Jeremiah 15:15-21, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28texts

“Carrying My Cross”

P   Good morning everyone!  I’m expecting Munchie and Beaky to join us, but it seems they’re a little bit late this morning.  Oh, here they come!

M: (Grunting) Look!  I heard Jesus say that if we love him, we’re supposed to pick up our crosses, and carry them, like he did.  So Beaky’s grampa made one for me!

P   Looks like that was quite a job!

B  Yeah.  I expected it to be just a little one, like you’d hang on a wall…

M I kinda thought that, too.  But then he said that carrying a little one like that wouldn’t be at all like what Jesus had  to do, so he made one big enough for… well…

B  Don’t worry! No one’s going to nail YOU to that cross, and hang you out to dry!

P   That’s true, but actually having a cross that’s big enough to be hung on is a lot more sobering than one you can carry around in a pocket, a bag, or a purse.

M I know, right?

P   It looked like you had to work pretty hard to carry that cross over here.

M I did! It was really heavy.

P   I could tell. I could hear you grunting.

M It was a good thing that Beaky was helping me (Beaky suddenly turns away, and looks in the other direction), or I probably couldn’t have done it…

P   Uh oh…

M You WERE helping, weren’t you?

B  Do I LOOK like I have hands?

M Well, no, but neither do I… not really.  I have to use my mouth to carry things, because my hands, my front feet, are needed on the ground when I walk!

B  Well, I’m a bird… and I’m really not heavy at all.  If I was, I couldn’t fly!

M Heavy… Wait… Does that mean you were SITTING on my cross while I worked so hard to carry it over here?

B  That’s what birds do.  We sit on branches.

M But… I thought you were HELPING!

B  I WAS! I was helping you to get stronger, by carrying your cross with a few extra ounces of weight.

P   Were you sitting on Munchie’s cross because you wanted to help?

B  Well… not really.

P   So that was really just an excuse to explain why you didn’t want to help carry the cross, right?

B  Well… I DON’T have hands…

P   But you do have a mouth, and that mouth can carry things, just like Munchie’s mouth can carry things.  And you have feet that can carry things while you fly.

M Yeah! How do you suppose birds get all those twigs up into their nests?  They have to carry them somehow!

P   My guess is that Beaky saw you doing pretty well all by yourself, and decided to hop on for a ride.

M That’s not fair!

P   That’s the thing about crosses, though, they’re not fair.

B  What do you mean?

P   Well, was it fair that Jesus was crucified on a cross?

M No!

B  But it’s fair that criminals were crucified!

P   Is it fair that a person who steals an apple gets the same cross as one who takes a life?

B  Did that actually happen?

P   Probably, because people believe that making an example out of those who do a little wrong will stop others from doing big wrongs.

M But it doesn’t really work that way.

P   The point Jesus was trying to make was not that we should all go out looking for criminal acts so that we’d be executed on the cross like he was…

B  But Jesus didn’t do a criminal act!

P   No. But that was how they punished criminals, and Jesus wasn’t trying to make people steal and kill.

M But what was the point then?

P   The point was that Jesus being the Messiah didn’t mean that things would be easy for him, or for those who follow him, and he wanted all of us to understand that.

M So I didn’t really need this cross…

B  Actually, I think we all needed this cross.

P   I think so, too.  This cross helped all of us to see that carrying the cross isn’t an easy thing, that it means helping others, sometimes when we don’t want to, and sometimes when we don’t even know we’re helping them.

M Like me carrying Beaky all the way over here!

P   Do you know what else this cross can do?  It can help us to see that when we all work together, even heavy crosses seem lighter! Let’s pray:  Dear God, help us to help one another to experience your love. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

“Yelling at God”

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Does my title today make you a bit uncomfortable? I’ve titled this message, “Yelling at God,” and it is rather presumptuous to consider such a thing—but that’s pretty much what Peter was doing in today’s Gospel reading.  Matthew tells us that when Jesus explained to the disciples the way things would take place, that he would suffer and die before being raised up again, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 

The definition of rebuke is expressing sharp disapproval or criticism, which is not exactly a synonym of yelling, but it seems to me that Peter was definitely overstepping his place, telling Jesus, the one he’d recently declared to be the Messiah, the son of the living God, that he was wrong, treating Jesus like a wayward child that needed correction and guidance.  It feels to me like he was yelling at God.

How do you go from proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah to telling him that he’s got it wrong?

I think the real problem with my title might be in my preposition:  at. After all, there are many examples of people shouting TO God, rather than yelling AT God.  Sometimes, they shout in praise, but often, they shout in anger and frustration.  Jesus himself quoted one of the psalms that cries out to God with words of anguish, “Why have you forsaken me?”

I’m connected to a young man on Facebook because his grandfather was a member here at Concordia some years back.  This young man has recently been approved for ordination as a pastor.  His name is Eric Saed (at Concordia we pronounced it “sad”), and last week he shared a picture online that expresses some of the frustration we may be feeling today.  The caption said, “If 2020 was a scented candle…”  The picture, though, in my opinion, was amazing.  Instead of a nice little flame centered around a wick, it showed a roaring inferno fifteen to twenty feet high.  Then comes the part dealing with the scent.  Melting in the midst of those flames were several identical structures… portable toilets!  Quite the scented candle!

Let’s review 2020.  The new year rang in while wildfires were devastating the continent of Australia, finally burning 47 million acres, displacing thousands of people, and killing at least 34.  I’m not sure if there have been any estimates on the number of animals that died.

On January 8, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their stepping down as “senior” royals.  The next day, the World Health Organization announced that a deadly coronavirus had emerged in Wuhan, China.  Kobe Bryant and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on January 26. Our president when through an impeachment trial that acquitted him on February 5.  Harvey Weinstein was convicted on February 24.  The stock market crashed in March.  George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor died at the hands of those we’ve entrusted to protect the public, inspiring protests around the world, some of which have become extremely violent.  A derecho caused major damages and power outages across much of Iowa.  An explosion killed several and continues to affect Beirut, Lebanon.  As of yesterday, nearly 16,000 firefighters continue to work to contain more than two dozen wildfires in California.  And in the midst of all this, our gatherings, along with the gatherings of many across the country and around the world, have been restricted for safety reasons.

Yes, it stinks!  And, honestly, most people don’t want to yell at God… so they turn aside and they yell at each other.  The political parties are becoming ever more polarized, and the more moderate practically throw their hands up wondering how it got this way.  Many pastors are retiring earlier than they had planned, or resigning their calls, because they are being blamed for the frustrations of their congregations.

The problem as we blame each other for the ways in which our understandings differ, is that we really are yelling at God.  As we shout at one another, we are neglecting the love to which God calls us.

“Let love be genuine,” Paul writes.  “Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. Love one another with mutual affection, outdo one another in showing honor.”

Jesus’ response to Peter says that.  He tells Peter he needs his support, not his criticism. He tells all the disciples that it will not be easy to follow him, to love the people of the world.  They’ll need to put away selfishness and do things that are difficult, as difficult as dragging a cross through the streets of the capital city, knowing that what awaits is your own death, an excruciatingly painful one—as difficult, but probably not the same.

It is okay to shout to God, in frustration or joy, because God hasn’t created you to be unaffected by what happens around you. Rather, God created you as community, and God gives you the tools to build that community in love.  Let’s get behind Jesus this election year, and always. Let us walk with Jesus, and love our neighbors, and know that God hears our cries no matter what form they take.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen