Category: Minister

Minister’s blog

They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Posted by on Sunday, April 4th, 2021 in Minister

Hespeler, 4 April, 2021 © Scott McAndless – Easter, Communion
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8 (click to read)

I can’t be the only one to feel a little bit dissatisfied with our reading from the Gospel of Mark this morning. I mean, it starts out really well. The women come to the tomb on Easter morning. They are worried that they will not be able to get in and anoint the body of Jesus because they know that the tomb has been sealed with a massive stone.

But then they get there and, wonder of wonders, the stone has already been rolled away and the tomb is empty. There’s a young man dressed in white (he’s got to be an angel, right?) who tells them that Jesus isn’t there and that he has indeed been risen. He even tells them that they should go and tell the others this incredible news.

That is all fine and what I expect to hear on Easter Sunday morning. It is the next bit that comes as a surprise. For this is how the Gospel of Mark ends: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Surely you thought what I thought when we read that – that that can’t be the end of it.

Something seems to be missing

I mean, where is the part where they took a deep breath and thought about it a bit and changed their minds and decided to go ahead and tell everybody? Where, for that matter, is the part where they actually see the risen Jesus because, at this point, we’re actually talking only about second-hand knowledge, what you might call hearsay in a court of law? The young man may have seen some evidence of the resurrection, but all the women have seen is an empty tomb. And the resurrection of Jesus is a pretty important event so wouldn’t we all like to have just a little bit more evidence? Something seems to be missing at the end of the Gospel of Mark.

If you thought that, I just wanted to tell you this Easter morning that you are not alone. In fact, people seem to have been thinking that ever since the Gospel of Mark was written. But that is, as far as we can tell, the actual ending of the Gospel of Mark. The final thing that we are told is that the women said nothing to anybody.

Manuscripts of Mark

At least, that is how the very best, that is to say the very oldest, manuscript copies of the Gospel of Mark end. And the way that we know that people were not happy with that ending is that there are other manuscripts of this gospel, that are not quite as old, that have added other endings. You can find these other endings in the footnotes of your Bibles, but they were pretty clearly not written by the original author.

The so-called longer ending, for example, seems to be completely based on the final chapter of the Gospel of Luke. So, pretty obviously, some of the people who made early copies of the Gospel of Mark were very dissatisfied with how it ended and actually went so far as to try and fix the problem by constructing their own endings.

Was the last page lost?

People were very uncomfortable with the ending of the gospel right from the very beginning. So you are not alone if you have some trouble with it. So, the question is what happened here? Some have suggested, down through the years, that perhaps Mark did write a longer ending and that it was somehow lost.

These gospels were originally written on scrolls of papyrus and when you publish a book like that, if any part of the book is going to become ripped off, it’s either going to be from the beginning or the end of the roll. So, it is possible that the last page of the gospel just got ripped off. It would have had to have happened pretty early on, like before any copies had been made and spread around too far, but it is the kind of thing that sometimes happened in the ancient world. So that is one theory that people have put out there to explain the strange abrupt ending of the Gospel of Mark.

But I would like to ask you to consider today that there might be another explanation. What if Mark intended to end the gospel exactly as we have it today, which is to say that he intended to make us feel uncomfortable with that ending.

The oldest resurrection story

Let me ask you, what do you think is the oldest written account of the resurrection of Jesus? Of all the stories of Jesus being seen after his death that still exist, which was written down first? Usually, when you ask that question, people will respond by saying that it must be one of the gospel accounts – you know, maybe in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. But, actually, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Most scholars agree that the earliest gospel was not written until at least 70 ad, about 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. And there are writings in the New Testament that are older than that. The Apostle Paul almost certainly died several years before 70 ad, so anything written by Paul has to be older than any of the Gospels.

Paul’s resurrection account

And do you know what that means? That means that the passage we read from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians this morning is actually the oldest written account of the resurrection. And what a fascinating and important account it is!

Paul introduces it by saying this: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received.” This indicates that what Paul is about to say is not merely his own story. It is, in fact, a fixed tradition that he has received from others and has transmitted in his turn. Now the first letter to the Corinthians is usually dated to sometime around the year 54 ad. And what the Apostle appears to be telling us is that, sometime before this letter was written, there was already an official account of the resurrection of Jesus that had been circulating in the churches.

Then, even though he has told it to them before, Paul goes on to repeat that account. It starts with the basic sequence of the events: “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”

The witnesses

But the next part is of particular interest because Paul goes on from there to list the people who witnessed the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. He lists first an appearance to Cephas (which is probably the original Aramaic form of the name of the man we know as Peter), – so Peter, and then the twelve (presumably the disciples listed in the gospels), then a group of five hundred, some of whom, Paul stresses, are still alive as he is writing, then James (presumably the brother of Jesus), then all the apostles and finally Paul himself.

This, my friends, is huge. Just think of it, only a couple of decades after the time of Jesus’ death, there was an official account of his resurrection, that included a list of the witnesses, that was circulating through the churches. And it was circulating even while some of those witnesses were still alive and people could go to them and ask for themselves whether it was true. This, for me, points to something fundamental about the early Christian Church: they knew the reality of the resurrection of Jesus, and they knew it firsthand.

Barring the invention of a time machine, there is really no way that we could scientifically prove that Jesus actually rose from the dead. That remains a matter of faith. But I really think that there is no denying the simple truth that the early Christians did experience the reality and power of the resurrection of Jesus for themselves. That experience was transformative for them and, I believe it remains absolutely transformative for the world to this day.

The second account

So that is the first written account of the resurrection of Jesus. Let us never forget it’s importance. The second account, however, is probably the one that we read this morning from the Gospel of Mark. Most scholars today believe that Mark was the first gospel written and that it was written sometime around 70 ad.

We know it was around that time because that was a very difficult year in Judea, a year in which the entire countryside was laid waste by the Roman army, in which the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and thousands upon thousands of people were turned into refugees. There are numerous hints in the gospel itself that these were the things that were going on as it was being written.

 So that was the context in which the second resurrection account was composed. And it is quite a different account, isn’t it? As we have already noted, it seems to end very strangely without any direct appearances and with the only witnesses saying nothing at all. But what we need to understand is this. Mark wrote this account about fifteen years after Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians.

