Christ Church, St. Michael's Parish
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Today marks the beginning of yet another church year. We have returned to the 8AM and 10:15AM Sunday service schedule, and the clergy have changed into “winter greens.” This coming week we will see the beginning of several new church programs, and various committees will initiate planning sessions for upcoming fall and winter events. Volunteer recruitment for ongoing ministries will occur at today’s Ministry Fair, and Sunday school registration begins. And, of course, we are anticipating the return of our wonderful choir and the many parishioners who spent their summer months traveling or vacationing in summer homes.
Today also marks, just another day…not the beginning day… but just another day in world situations that bear our immediate and undivided attention.
The Global Refugee Crisis
In the Balkans tens of thousands of migrants and refugees are working their way north. In Syria about 12 million people have been displaced since 2011. In Southeast Asia over 137,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya, an ethnic minority from Myanmar, have fled from poverty and persecution. In Eastern Europe 1.3 million people have been displaced within the Ukraine; 867,000 have moved to Russia. Since 2013 brutal conflict in South Sudan has claimed thousands of innocent lives and driven well over a million of people from their homes. And, here at home according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection 68,541 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the southwest border between October 1, 2013, and September 30, 2014. These children were fleeing from the violence of the drug cartels in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—a region of Central America known as the “Northern Triangle.”
The number of people living in extreme poverty globally remains unacceptably high. According to the most recent estimates, in 2011, just over one billion people lived on less than $1.25 a day.
In a survey conducted by the United Nations in 2005 – an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide and as many as 1 billion people lacked adequate housing. In January 2014, there were 578,424 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States.
The target set at the 1996 World Food Summit was to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015. Since then, the number of hungry people in developing regions has fallen by over 200 million, from 991 million to 790.7 million. Clearly, the 1996 the target will not be reached.
There are other big challenges, as well – The Global Economy, Gun Violence, Racism, Prison Reform, The Israeli-Palestinian situation, and more…many more.
Many, if not most of these world situations, are present in one way or another right here – right on our front door. They are right here in Maryland and they are right here on the Eastern Shore. Wherever they occur, all of these world situations – all of them – have resulted in the discrimination against, and disenfranchisement, oppression and all too frequently death of millions of God’s children. People. People whose place of birth may be different than ours; people whose skin color and language may be different than ours – but, people who are all created in God’s image, all created equal in God’s eyes and who are all loved without question by God – always and forever, no matter what their life situation.
As we launch into our fall and winter programs here at Christ Church, we say that we are looking forward, setting forth as it were on a new and lively course of activities and events designed to enhance opportunities for spiritual growth and formation - activities and events that will bring us closer to God. With that goal as a given, my question, to all of us, is this – in these newly energized plans have we left adequate time and space to examine these many challenging world events through the eyes of Jesus. In our various spiritual formation journeys do we hear today’s gospel words, ‘He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” ’ and do we consider how these “follow me” words define the “now what” for those of us who are moving forward in our spiritual journey – for those of us who are experiencing a new and thrilling closeness to God.
What exactly is Jesus talking about when he addresses his disciples today?
In today’s passage from Mark, Jesus, for the first time discloses that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering…and be killed. Jesus is rebuked by Peter who does not want to believe that the messiah will be subject to such an ignominious fate. But Jesus reprimands Peter and commands not only the disciples but the whole crowd to come and listen to his teaching.
In this, and subsequent passages, Jesus discloses more and more about his identity and fate. He also describes, without mincing words, what it means to participate with him when he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Jesus instructs those who would call themselves his followers to journey with him. Not behind him, not following in his shadow – but with him – alongside him – embracing him as the one to follow. Following Jesus is not a wandering voyage, each man on his own. Following Jesus is a “oneness” with Jesus. It is a journey in solidarity that points in a particular direction, ending up at death and re-birth.
Jesus’ instruction to deny oneself and to take up one’s cross reveals a thoroughly forward-looking orientation— one that points ahead to the future and calls its hearers to assess their lives, securities, and ambitions in accordance with their association with Jesus and their participation in God’s kingdom. The forward moving orientation described in Mark is absolute, summoning Jesus’ followers away from inclinations to personal aggrandizement and away from loyalty to the world of status, power, and achievement.
In this gospel passage, self-denial and cross-bearing clearly appear as key elements of a person’s identity if they are truly to be a follower of Jesus. The cross that followers are to bear according to Mark is not Jesus’ cross. Mark’s language makes clear that everyone is to take up his or her own cross, each declaring the forfeiture of one’s life and turning one’s back on self-preservation. Cross-bearers bravely embrace a way of life that threatens the existence of world ideologies that perpetuate the oppression of human souls.
Tomorrow evening at the event celebrating the inauguration of our membership in the Bondeau Partnership you will meet some amazing people who have responded to the incredible needs of Bondeau, a fragile Haitian community, by coming together in a collaborative effort to build sustainable capacity in a desolate and impoverished area that has frequently been called, not a Third World Country, but a Fifth World Country.
Over the past eight years, partnership members have donated time and treasure beyond imagination to build programs that provide education, food, healthcare, clean water, solar power, and an incredibly beautiful place to worship. The way has never been without conflict, concern, and great hardship when in Haiti. The way has been fraught with danger of all sorts. However, the way has been always focused on the needs and concerns of the Bondeau residents, not the needs and concerns of the partnership members. The Bondeau partners have each taken up their cross as they embraced, and continue to embrace, Jesus as their model for compassion, love, and justice. The goal is to be one among the people of Bondeau, as work to build their community progresses.
I believe that the Bondeau Partnership is an excellent model for how we might collaborate in this diocese and throughout the church to address the many challenges that face our world today. I believe that if we lay self aside and utilize our refreshed sense of spirituality as fuel that sparks the courage needed to take up our various crosses – if we embrace Christ - together we can and we will successfully seek and find ways to bring justice, love and compassion to the world.
The way is not easy. Sometimes the way appears defeating. Some days we will want to give up. Indeed some will give up. But as one young woman involved in rescuing Syrians in the Aegean Sea said last Sunday, “How can you not save someone who is drowning. How can you turn away?”
And remember, it is only we who falter. Jesus is always the same – the same yesterday, as today, and as he will be tomorrow. And he is with us always, to the end of time. AMEN