Years ago, when I was part of a student summer missionary team, my teammates and I would invite those to whom we spoke to wrestle with a question. Having quoted Paul’s admonition in Romans 12 to be “living sacrifices,” we’d ask: “Do you know the problem with a living sacrifice?” And the answer? “It keeps crawling away from the altar.”
Today’s gospel lesson puts the call to discipleship in stark terms:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
Most of us, of course, are well-acquainted with these words. If we’ve spent any time in church, we’ve heard them over and over again. And yet, while they paint a compelling and inspiring picture of a life that is wholly devoted to God, my suspicion is that many of us end up “crawling away” from that life in practice. We sense (if only vaguely) that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right when he said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” But when push comes to shove, we don’t want to die; we want to cling: to our comforts, to our priorities, to our dreams of what our lives should be.
But how do we respond to Christ’s call? What does it look like to “take up our cross” and follow?
I’ve always been captivated by the description offered by preacher Fred Craddock:
Giving our lives for Christ looks glorious. To pour myself out for others…to pay the ultimate price…I’ll do it! I’m ready, Lord! I’m ready to go out in a blaze of glory! We think “giving our all to God” is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table: Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving you everything.
But the reality for most of us is that Jesus sends us to the bank and has us cash in our $1,000…for quarters. And then we go through life, putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of saying, “Get lost.” Go to a committee meeting. Give up a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home.
Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love…25 cents at a time.
How will we take up our cross today? What tiny investments of love and sacrifice will allow us to die the death that leads to life?