Mark would have known the well-established tradition

And we know from the letter to the Corinthians that there was a well-established tradition about the people who had seen the risen Jesus. We have to assume that Mark knew that tradition. And if Mark knew about that tradition, then maybe he could take it for granted that his readers would know about it as well. And so, when Mark came to write his story of the resurrection, his concern was not to offer that evidence through the witnesses. His readers already knew about witnesses! Mark was trying to do something else.

Mark highlights the women

He chooses to tell the resurrection story from the point of view of a group of women. This is kind of the opposite of giving us eyewitness testimony because women were not generally accepted as being trustworthy witnesses in that world at that time. So, no, we are not to think of these women as witnesses, they are something else.

I believe that Mark wanted his readers to actually identify with the women in the story. They were kind of in the same situation. These people in Mark’s church identified as followers of Jesus. They were also struggling with grief and loss like these women because they were living through some very traumatic times as armies attacked, people fled for their lives and cities were destroyed. They had also received the testimony that the women receive from the young man dressed in white, that Jesus was not dead and that he had risen – the same testimony that Paul refers to in the letter to the Corinthians.

Mark writes to a struggling church

And Mark writes this account for them because you know what these Christians were struggling with at that very moment? They were struggling, not because they hadn’t heard the testimony, but because they were afraid. I mean, can you blame them? They were probably running for their lives. Of course they were afraid! And so, if Mark chose to end his Gospel with the words, “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid,” he probably intended his readers to take that very personally.

Now, just before Mark tells us that the women were afraid and didn’t say anything, he also tells us that they were given a very specific piece of instruction: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” But then he tells us that this message was not passed on. How could it have been if they said nothing to anybody?

What Mark is saying to his church

So, what Mark is actually doing here is passing on to the church of his own day a message that he is telling us has been lost or forgotten. He is saying, look Jesus really has risen from the dead and yes, you have heard the testimony of the witnesses, but I understand that you are dealing with some really rough times so I’m going to offer you something more than just a testimony. I’m going to offer you an invitation. I know you’re on the run but, because Jesus has gone on ahead of you and he’s gone to Galilee, if you go to Galilee, you can experience the power of that resurrection for yourselves.

The power of Easter

You see, that is the real power of Easter. The Easter story isn’t just something that happened a long time ago and that certain other people witnessed. I mean, it is that, but it is also so much more. Easter is something that keeps on happening. It is something that became very real to Mark’s audience when they first received this gospel and its author invited them to go to Galilee and experience the risen Jesus for themselves. I don’t know if he was talking about the literal geographical Galilee or some other metaphorical Galilee, but that was the promise that he was giving them and I believe that that promise was fulfilled.

But the promise wasn’t just for them, it is also for us. We are living in a time of great confusion and of fear. We are living in a time when we don’t quite know what to do and how to manage this particular crisis. Yes, we have heard the testimony that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and that is the good news of this day. But Mark is telling us that we can and should expect more. The power of the resurrection is for all of you today. Go to Galilee and he will meet you there. And no, I’m not talking about the geographical Galilee. I’m asking you to go to that place of quiet meditation in your life and think on this truth. I believe that Jesus will meet you with the power of resurrection there. That is the promise of Easter.

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Cast Them Down

Posted by on Sunday, March 28th, 2021 in Minister, News

Watch the Sermon video here:

Hespeler, 28 March 2021 © Scott McAndless – Palm Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, John 12:12-16, Philippians 2:5-11 (click to read)

Today is Palm Sunday and, if people know anything about Palm Sunday it is this: it is all about the palm branches. No matter what else we do on this Sunday, we’ve got to wave those palm branches, right? I mean, even on this pandemic Palm Sunday, the second pandemic Palm Sunday we’ve held in a row, we know that we’ve got to wave those palm branches. Maybe we can’t do a parade in procession as we’d like to do. Maybe we can’t stand up and sing “Ride on, ride on in majesty,” in chorus like we would like to, but we just had better be able to wave those palm branches.

No Palms in the Gospels?

But what if I were to tell you that the palms barely made it into the story of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem? I went through the gospels as I prepared for this Sunday and I was frankly surprised by the lack of palms in the stories of Palm Sunday. Start with the Gospel of Mark, likely the first Gospel written, and there you will see that when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, the people covered the road in front of him with their robes and with leafy branches that they cut from trees.

Yes, I admit that those leafy branches could have been palm branches, but they also could have been all kinds of other sorts of plants. In any case, Mark mentions nothing about people waving the branches around. If you then turn to the Gospel of Matthew, you get essentially the same report with various kinds of leafy branches thrown on the road.  But here’s the really big surprise. If you read the account of that day in the Gospel of Luke, there are absolutely no branches mentioned at all. Luke only says that people spread their robes on the road.

Now, what am I saying here? Am I saying that we’ve got it all wrong and there were no palms on Palm Sunday? Well, of course not. Just because Matthew Mark and Luke don’t mention them doesn’t mean that they weren’t there. But at the very least it seems to indicate that this one thing that we seem to think is so essential to this day was something that the authors of Matthew, Mark and Luke didn’t even bother mentioning and they presumably did that for a reason.

Only in the Gospel of John

So where do the palms in Palm Sunday come from? They come from the Gospel of John. Only John tells us specifically what kinds of branches the people cut and John doesn’t mention them putting the greenery on the road, leaving us with the idea that maybe they were waving them.

So, what should we make of that? Many scholars think that the Gospel of John was the last one written and may well have been written with a knowledge of at least some of the others. And sometimes John seems to be trying to set the record straight – trying to correct what it sees as wrong impressions left by the other gospels.

I think that everybody knew that palms were an important feature of what happened on the day when Jesus came to Jerusalem. We do know that the traditional association between palms and the triumphal entry is a very ancient tradition in the church. So, what might be happening is that we are seeing the reluctance of some of the gospel writers to draw attention to a problematic feature in the story.

Symbolic Meaning

Because here is the problem, palms were not just a nice thing for people to wave around because they were in a celebratory mood. No, palms had some very specific symbolic meaning that people would have picked up on right away and it could be that the writers of Matthew, Mark and Luke were a little bit wary of drawing people’s attention to that symbolic meaning.

