This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Second Sunday in Lent. The gospel text I preached on was Mark 8:31-38.
Peter didn’t want to hear what Jesus was saying. Jesus said that he would undergo great suffering, be rejected, and be killed. Peter didn’t want to hear that. Jesus was the Messiah, after all. He didn’t deserve to suffer. Peter didn’t want to believe that. Or perhaps he just didn’t want Jesus to talk about it. After all, Jesus said all this “quite openly,” and then Peter took him aside to rebuke him. “Jesus,” perhaps he said, “Quit it. Keep that to yourself.”
But Jesus wouldn’t keep it to himself. He knew he would suffer, and he wasn’t going to be coy about it.
I don’t think Jesus wanted to suffer. After all, the night he was betrayed, he prayed this: “Abba, Father, remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want but what you want.” And notice what Jesus says to Peter here: “Get behind me, Satan.” I think this is a very particular choice of words. The last time Jesus met Satan was in the wilderness, when Satan tempted him for forty days. So perhaps Jesus is saying that he finds Peter’s words tempting. Maybe Jesus liked the idea of having an easy life; but he knew that God’s will would lead him on a different path.
It’s not that suffering was God’s will either. But by following God’s will, Jesus knew he was opening himself up to suffering. He didn’t try to hide that from himself or from others. He admitted it. He spoke about it quite openly.
Most people don’t want to suffer. And it’s not God’s will that we suffer. But we all do. The question is: what do we do with our suffering?
I think we’re all a little like Peter. We try to keep quiet about it. Suffering troubles us, after all. There’s something not right about it. We think that only bad people should suffer, and good people shouldn’t. We think that if we are suffering, then it may be a sign that God is unhappy with us. That’s a reasonable thing to think. It would make sense if the world worked like that. But the problem is this: the world doesn’t work like that. It simply doesn’t. Suffering comes to people with no rhyme or reason. We don’t like that, but it’s true.
We all suffer. Each and every one of us. We suffer in very different ways, and certainly some of us suffer more than others. But we all have our crosses. Whether that cross is physical pain or illness; mental illness or disability; grief or trauma; guilt or failure; abuse or bullying; or a feeling that we don’t fit in; or something else. Each of us have these crosses. Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow him. Notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “Leave your cross behind and follow me.” He doesn’t say, “Follow me and you’ll be free of that cross.” He says, “take up your cross and follow me.”
If any want to be my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me. Pick up your suffering, and walk behind me. Now that does not mean: “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps.” It does not mean: “Grin and bear it.” It does not mean: “Pretend you’re not suffering.” No. It means this: when you take up your cross, everyone around you can see that cross. Jesus says, “take up your cross”: Let people see your suffering. Let them see your pain. And follow me.
I think we sometimes go through life trying to drag our cross on the ground, trying to hide it, from others or even from ourselves. Or perhaps we look at our cross, get distraught by it, and just sit down on it. But Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Admit that you have a cross. Admit it to yourself and admit it to others. Admit your struggles, your failings. Admit that you are broken, and confused, and hurting. And walk.
That’s scary to do, because it means opening yourself up. Becoming vulnerable. But when you do it, something amazing happens. You encounter Jesus there. Where did Jesus go, after all? The most important symbol of our faith is the cross, because that’s where Jesus went. Jesus walked straight into the very center of suffering, the place of loss, and brokenness, and hurt. That’s what he came here to do. That’s who he is. And that means that’s who God is.
Sometimes we think that God is only interested in us if we’re perfect. That’s not even close to true. Jesus said, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Jesus is not found in wealth, or success, or perfection. That’s not where he went when he walked the earth two thousand years ago, and it’s not where his Holy Spirit goes today. Jesus went to the place of poverty, and failure, and brokenness. That’s where the Holy Spirit dwells. So if you are striving to be perfect, and demanding that others do the same, cut it out! God’s not hanging out there in the perfect place, and neither are you. Instead, take up your cross, admit that you have fallen short, admit your flaws and your brokenness, and there you will find Jesus waiting for you. Waiting to lead you.
And you know who else you’ll find there? Everybody else. Ever since I started talking publicly about my own struggles with depression, do you know how many people have opened up to me about their own mental health struggles? Many. By being honest and open, I have found fellow travelers. I know that I am not alone. We walk together. And that is healing for all of us. The hardest times in my life are when I try to force myself to be strong, try to put on an air that I have it all together. The most fruitful times in my life are when I’m able to be weak and vulnerable.
Paul knew this, when he wrote in Second Corinthians:
The Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
So I invite you to take up your cross. And admitting our weakness this way, let us follow Christ together.