we have decided to follow Jesus, and Jesus’ way is not metaphorical. In the New International translation, Jesus says that he will “reward each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:27) Jesus’ way is not about what we think; what we believe; it is about what we practice. It is about what we practice.
So, what if carrying our cross is not metaphorical? What if we are called to literally carry our own crosses as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps?
As I read about these people who have literally taken up their crosses to follow Jesus cross-country, across the world, I began to ponder what can’t I carry if I am carrying Jesus’ cross?
What can’t I carry if I am carrying Jesus’ cross?
And to stick with the literal, I can’t carry too much stuff. I can’t be overly attached to stuff – new stuff, historical stuff, sentimental stuff. For practicality sake, I have to deny myself the comforts of multiple changes of clothes. I can’t have a cupboard or a kitchen full of snacks. I might not want to carry the weight of a computer, ipad, and smartphone. All that stuff I might want for just in case? It exceeds the baggage allowance.
I imagine that I might live much like our homeless brothers and sisters here in Bristol and our Family Promise guests who arrive each night with only a backpack.
Not carrying a lot of stuff is actually how Mitchell Manning lost his cross in a Texas park. Not having even a tent, he put his cross down so he could stay overnight with a family who had invited him to stay with them.
So if I am going to carry my cross and follow Jesus, I literally can’t carry too much stuff. And I metaphorically cannot carry too much stuff. If my arms are going to be full of a 12 foot by 6 foot cross, if my eyes are going to be focused on following Jesus, if my heart is going to be filled with God’s unconditional love, there is a lot of stuff I am going to have to lay down by the wayside. Things like anger. Emotions like fear and anxiety.
And even if my cross weighs 200 pounds as Joe Shortino’s does, it is still going to be lighter and easier to carry than anger, fear and anxiety.
You know what I am talking about. There are so many people in our nation who are angry and afraid. And they are using their time and energy to troll complete strangers on social media. They are making lists and stockpiling weapons for those they want to hurt. They are carrying the heavy burden of mistrust. They are holding grudges and scapegoating others all while fearing that someone might come along and try to take the hurts they have been hugging to themselves all these years.
You know what I am taking about because we are these people too. We carry around anger, fear, and anxiety and secretly hope that no one will try to come and take away the hurts we have been hugging to ourselves all these years – because even though we are exhausted, even though we want to lay these burdens down, we don’t know any other way to live.
And then along comes Jesus and he says, “’Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
It’s ironic but true. Following Jesus and carrying our cross is going to require us to deny ourselves, deny our over-attachment to stuff; deny our desires for revenge, power, status. Following Jesus and carrying our cross is going to include sacrifice and loss, and that sacrifice and loss is going to free us. It’s going to help us find our lives, find our souls. Be our true selves.
Come and carry your cross, not because it is easy; not because it leads to glory and honor; not because it leads to power and security. Come and carry your cross because it leads to life; because it leads to love; because it leads to God.