A Maccabean Symbol

So, what did the palm branch mean to people living in the Near East in the early first century? We know that palms had been taken as the symbol of a family of kings that had ruled over Judea within the last few centuries. The Maccabean kings of Judea and Galilee used palm branches as a symbol on coins, seals and insignia. And I do not think that anyone living in Palestine at that time would have forgotten about that.

Who were the Maccabeans? They were the last Jewish kings to rule over the Holy Land. In the middle of the second century BC, they had led a successful rebellion against the Greek kings who had ruled over Judea since the time of Alexander the Great. And the Maccabeans continued to rule until the Romans came along and basically handed their kingdom over to Herod the Great.

And what do you think that the Romans would have thought about the idea of a bunch of Jewish people gathering in the city of Jerusalem and waving around the symbols of the kings that they had put out of power while they hailed some Jew riding on a donkey as a new king? Yes, you are right, I do not think that the Romans would have been happy about it one bit. It is quite possible, therefore, that when Matthew, Mark and Luke went to write their accounts, they could have just decided it was a little bit wiser to not actually mention the palms.

So, the palm branch was a symbol that the Romans could have seen as politically charged and thus it might have been dangerous for the early church to underline their presence on that day. But that is not the whole story. Because, of course, there is a reason why the Maccabeans chose the palm as their symbol.

A Symbol of Victory

The palm branch was recognized, throughout the whole region, as a symbol of victory. We know that at athletic competitions like Panhellenic Games, the winners of the various events did not receive medals and certainly did not receive any cash rewards. All that they received was a crown woven out of laurel leaves and a palm branch. A victorious general would be similarly rewarded. The meaning of such symbols seemed to be important to them. They represented the fact that, just like the palm and laurel leaves would wither and fade, so was the fame of victory likely to fade. But perhaps that was what made it so sweet and meaningful.

The reason why the Maccabeans had adopted the palm branch as their symbol was because of the great, almost miraculous, victory that they had won against the Greeks. And if the people of Jerusalem turned out when Jesus came to town waving palm branches, then they must have been holding out their hope for a similar victory. And what do you suppose the Romans thought about that? What sort of victory would the Romans have assumed they were looking for?

So everyone – both the Romans and anyone in the crowd would have read a lot of meaning – dangerous meaning – into the mere presence of palm branches on that day. Can you understand now why so many gospel writers didn’t want to draw attention to them?

But if we can understand the reluctance of the evangelists, can we understand why it is that the people of Jerusalem went and cut down palm branches when they learned that Jesus was coming. Because Jesus didn’t tell them to do that, did he? Jesus does seem to have gone out of his way to make sure that he was riding a donkey, but that is the only thing that Jesus arranged for his entry. If the people of Jerusalem spontaneously went out and gathered palm branches, it can only be because they were deeply craving something. They were craving a victory.

We’re Craving a Victory

And I can certainly understand that, can’t you? After more then a year struggling with limitations and masks, anxiety and fear, I think we all know something about that craving for any kind of victory. That is why we cheer every new milestone in vaccination progress. It is why we applaud every new sign that things might be opening up again.

Yes, I know that we’ve been disappointed too often during this pandemic by cheering for the positive signs. More than a few times, signs of progress have been quickly followed by new depths of disappointment. But that only means that, when we see a victory against this virus that actually holds, our joy will be all the sweeter.

Well, that is what the people of Jerusalem were feeling like when they saw the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. They’d had enough of the oppression, the enslavement and the fear of a Roman occupation. They were desperate for any sign of victory and so, yes, when Jesus showed up, they grabbed their palm branches.

And I am sure that Jesus understood and appreciated their need for some sense of victory. He had come to offer it to them, but I’m not quite sure if the victory he was offering was exactly what they were expecting. If they were looking for a victorious general riding upon a horse or a chariot, which would have been how it was done, well, Jesus came riding in on the back of a donkey. If they were looking for the establishment of a new kingdom that would stand against the kingdom of the Romans, well, Jesus had come to announce the arrival of a new kingdom. He called it the kingdom of God.

A Different Kind of Victory

So, yes, Jesus was coming to bring a victory but if they thought that it was going to work like victory usually worked in this world, they had it a bit wrong. Usually, when people seize their victory, they take it as an opportunity to exult over their enemies and even to oppress them or abuse them. But the victory that Jesus was bringing was going to be the victory of a servant, the victory of one who would submit even unto death.

And that is maybe where the procession of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem takes a bit of a turn. Because, as we noted, in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the leafy branches are not waived in the air or held up in a sign of defiance, they are cast to the ground as a sign of submission to the kingdom of God.

Life as a Struggle for Victory

Many of us seem to see life in this world as a continual struggle for victory. We are always trying to win. Winning is measured in different ways at different times. It might be having more money than other people, more power or influence. It might be a matter of being more popular or of having other signs of success as the world measures it. For many people, that is all that life is, a continual scramble for victory. So today I want to offer to you a challenge and I believe that it is the same challenge that Jesus offered to the people of Jerusalem on that day.

Casting Down our Palms

Some of you have brought homemade palm branches or other leaves that you have picked today. Some have also brought woven crowns, another perishable symbol of victory in the ancient world. I invite you to hold up these symbols now. If you don’t have the symbols, you may of course imagine yourself holding them.

These are the symbols of the victories that you have had in your life. Your success in work, your dominance in your social networks, the friendship groups and families you have established. These are good things that you have done. You may indeed be proud of your accomplishments. These symbols also represent the goals that you still hold onto and that you would like to accomplish. Wave your palms in celebration of the victories that God has given you in your lives. Be thankful for them.

But now, here is the hard part. We often think of the victories we achieve in life as ends in themselves. But that is not quite right. The people of Jerusalem did celebrate their hope for victory when Jesus arrived, but then they cast their palm branches down before Jesus. The offered up their victories and their hopes of victory to him.

