Tag Archives: Civil RIghts

Denial and the Cross

Read  Mark 8:34-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

REVDRMLKJRIf you are Christian you have, no doubt, come across today’s scripture reading before. In one fashion, or another, you have heard that following Jesus means that we need to deny ourselves and pick up our cross. Part of the problem of being a Christian is that, all of these centuries later, we hear Jesus’ words in ways that I believe he never intendeded them. For instance, when we come across today’s Scirpture passage we often interpret it in ways that both trivialize the cross and demonize ourselves into something less than valuable in the eyes of God.

An unhealthy understanding of Bible passages such as these can lead to an unhealthy, and perhaps damning perception of self, of neighbor and, ultimately, of God. So let me begin by stressing what this passage is NOT saying. First, this passage is NOT saying you should hate yourself or deny yourself your basic needs. It is not saying that at all! God created you and God does not create junk or rubbish. God created you, and all, with a divine and holy purpose in mind. Thus, Jesus is not telling us that in order to be his disciple we need to hate ourselves, look down upon ourselves, or neglect to take care of ourselves. To do such would be sinful and would not be in line with God’s will for us. After all, God calls us to be good stewards of God’s creation (in which we are included) and to go against that would be to go against God’s call.

Second, this passage is not intended to trivialize the cross. There is a TobyMac song called Irene, in which TobyMac sings “Pick up your cross and where it everyday.” This is both a reference to Luke’s parallel passage (Luke 9:22-25) and to the trinket people often where on a necklace fastened around their necks. But this is not what the passage is referring to at all. It’s not referring to a necklace, nor is it referring to a lamented obligation, or a personal challenge one has been going through; rather, Jesus is referring to the instrument of capital punishment he would be affixed to as a means of painfully and humiliatingly exterminating his life.

What Jesus is ultimately saying in this passage is that, if anyone wishes to be his follower, we must deny any part of us that would hold us back from following him. Regardless of what those things are (e.g. our sins, our hangups, our fears, our desires, our hopes, our dreams, etc.) we must be willing to put them aside and be willing to pay all costs for being associated with Jesus. Even if the cost is our very lives, we must be willing to give it all to follow Christ. It has nothing to do with self-loathing, though. It has to do with one’s identity! If one truly identifies as a Christians, and sees him/herself as belonging to Christ, then that will be the most important thing to him/her over and above anything else, including his/her own life.

There are numerous examples of people who saw Christ as being at the core of their identity. This week it behooves us to look at the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was a disciple of Christ who denied the fears and things that held him back from following Christ. Dr. King certainly picked up his cross, the burden of fighting for equality and freedom for all people regardless of their skin color, and ended up paying the ultimate price for doing so. When we look at Dr. King we see a man who certainly denied himself, picked up his cross and followed Jesus.

The question for us today is this, will we let our fears and our desires keep us from accepting Christ as our Lord? Will we refuse to pick up our cross because of the possible consequences? Will we deny Christ, or deny the parts of ourselves that keep us from accepting Christ? Will we be ashamed of Christ, Christ’s message, and the way of the Cross because it is more convenient for us to do so? Or will we deny our own convenience for the sake of Christ, for the sake of others and for the sake of God’s Kingdom? The choice is ultimately yours and I pray that your response is one of affirmation rather than one of denial and embarrassment. The world could use more disciples of Christ and the hope, healing and wholeness that such disciples bring in Christ’s name.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When we deny the poor and the vulnerable their own human dignity and capacity for freedom and choice, it becomes self-denial. It becomes a denial of both our collective and individual dignity, at all levels of society. – Jacqueline Novogratz
PRAYER
Lord, I give me the strength to deny the things that hold me back from you, to pick up my cross, and to follow you at all costs. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.” (Romans 8:7 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

fieryEWORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity. I just got done watching the film, “Selma”, which was about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Selma to Montgomery Marches in 1965. The film starts off with the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, where four innocent Christian girls were literally blown to bits by a bomb planted by four Ku Klux Klansmen. This evil, tragic, and horrific event caused an outrage in the public that aided the cause of Dr. King and those seeking equal voting rights for the black community. Segregation laws and and other local laws often prevented those who were black from being able to vote, though they technically had the right.

When looking back on the civil rights movement, and even looking at the racial divide in the country today, I can’t help but think of the word enmity. Enmity is a state of being actively hostile and/or opposed to someone or some group. Looking at our government, some politicians, its laws, and a system that favors some over others, it is easy to see that in many cases our system has embodied enmity. Sure, it has improved over the years and a lot of change to it has occurred rather quickly. With that said, many of the changes have been peripheral and not systemic. We have changed it so that all people of all colors can vote; however, in order to be a candidate one must have a ton of money and financial backing in order to have even a remote chance of winning. As a result, such candidates are often far removed from the poor and disenfranchised and are more representative of the privileged (even if they, themselves, don’t intend to be).

The church is notorious for being filled with enmity. While one can see how enmity could creep up into any government, where the rich rule and the poor are ruled, it is hard to imagine how enmity could possibly show its ugly head; however, enmity has unfortunately found a breeding ground in  the body of Christ. Like a cancer it has spread from person to person, from group to group, from congregation to congregation, and from denomination to denomination. The enmity found in Christians have led them to love some and hate others within the church. White Christians have hated and lynched black Christians. Straight Christians have hated and degraded LGTBQ Christians. One committee within a church has found itself opposed to and at odds with another committee. And so it goes on and on like a cancer, spreading and killing the souls of many.

Christ calls us to be rid of enmity. We may not always agree with people, we may not understand them or even want to understand others who are different than us; however, that does not give us an excuse to be hostile and actively opposed to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, Christ is our Lord, and we cannot serve two masters. We will either love the one and hate the other or vice versa. We cannot love Christ and enmity. To bear enmity against anyone is to also bear enmity against God, their creator. So be rid of enmity. Drop your hatred. Let go of your bitterness and let God fill you with eternal, unconditional love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.” – Ezra Taft Benson

PRAYER
Lord remove from me any enmity that I may possess within me. Fill me with your eternal, unconditional love. Amen.