Preached at the memorial service for Kofi Annan at Accra Ridge Church, Accra, Ghana
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me…”
I would like you to indulge me…and imagine with me that we’re back in world-cup times…and specifically to the game between France and Croatia. Imagine that the Disciples are all gathered in Peter’s sitting-room to watch this game…its halftime and they’re eating, drinking, talking about the good old Jesus days, laughing, teasing each other, and keenly observing the apparently budding relationship between Macron and the Croatian President (Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović).
Then Luke says, “Do you guys remember the day Peter rebuked Jesus for saying He’s going to die, and Jesus got upset and blasted him saying, “Get behind me Satan?””
…they all laugh…
Then John says to Peter, “…But Peter, in all seriousness, what exactly were you thinking…why did you rebuke our Lord?”
And Peter says, “You know, I just didn’t like the idea of suffering and dying…I couldn’t understand it…that was not what we signed up for. Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah…to save all of Israel…so how could He be the Messiah if He was dead.”
The room falls silent…and they begin to realize that what Peter said that day to rebuke the Lord…was actually what they were all thinking, but had been too afraid to say…
…and in fact what Peter did that day…rebuking the Lord…is something that you and I have often thought to do…and in some cases have actually done.
Because the fact of the matter is, when somebody’s vision begins to conflict with who we are, and even go so far as to try and overtake our own vision of ourselves and our situation…we feel the need rebuke that person…we find it necessary to take them aside… enlighten them…show them the folly of their ways…and that is what Peter did…except in His case…that somebody was God Himself.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we too, often disagree with the Lord…because He doesn’t do what we want…because He doesn’t see the world the way we see it…after all
- If He could heal Peter’s mother-in-law why won’t He heal those we love?
- If He could make the paralytic walk why are so many peple crippled by disease and fear, and dementia, and addiction?
- If He could calm the seas…surely He can calm the storms of our world…but instead there is so much violence & war & poverty.
- If he could keep Jairus’ daughter from dying why not our own children…our friends…why does He allow our loved ones to die?
- If he could feed 5000 with a few pieces of bread and fish why do so many people in the world…especially children go to bed hungry?!!???
We have all wondered these things…we have all asked these of questions…and some of us have lost faith and even left the Church over these things.
And that is how we rebuke Christ…When He is not acting like we want…when the things He says and does challenge and shock us…in our anger and frustration we walk away from Him – we rebuke Him!
So maybe we’re not so different from Peter after all.
You know it’s interesting…because in this same gospel Jesus asked the question, “Who do you say that I am?”
And this same Peter, said, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed one of God.” He clearly understood and believed that Jesus was the one of whom the prophets spoke. The one Israel was waiting for…the one who was supposed to restore God’s people…and even though Peter was right… he had his OWN ideas of HOW that should play out.
You see in Peter’s mind the Messiah was supposed to do certain things and be a certain way…
…and dying the death of a thief was certainly not one of them…
Likewise we all have also created in our minds the way Jesus should be and HOW He should deal with us…
…and so when all is well…when Jesus is healing the sick… when Jesus is preventing death…when Jesus is feeding the multitudes…we like Him. We want to follow that Jesus. THAT Jesus is our Lord and Saviour!
But the Jesus who says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross…”
That Jesus we don’t like so much…
But Jesus is not interested in our image of Him…and He has no plans of conforming to be who WE want Him to be…instead He has set a choice before us…
…He says ‘this is Me…this is my situation…its not pretty and its tough…if you want to be a part of Me…if you want all the blessings, if you want the elevation, if you want the favour…then you must experience the pain. Take up your cross and follow me!’
And take note…this is not a choice that we make once…or once in a while. It is a choice we each have to make over and over and over again…every single one of life’s circumstances presents us with a choice for Christ or against Christ. And we must choose.
We either choose ourselves (and deny Jesus) or we deny ourselves and choose Jesus…these are our options!
I suspect that on the day that Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men…” Peter had no idea the import of the choice he was making.
…and it makes me wonder if we know the import of the choice we make when we claim to be Christians and profess our faith in the words on the Nicene creed…
…do we understand the choice we’re making when we bring our children for baptism?
…Have we really considered what we’re sighing up for when during our confirmation we made an oath to renounce the World, the Flesh, and the Devil?
This morning when we each walked into this church and took a seat, I wonder how many of us truly determined that we will practice the DAILY self-denial that our faith requires?
It is true that Jesus’ words are hard…and His way is extreme…but surely we cannot expect that God went into a covenant with His people and brought them out of Egypt into the Promised Land only to say them, “Ok guys, now it’s time to relax.”
Faith in Jesus, is not about relaxation…it in not about the elimination of risks…it is not even about the preservation of life…and it is certainly not about the ability to control one’s own situation.
Instead, Jesus is asking us to risk it all. To abandon our lives…to relinquish control of our lives and our circumstance to Him…
He’s asking this because that is what HE did in order that you & I might be saved and He expects nothing less if we are going to follow Him.
The way of Christ…His own self-denial, is the model that requires us
… to love in a world that hates…
…to heal in a world that injures…
…to give life in a world that kills…
He offered mercy when all others sought vengeance…
…He offered forgiveness when everyone condemned…
…and He offered compassion when others were indifferent.
He trusted in God’s abundance when those around Him said there was not enough…
…and with each choice Jesus denied Himself in order to show the power of God…and we can & must do same…
But beware…at some point these kind of choices will draw the attention of…and indeed offend the sensibilities of those who live and profit by power & control…those who will not deny themselves….and they will respond.
Jesus said they would…He knew that He would be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes.
It has happened in every age for those who choose the path of self-denial…
…and as long as we choose that same path we can be rest assured it will happen to us…we will be rejected…even by those we love.
But when it happened for Jesus, instead of revolting…He made one last choice for self-denial…He chose resurrection over survival.
We too no matter our circumstance can choose resurrection…
…We can choose resurrection over bribery & corruption…
….We can choose resurrection over revenge…
…We can choose resurrection over our wrongful physical desires…but the choice is ours…
This morning the message from our saviour is simply this…(Sing Anglican Hymn 263)
Take up thy cross, the Savior said,
if thou wouldst my disciple be;
deny thyself, the world forsake,
and humbly follow after me.
Take up thy cross, let not its weight
fill thy weak spirit with alarm;
his strength shall bear thy spirit up,
and brace thy heart and nerve thine arm.
Take up thy cross, nor heed the shame,
nor let thy foolish pride rebel;
thy Lord for thee the cross endured,
to save thy soul from death and hell.
Take up thy cross then in his strength,
and calmly every danger brave,
’twill guide thee to a better home,
it lead to victory o’er the grave.
Take up thy cross and follow Christ,
nor think til death to lay it down;
for only those who bear the cross
may hope to wear the glorious crown.
To thee, great Lord, the One in Three,
all praise forevermore ascend:
O grant us in our home to see
the heavenly life that knows no end.
…in the name of the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit…Amen