I believe that Jesus calls upon us to do the same thing. Your victories, your accomplishments and indeed all of the things you hope to achieve, become, in Christ, part of something much bigger. If we are going to find a better society for all of us, maybe especially in the difficult months of recovery that are to come, we’re all going to need to look beyond individual achievement and victories to something that is for all people. That is the kingdom of God that Jesus came to announce. And his total submission that carried him all the way even to the cross, is a demonstration of the power of any action that gives up the self for the sake of the many.

So here it is our spiritual action for today. Take your palm, take your crown and if you dare cast it down before Jesus, who has come to call us to embrace a better world for all.

A Final Prayer

Lord Jesus, you have granted to many of your people here wonderful victory and success in life. Here we would lay down our palms and our laurel wreaths because we understand that, in you, we find a place to embrace a much larger vision. Amen.

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I will write it on their hearts

Posted by on Sunday, March 21st, 2021 in Minister

Watch sermon video here:

Hespeler, 21 March 2021 © Scott McAndless – Lent 5
Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 119:9-16, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33 (Click to read)

I don’t know exactly how old I was, but I know that I was pretty young. And I remember sitting in church one day and having a thought. My thought went like this. I looked up at the minister where he stood in a pulpit that, from where I was sitting anyways, seemed to tower over me.

He was wearing a long black robe that made him look very severe and very serious. And he was going on preaching in his sonorous voice. I have no idea what he was saying. In fact, I don’t think I generally had any idea what he ever said which is maybe one of the problems that led to my thought. But I remember distinctly the thought that I had. I thought, it must be so nice for him to be able to know that he is going to heaven.

Now, why did I think that? As I said, it had nothing to do with what he was saying. As far as I know, he always preached a gospel of grace and certainly never proclaimed that only people like him would get into heaven.

Living with Expectations

No, it had more to do with what I inferred from the actions and words of others. It was just that I knew that I was living in a world where a lot of people had expectations of me. There were expectations of how I would behave, that I would “be good.” There were expectations about how I would perform in school and in other areas of my life. And I was keenly aware of how I fell short of those expectations.

And, when I did fall short, I lived in fear of punishment, not necessarily physical punishment mind you, but people certainly did have ways of letting me know when they were displeased with me. And, when that was the life that I was living, it really wasn’t a big step to take all of those assumptions I had about how the world worked and map them directly onto God. I just assumed that God would be inclined to punish me more than anything else.

Now, I don’t say any of this in order to imply that my parents or others around me somehow did me wrong. They were, of course, greatly concerned for me. They wanted me to do well in life, to not be afraid of some hard work, to do the right thing and, well, to be a good person. The expectations that they put upon me as well as the rules and boundaries they set, were really about trying to make sure that I was safe, happy and well-rounded.

Whose Fault?

It is not necessarily their fault that I experienced some of that as judgment of me that made me feel bad about myself. It was not their intention, though, to a certain extent, it may have been inevitable. There seems to be some tendency in humanity, when we are presented with reasonable boundaries and helpful rules and regulations that are meant to guide us to live well, to quickly jump to the conclusion that we are being judged, found wanting and threatened with punishment.

Sometimes this conclusion is driven by the people who are trying to guide us and who are afraid and that they may not succeed and so they go overboard with threats and criticism, and we end up jumping to our conclusion. Sometimes, it comes from ourselves and our own lack of self-confidence and our fear that we’re not going to measure up. In both cases the root problem is actually fear.

Torah and God’s People

The history of God’s relationship with the people of Israel kind of worked like that. When God chose the people of Israel to be God’s chosen people and a vessel for good in the world, God wanted those people to do well, to build each other up and remain faithful. And so, we are told, God gave them something called the Torah to live by.

The word Torah is commonly translated into English as law. But the Hebrew word actually means something closer to guidance or teaching. You see, the point of it was not that people just follow certain regulations and abide by certain limitations. The point of it was that they would live well and in communion with one another. The point of the Torah had never been mere obedience, it was supposed to be about helping people live their best lives.

But, like I say, what is given as guidance and teaching with the best of intentions can often be received by us as obligation, restriction and judgment. If it happens with children growing up and with Christians who hear the gospel of grace, you can be sure that it sometimes happened with the ancient people of Israel. I’m not saying that this was a flaw in the Jewish faith.  In ancient times and still today, Jews who take the Torah seriously can experience it as a joyful thing, as something that helps them hold onto their identity and makes them be who they were created to be. Experiencing such guidance as a burden is not a Jewish problem, it is a human problem.

Jeremiah’s Prophecy

And it is in that sense that we need to understand the passage that we read this morning from the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is speaking for God when he says, This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my Torah within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

The traditional Christian interpretation of this passage is that Jeremiah is looking forward to the coming of Jesus in it – saying that Jesus will set us free from living under the obligation of the law. And it is not as if that interpretation is entirely wrong, there is a very real sense in which Jesus brought a fulfillment of this passage, but it is also true that Jeremiah understood that people didn’t need to wait for the messiah to come in order to live out this promise.

It had always been the desire of God that people live the Torah from their hearts and not simply by following written down rules. And if anyone opened their heart to God, God would be willing to give them the kind of Torah that could be written on their hearts instead of just being chiseled onto tablets of stone. Yes, Jesus did come to set us free from living under the tyranny of rules and regulations. But that had always been the intention of Torah.

What Jesus has done

What then can we say that Jesus added to make that all much more possible? In our reading this morning from the Gospel of John, Jesus says this: “Now is the judgement of this world.” I think this says something important about why Jesus came. He says that his coming is connected to judgment, but it’s not actually about the judgment that we usually assume it is. It is not the judgement of individuals.

Yes, of course, people are responsible for their own actions, but the bigger problem is and always has been the system by which this world operates. That is the system that I struggled with when I was younger because it told me that I was not good enough. That is the system that often arbitrarily condemns people to live lives dominated by guilt and shame. It is the system that continually fails to help us be the best people we can be. And so Jesus declares, “Now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” That world system, with all of its flaws, will be dismantled.

And then Jesus goes on to explain exactly how his coming has made that possible. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” For what is the crucifixion of Jesus but the most potent demonstration of God’s love that there has ever been in the history of the world.

