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September 16, 2006
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Mark 8:34

"You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!"
Mark 9:25

Well, I guess it's just my cross to bear,
someone will say about an intractable sorrow. There's more than a note of resignation in the old expression: you just trudge along under the weight of your cross until you get lucky and die. Nobody else is going to bear your cross for you.

Why we all have to take up our crosses isn't terribly clear. God just wants us burdened? Likes it when we suffer? That hardly seems likely, especially since Christians are the ones who teach about the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. We need add nothing to what Jesus has done. Christ came to take our burden upon himself, not to pile more weight on us.

But we still have these crosses. We get sick, our kids get in trouble, we lose our jobs, we lose the ones we love -- we lose every last one of them, in the end, or they lose us.

So is this a counsel to patience in hopeless situations? Is that what it means to be a follower of Christ? We already knew that faith isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card -- although many of us keep forgetting that, and then react indignantly when something terrible happens to us, as if a treaty had been broken.

"Take up your cross" isn't really about patience under suffering. There's nothing plodding about this counsel. It's not about patience; it's about an embrace. Don't hide from your cross. Don't deny your cross. Don't change the subject every time your cross comes up. Take it up! Don't let your cross turn you into anything less than the human being God made you, no matter what it takes from you in the end. Find out just how much you have left and how to walk with it.

Because your cross, if you have embraced it, becomes the Way. It empowers you in ways you would never have imagined if you were well, or rich, or not a widow, or if you had your old job back. The public presence of your cross in the world empowers other people, too: some help you carry it. Some watch you and pray for you. Some remember how much they love you. Some of them will take you down from its hardness in the end and gently lay you to rest. They will never forget your cross, and it will help them bear their own.

And some of them will become activists on behalf of those who cannot embrace their own crosses. The little boy possessed by a demon couldn't embrace his terrible cross -- he was little, he didn't know how, he was too firmly held in the demon's grip. His suffering was imposed on him, and he was too small and weak to interact with it. But Jesus could be his advocate against the demon: Hey, I see who you really are and I command you to get out! You don't belong here! Pick on someone your own size.

If the lifestyle of faith works, it creates solidarity with the suffering. It remind us all that our own crosses are ready, and that we had better be the kindness we want to see in the world, the compassion we hope to receive when it is our turn.

Isaiah 50:4-9
James 2:1-5,8-10,14-18
Mark 8:27-38
or Mark 9:14-29
Psalm 116 or 116:1-8
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