Readings: Genesis 17: 1-7, 15 & 16, Mark 8: 31-38
This is a very 'particular' sermon for just one congregation but I hope there's something of value here for anyone who reads it - I really am excited by the idea that God is still doing what he did to Abraham!
Do you ever wonder what the story of Abraham (from about 4000 years ago) can possibly have to do with us?
Then let me tell you an amazing story from nearer home.
This week the European Court has ruled that employees can be forced to retire at 65 – and I know many of you here would say that that means you’ve still got enough energy to enjoy your retirement. But we all know that as the decades pass we have slightly less energy than before – and I hope that whatever happens to working lives in the future, by the time I’m 70 I’m allowed to slow down a bit!
When we’re looking for people to do jobs in the church, we often look around for someone younger –with more energy – who God might be calling to so a piece of work. Who would think that God would call an older person to do new work in the church?
But this is precisely what is happening right here in Whittlesford.
We have been praying about a new elder for this church: aware that David Gower (one of our younger members, of course) will be moving away in the summer. I started to wonder who we could be ask. Who would have the energy, the sense of caring for others, the depth of prayer & Christian love, and the good sense that is needed to take on the responsibility of being an elder?
We need someone new, someone with energy, someone who can serve the church with a real sense of purpose. The name I will be bringing to church meeting in April is – Marjorie Slipper.
I don’t want to be rude to Marjorie, and of course I would never ask a lady her age, but it might surprise you at first to think that God is calling Marjorie.
But I had no doubt, the minute I thought about it –her work as pastoral care officer, her care for others, her wonderful, joyful, loving personality – Marjorie is a great person to consider for the eldership.
And when I turned to the readings for today I had to smile: I wondered how Abraham would react to the news that Marjorie is being called to eldership? Probably Abraham would say something like ‘there goes God, at it again, turning someone’s life upside down, just when you think you’ve reached the final, quieter chapters!’.
Our God is great and wise and uses all kinds of people to fufill the purposes of the kingdom – if we are just open to being led.
And we all need to be open to being led by God as we follow Jesus Christ – led into new things, surprising things, even led into suffering for the sake of the gospel.
When Jesus tells his disciples that ‘the Son of Man must suffer and die’, Peter rebukes Jesus for being so gloomy, at which Jesus says to him “get behind me Satan, you think as men think, not as God thinks.”
Jesus doesn’t say that he might suffer, or that he fears he will suffer, he is emphatic – he MUST suffer and die – only by facing up to the worst that could be done to him and carrying on through death to resurrection could the ultimate power of God be demonstrated.
But then Jesus says something even more shocking to his disciples – “Anyone who wants to be a follower of mine must renounce self; he must take up his cross and follow me”.
Jesus is warning his followers that faith in him is not a spectator sport, it is something in which they have to get up and get involved, just as Abraham’s faith wasn’t a ‘sit by the fireside and tell stories’ kind of faith. It was a faith which led him to leave his home in Ur and travel to Haran; a faith that made him leave his new home of Haran & travel into the desert – a faith of such trust in God that the impossible became possible, yet a faith that demanded trust in action from Abraham.
Jesus demands this kind of faith in action from his disciples.
So what does it mean to us to take up the cross and follow Jesus?
I think it means many things:
It means being prepared to lay down our lives, to give ourselves completely to God, to ask first in any decision ‘what is God’s will?’ and not simply to follow our own inclinations, to be open to new ways of serving God in what we do.
Taking up our cross means actively seeking the way Christ calls us to follow, even if that way is difficult – and living with the consequences of knowing we could just have opted to stay where we were and stay comfortable.
I don’t know what taking up the cross might mean for each one of us here, I don’t know what new things God might ask of us as he asked of Abraham – and yet Jesus clearly tells us to take up the cross and follow.
Yet, if all that seems a gloomy message – remember the last part ‘take up your cross...and follow me’. The road may be difficult but we walk it with Jesus – whatever happens he is there to catch us, for each journey he is the guide and the goal.
So have faith, take up your cross, and follow him.