God’s Steadfast Lovingkindness

That love has always been there. If you read the Old Testament with understanding, you realize that such deep abiding love has been behind God’s every action from the beginning. It was out of love that God created us in the first place. Had God wanted obedient drones, we could have been programmed to follow every command but, no, God valued love for us more than compliance from us and so we were created as free beings.

The Old Testament covenant, the basis of the relationship of the people of Israel with their God, was founded on what they called hesed, often translated as the steadfast lovingkindness of God and it was out of that love that God gave them the Torah, again not to control them but to guide them into the best way of living. Love is the underlying premise to every action of God throughout the Bible. It is we who mess all of that up and turn it into a story that is concerned only with judgment and obedience – a story that is the very opposite of love.

So, the love and the grace have always been the key to the story, the problem is just that we have a hard time receiving that story and, just like I did when I was a kid, we turn it into a story about buying your way into God’s good graces by your good works.

Jesus upon the Cross

So what does Jesus do to change all of that? Jesus is just purest and most unrefined image of the love of God that we have ever seen. That image is made most perfect in Jesus loving his people enough that he was willing to be crucified for them. That is what Jesus means when he says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

The image of Jesus upon the cross is an image that is so clear, so compelling, that it becomes this powerful magnet drawing people towards God. They come, not because of a sense of obligation or fear or judgment, rather they come as a response to such pure love. And that is how Jesus, lifted up on the cross, becomes a fulfillment of everything that Jeremiah was looking forward to, even as Jesus continues to be part of the very same story of God’s steadfast lovingkindness.

People still live under the tyranny of the law

Jesus on the cross is a story that is, of course, almost two thousand years old. But, two thousand years later, there are still people who are living under the tyranny of the law, under the tyranny of the fear of not measuring up and thus not being worthy of love or acceptance. As was true of me as a young boy growing up in the church, many of those people are Christians. The cause of that problem is our failure to truly understand the meaning of Jesus upon the cross. The problem is not that the image wasn’t clear, nothing could have been clearer, the problem is in our own hearts.

As long as we carry around in our own hearts the idea that we are not good enough and that we do not measure up, that true message of love will not penetrate. Jeremiah was absolutely right we need a new heart, and we need a Torah inscribed upon our hearts.

A Spiritual Exercise

So here is our spiritual exercise for today. You have brought a heart with you today, or at least I hope you have made one. This is got to be one of the easiest crafts we’ve done during this season of Lent after all. So, even if you haven’t brought a heart, I encourage you to make one and do as I instruct you after we are done. Here’s what I want you to do. Take your heart and take a pen or pencil, and I want you to write the Torah on your heart.

How do we do that? Do we write down some particular command or rule, maybe even the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you? Is that it, do we need the perfect rule? No, here is what I want you to write on your heart – are you ready? Write this: “I am loved, accepted and approved by God just as I am.”

That is it. “I am loved, accepted and approved by God just as I am.” That is the message that Jesus has sought to put through to your heart from the cross. And if you can accept the truth of that statement, that will be the first step towards you having a Torah in your life that you follow with all your heart spurred by joy and not by obligation.

Heavenly Father, write your Torah on our hearts with your steadfast lovingkindness. Amen.

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Snakes in the Camp!

Posted by on Sunday, March 14th, 2021 in Minister

Watch the sermon video here:

Hespeler, 14 March 2021 © Scott McAndless – Lent 4
Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

This morning, we read perhaps one of the most beloved Bible verses of all times: John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” And I certainly understand why people love this verse so much. It is an almost perfect expression of the gospel and of the grace and love of God. But I’m going to be honest here, there is another verse in that reading that I would say I love even more than verse 16, and that is the verse that comes right after it. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Being saved

The thing I love about that verse is that it describes just how limitless God’s love really is, that it is able to extend even to the whole world. It also brings us to the term that I want to focus on this morning and that is the word “saved.” This verse makes it quite clear that Christ’s purpose in coming had to do with saving people, indeed with saving the whole world. But I find that that past participle, saved, and the connected noun which is salvation have become a bit problematic for the church today. You see, they are words that have taken on special meaning in the life of the church where they mean something very different than they would to people outside the church.

When we talk about salvation in the church, we are usually talking about saving people from their sins or their guilt and we often mean getting people to heaven after they die. Do you realize that, outside the church, when somebody uses the words, “You saved me,” they are almost never talking about sin or heaven? But when we use those same words speaking to God in church, that is almost all we ever mean. It’s a little bit funny.

What did John mean by “saved”?

But what does being saved mean in the passage we read from the Gospel of John. Is it the churchy definition, or the one that people actually use in the world? Well, to answer that, I think we should look closer at the verse before the more famous one. Just before the verse about how God so loved the world, we have a verse that goes like this: And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” So, whatever sort of salvation is being spoken of in this passage, it must be something like what was there when Moses lifted up a serpent in the wilderness.

Snakes in the Camp

And that brings us to the odd passage that we read from the Book of Numbers this morning. It is, in many ways, one of the typical stories of the wandering of the people of Israel in the wilderness. The people get upset and mad at Moses and they start to complain. And then, following the pattern of many other stories, God sends some sort of punishment.

But this punishment is really kind of special. “Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.”That is how the story is usually translated and, it is a pretty horrific story, kind of like the stuff of nightmares. Can you imagine being stuck in a situation where your whole camp is overrun with poisonous snakes? It makes my skin crawl just to think about it!

It is actually “Seraphim Serpents”

But that translation is not quite as simple as that. Because the word for poisonous is not in the original Hebrew text. What it actually says in Hebrew is that God sent seraphim serpents among the people. Hmm, seraphim, where have I heard that word before? Oh yes, I remember. It is a word that is used a number of times in the Bible to describe various supernatural beings. There seem to be two kinds of angels in the Bible, cherubim and seraphim. We even often still use the singular form of those words in English when we speak of cherubs and seraphs. So what it literally says in the original Hebrew is that heavenly beings in the form of serpents invaded the camp. Now what are we supposed to do with that?

If our experience with the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that anytime you have a large group of people living in a communal setting, like nomads camping together, there is a very real danger of various kinds of sickness spreading quickly with devastating effect. I suspect that is the kind of thing that is being described in this passage. Again, as we all know, such a situation can be extremely bewildering and frightening and that is the kind of terror that we see in this passage as the people despair.

Some Kind of Spiritual Attack

Because they couldn’t really understand what was terrifying them, they naturally described it in supernatural terms. The use of the word seraph, a word for a supernatural being, is basically their way of saying that they are under attack in many ways. It’s not just a physical sickness, it’s also a terror of the heart. A camp infested with seraphim is a camp that is in the midst of a spiritual battle where they feel under attack in their minds, their bodies and their spirits.

That is the horror that is being described in this passage. And that is what prompts them to seek for salvation. “The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’” And, in response, God tells Moses to make a representative of these seraphim creatures out of bronze and put it on a pole.

The Problem with Moses’ Response

Now, I have so many questions about this. Is this not the same Moses who gave the commandment about how you shall not have any “graven images” of heavenly creatures who is making this graven image of a seraphim, which is a heavenly creature? It is indeed a bit of a problem and becomes a very real problem later on in Israel’s history. But, on a certain level, what Moses does makes a lot of sense. The people are scared of what seems like a supernatural enemy that is beyond their understanding, and Moses takes their abstract fears and makes them something concrete, something that they can look at. And it is that that saves them.

mRNA Vaccines

In a way, it is kind of what researchers like Moderna and Pfizer have done by creating messenger RNA vaccines to save our population from Covid-19. This is an amazing new approach to making vaccines where the vaccine doesn’t actually contain any of the virus. What it does rather is teach your cells how to make a protein that is part of the virus. It is like you are actually creating an image of the thing that is attacking you. That image teaches your body that there is a way to defeat it. That is how an mRNA vaccine works. And that is basically what Moses did when be made a bronze image of the thing that was attacking them and that image taught them that it could be defeated.

You see, salvation in the Bible actually means what we generally mean by salvation in the real world. It is not limited to spiritual things like forgiving sins or getting people into the afterlife, salvation is actually about God meeting us wherever we are. If you are sick, salvation comes in the form of healing. If you’re drowning in the water, salvation is someone reaching out a hand or a life preserver. If you’re terrified of something, salvation may come in the form of giving you a way to manage that fear. And that’s kind of what Moses did for the children of Israel.

How is Jesus on the Cross like that?

And the Gospel of John tells us that when Jesus was nailed up on the cross, it was just like what Moses did with that bronze seraphim serpent. That means many things. It means, first and most important of all, that you don’t just need to look for one kind of salvation from Jesus. No matter what anyone might have told you, Jesus didn’t just come here on earth to offer you a way to heaven. Jesus didn’t just come to save you from your sins. I mean, yes, if those are the very things that you need at this particular moment, then Jesus did come to offer you that kind of salvation, but please do not limit yourself to seeking that from Jesus.

We All Need Saving

We all need saving at various points in our life. In fact, I might even go so far as to suggest that there is always something that we need saving from. The fact of the matter is that if you are struggling at this moment in your life from anything, then you can know that Jesus actually came to meet you in that struggle. Are you struggling with loneliness and isolation? Lord knows that many are in these days! Jesus came to save you in that.

I know that there are a number of people everywhere who have struggled in these difficult times and have developed certain ways of coping – maybe through drinking a bit more or self-medicating in some other ways, others have developed compulsive behaviors or patterns of relating with people that are not all that healthy.

These coping methods have helped you to get through this time and that is okay, but maybe you are starting to realize that some of the habits you developed are not going to serve you well going forward and you’re beginning to see the need for a change and realize that that change may not be easy. Well, that is also a way in which you need to be saved. And I’m here to tell you that Jesus came to save you from that.

Getting that Salvation Going

Indeed, any sickness you may be struggling with whether in mind or body or spirit is something that Jesus has come to save you from. But, of course, the question is how do we get that saving process going? The Gospel of John tells us that it works like it worked for the people in the wilderness when Moses made the bronze serpent. They needed to look at this thing that represented their deep-seated fears, and that triggered the healing that they needed. John is saying that looking at Jesus when he is lifted up on the cross (that must be what it refers to) triggers the same mechanism of salvation.

What I think he means by that is this: that picture of Jesus upon the cross is a perfect depiction of everything that we struggle with, whether it be pain, rejection, addiction, depression or frailty. If you see Jesus upon that cross, there is no denying that he entered into the very worst of what it means to be human. And the very idea that Jesus could do that while being, at the same time, both entirely human and entirely divine, means that he experienced all of the physical and spiritual and mental challenges we face.

Like the bronze serpent, the sight of Jesus upon the cross puts all of that into a concrete image that we can relate to and that helps to calm our fears and understand that we can handle this because we are not facing it alone. That is the salvation that Jesus offers to you and he offers it to you today.

A Salvation Exercise

So let us engage in a salvation exercise. Many of you have made a serpent to bring today. We are going to use that in our focus exercise. I want you to look at your serpent. Or, of course, you can imagine a serpent on a stick in your mind. If it makes you feel more comfortable, you can imagine Jesus on the cross. As we shall see, it is all the same thing. But whatever it is you are looking at, focus your mind on that image. Leave aside all other thoughts as best as you can.

Now I am going to ask you to think of something that is keeping you, right now, from being all that you believe you are supposed to be. It might be something in the world around you, it might be something in your body, in your mind or brain, or it might be in your spirit. Can you find one thing? Think on that one thing for a moment.

Now, would you join me in a silent prayer? Pray this: Lord Jesus, save me from… and insert that thing. Pray it again and a third time. Jesus does save. Now look at your image. Let that be your reminder right now and in the week to come that Jesus does save you. When you doubt that he does, look at that image. Let it remind you that the things you struggle with – the things that seem so big to you – are but little things to Jesus.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you save your people. Amen.

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Minister’s Report on 2020

Posted by on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021 in Minister

Rev. Scott McAndless

How do you report on a year like 2020? So many of the conventional approaches to annual reports simply do not work this year. If you were, for example, to compare 2020 to any previous year, like say 2019, in order to see how well you did, it would be like comparing apples to oranges but if you were comparing apples from the finest orchard in all the world to oranges that had been going bad in the bottom of the fridge for several months! We’ve never quite experienced a year like 2020 so we don’t have much to compare it to.

If we want to see how we have done in this past year, I think we are best to stick to one simple measure: how have we grown? 2 Peter 3:18 suggests that our most basic job as Christians is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” And growth in these things is always possible. So, here is how I have seen myself grow in the past year.

I have grown by being and becoming a…

  • Pastoral care supporter. During this past year, I tried to work at connecting with the people of the congregation and give them whatever support I was able to with God’s help. In many ways, I would say that I put more effort into that, more creativity and certainly more time than in many previous years. But, given the limitations that we were working under, I often felt most dissatisfied with the connection and support I was able to give. It is odd, in some ways we are so able to connect in these times, but in others we feel so very far apart. I pray that, whatever challenges come ahead, God give us the strength and wisdom to face them together.
  • Content creator. Now, ministers have always been in the content creation business. Content is just a general term for any sort of media that is made available either in print or online. So sermons are content, as are things like Bible studies. But in 2020, I certainly learned a lot about producing content that is more widely available and that connected with people in new ways. During the year, I produced up to seven weekly videos that were posted on YouTube, I produced and posted extensive written content as well as audio content in the form of podcasts. In many ways, I can say that I connected with more people using these media during the year then I likely have during any other year of my ministry. Now, that doesn’t mean that I made better contact or more meaningful contact, but it does mean that we can grow in some pretty interesting ways in terms of the impact of what we do even in times like these.
  • Internet analytics interpreter. How do I know about any of the things that I mentioned above? It is because I’ve learned a great deal, in this past year, about interpreting the analytical information that is available on audio and video platforms and in web page design tools. I never really wanted to learn about any of these things but has become a necessary part of ministry these days, it seems.
  • Social media influencer. In order to get that kind of attention in the modern world, I’ve had to learn a lot about how to disseminate and promote information through social media. Who would have ever thought that that would be a necessary part of ministry? But it has become so in 2020 and will likely only be more so in the years to come.
  • Online worship leader. I have many years of experience leading worship in many different kinds of facilities, but, until a year ago, I had never even experienced worship in a virtual community. Our zoom worship services have been a huge learning experience for all of us. There have been some difficult lessons, like learning the necessity of keeping a handle on who is in attendance and making sure that there are enough co-hosts to handle that. There is so much how about our worship in the past year that has not measured up to what we would like. We have missed music and certain forms of connection. But I think there have also been positive effects as we have been able to connect in new ways. It has been wonderful to be able to be creative about some of that. I have also really appreciated the ways in which we can share our prayer requests in that format much more interactively than we ever achieved before.
  • Public health official. One thing I have not relished in the past year is having to be in the position, with the support of some others, to make difficult decisions about access to the building and the health and safety of everyone involved. I have tried to do my best to balance the need for safety with the good that we can do through ministry in the building, but I never found it to be easy.

So those are some of the areas of growth that I have noticed in the past year. I am sure, if you look back and take stock, you will discover a great deal of growth has taken place for you too. That is one of the wonders that comes with living as a disciple of Christ, who brings us growth both in the easy seasons of life and in the difficult ones.

May God richly bless you in 2021 and may you continue to see growth, even as many things get much better.

Respectfully submitted, Scott McAndless

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Taking up your Cross

Posted by on Sunday, February 28th, 2021 in Minister

Watch the sermon video here:

Hespeler, 28 February 2021 © Scott McAndless – Lent 2
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:23-31, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38 (click to read)

If you were a Galilean living in the first part of the first century, what did a cross mean to you? Remember that this was before the most famous (or infamous) crucifixion in human history. What did the cross mean before Jesus was nailed to one?

Oh, they would have had some sense of the meaning. Crucifixions were a part of their life and history. The Romans did not invent crucifixion. It was a particularly brutal form of execution that had been used by a number of other empires before them. But the Romans seemed to have lifted the crucifixion to an import symbolic status.

How the Romans Used Crucifixion

It was a form of death that was so painful and shameful that it would not be used against people who had any sort of status. Roman citizens, for example, could not be crucified no matter what they did. No, it was a form of death that was reserved for what the Romans saw as the very worst sorts. Rebellious slaves, for example, were routinely crucified. The most famous example being in the great slave revolt led by Spartacus.

When Spartacus and his slave army were finally defeated, the victorious general, Crasus, celebrated by crucifying thousands of slaves on crosses that lined the Appian Way, the most important highway in ancient Italy, for miles and miles and miles. This was not just the celebration of a victor, however, but a very graphic warning to the huge numbers of slaves in Italy who might ever be tempted to follow their example and revolt.

A victorious general's grisly display.

Insurrectionists and those who threatened the order of the empire, if they belonged to the lower classes of course, were also often crucified. There was a huge revolt in Galilee around the time when Jesus was born which, the historian Josephus tells us, resulted in a huge number of crucifixions. It is hard to know exactly how common crucifixions were in Jesus’ day, but they were common enough that everyone would have known about them and would have understood what they meant at a very basic level.

How Christians Have Come to See the Cross

But what didn’t exist in the early first century was any of the Christian symbolism that we have come to associate with the cross. There would have been no association with the figure of Jesus himself or the idea of salvation or life after death. Certainly no one would have dreamed of using a cross as a piece of jewellery or a decoration. They likely would have been horrified at the very idea.

The Reaction that Jesus Provoked

So how then do you suppose did people react when Jesus, seemingly out of the blue, started saying, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”? They certainly didn’t hear it the way that some Christians might hear it today. They didn’t imagine, for example, somebody wearing a cross in public as a way of advertising their belonging to the Christian faith. And they certainly wouldn’t have imagined the trite phrase that some Christians might use when they are dealing with some minor irritation or burden in their life and they say, “Oh well, that is my cross to bear.”

No, the only thing they could have possibly imagined was the image that they had seen or heard of, the image of condemned insurrectionists or rebellious slaves or bandits being forced at the end of a whip to pick up large wooden crosses and carry them to a place where they would suffer an unimaginably painful death. The only thing that they could imagine was the people hurling abuse and probably rotten fruit at those people who were so condemned – not, mind you, because they actually detested those people. They may have even had some sympathy for them. But they would have joined in abusing them anyways because they were afraid that any show of sympathy would have condemned them to the very same fate. There was absolutely nothing positive about taking up a cross that these people would have been able to think of.

Why did Jesus Say it?

So why did Jesus say that? Wasn’t he aware that saying such a thing would have shocked and stunned them? The answer is, of course, that he was aware. He knew exactly what he was doing and the shock that he gave them was entirely intentional. Jesus did that often – spoke in ways that were designed to shock people into changing how they looked at things. He knew that the message that he was presenting broke many of the assumptions that people had about God and about how we should live out our relationship with God and one another. But people really struggle to accept new information that does not jive with their preconceived notions. So Jesus knew that he would have to shock people into seeing things from a very different point of view.

So, I guess the question is, what assumptions were Jesus trying to shock people out of by telling them that they would need to take up their crosses if they were going to follow him? I would say that what he was trying to do was trying to shock people out of the ways that human beings have long thought about religion.

Why did he Try to Shock them?

I probably don’t need to tell you that religion, in general, does not have a stellar history. As people have related to their gods, they have often exploited religion to build the foundations of their own power. We have seen them use it to demonize outsiders and to control people on the inside. There is absolutely no question that our human impulse when we encounter something divine, is to try and see what we can get out of it for our own ends.

Why, in the passage just before the one we read this morning, Peter comes up with a remarkable realization about who Jesus is. Peter confesses that Jesus is the messiah. And, as he does that, you can almost read Peter’s thoughts. The very fact that he is the first to realize this puts him on the ground floor of this whole messianic situation. Peter can just imagine all of the prestige, influence and even power that will come to him because he is a close friend of God’s messiah. How do we know that that was what Peter was thinking? Because as soon as Jesus goes on to talk about things like suffering, rejection and death, Peter immediately goes, “Hang on a minute here! That’s not a part of the deal I was thinking of in my head!” And he started to rebuke Jesus just for bringing it up.

Shock Therapy Needed

So, yes, Jesus recognized that a little bit of shock therapy was going to be necessary. But I sometimes fear that some of the radical statements of Jesus, like this one, have largely lost their power to shock us today which may mean that they have lost all of their power. As I said before, centuries of Christian tradition have turned the image of the cross into something that is familiar and comfortable to us. They have turned it into a piece of jewelry, a decoration and a symbol of salvation. And even the idea of having a cross to bear has often become trivialized. So how can we reclaim the power of this saying of Jesus? We can only reclaim it by letting it shock us again.

Though we recognize that Jesus came to serve and ultimately to lay down his own life for the sake of ourselves and others, we also know that there is divine power in what we have experienced in Jesus. And so we do face this tendency within ourselves to turn that encounter into a base of power and influence.

An Example

The church has been doing that, to various degrees, throughout the centuries. One particularly strong illustration of this is something that we’ve seen happening in the United States over the last several decades as a kind of alliance between conservative Christianity and right-wing politics was formed. That alliance, I think there is no question, has led to the election of quite a number of conservative politicians from presidents to senators and representatives to many local officials.

So the politicians got a lot out of the alliance. But don’t think for a moment that the Christians didn’t get anything out of it. They saw the agendas that they were interested in being promoted. They saw judges that they believed would rule in their favour on various issues put into place. And I’m not trying to say anything about those particular issues. I may not agree with all of them, of course, but I can accept that Christians were promoting these issues because they believed that it was the right thing to do.

But, whatever the motivations, make no mistake that this was an alliance of power. This was about using religion and it’s influence in the way that religion has always been used by people seeking to accomplish their own goals. That was the kind of thing that Peter was dreaming about and it was the kind of thing that Jesus was trying to shock him out of.

And I realize that Christians in Canada do not operate in the same way and don’t seem to have the same kind of influence, but that doesn’t mean that we are completely immune to the lure of that kind of power alliance. We too have a certain tendency to think of our Christian faith in terms of what earthly gains we can get out of it for ourselves, whether it be a good reputation or connections or even a feeling of self-righteousness. So, yes, I do think that Jesus has a desire to shock us into thinking about all of that in very different ways.

A Spiritual Exercise

So, once again, I am going to invite us to enter into a little bit of a spiritual exercise. Many of you have made crosses to bring to the service this morning. If you don’t have one, however, I’m going to ask you to conjure one with your imagination. And I want you to put that cross on the table or lap or keyboard in front of you. Look at that cross for a minute.

Try and forget every comforting association you have ever had with a cross. It is no longer the image of an established religion. It is no longer the symbol of a comforting story of a Christ who died for you – I know it will always be that, but put that association to the side for one moment. Especially, forget every golden or jeweled cross you’ve ever seen. I want you to see that cross as the people listening to Jesus would have seen it: a symbol of horror, pain and rejection that you would not wish on your worst enemy.

Because here is the truth, for you to be an authentic follower of Jesus in this moment of time, you’re going to have to freely, of your own choice pick up, that cross, that deeply disruptive cross. What might it mean to carry such a cross in our modern world? It might mean that you choose to prioritize service to others over taking care of yourself. It might mean, for example, that in the world where we might all find ourselves soon – a world where everyone is clamoring to get a vaccination for themselves or for the person they care for – you may have to make the choice to do something that serves the health of the whole community rather than just yourself.

Carrying such a cross might mean bearing the name of Christian, not just when it’s convenient or when somebody might think well of you, but when it is extremely inconvenient, and your confession of belief might make them think less of you. That kind of thing was once quite unlikely in a society that was largely Christian, but it’s actually quite likely these days, especially if you deal with people of younger generations. But we should not be angry at that, we should actually embrace it as an opportunity to live out the Christian faith as Jesus taught us, by bearing a cross.

So look at your cross for a moment. See it for what it truly is, a very disturbing symbol. But Jesus wants you to pick it up. Jesus has many blessings available to you if you will bear such a cross. And so now, if you are willing, pick up that cross.

Final Prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending Jesus to us to show us the way that we are to follow. We recognize that following that way is not meant to be easy or to automatically increase our standing in society. We pray that you would make us followers who would indeed carry the cross, no matter what the cost, because that is what it means to follow Christ. Amen.

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