March 1, 2015 – Take it up

Lent 2   March 1, 2015 Psalm 22,   Mark 8:31-9:1   Take it up ********************************* Jesus has just asked his disciples “who do others say I am?” And– “ who do you say I am?” And Peter has named Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, the Christ. Good answer. Jesus then starts teaching that he must undergo great suffering and rejection and death. And Peter objects strenuously. Jesus says “Get behind me Satan! You’re setting your mind on the world, not on God’s way.” Then Jesus calls the whole crowd of followers (and people even thinking about following), and says “if anyone wants to be my followers, let them deny themself, take up their cross, and follow me. Those who want to save their life will lose it. Those who lose their life for my sake and the gospel’s sake will save their life.” I’m guessing there probably wasn’t a big stampede of people lining up to take up the cross and follow. But – as we read on, we do find crowds… still following Jesus…even all the way to the cross. (Peter included, though he famously turns aside, denying Christ three times in one night; still Peter comes back and follows….) And the path to the cross for most of us is seldom a straight line…Taking up the cross and following Jesus still doesn’t come naturally for most of us, most of the time. I love Jesus. We love Jesus. We love what he’s done for us on the cross. We try to be his followers every day. Still I confess, I’m still struggling with the part about taking up my cross and denying myself. I’m all for it, in theory. If Jesus says it, I’ll try to believe it and do it. But when it comes to self-denial, I’m Joe-average at best. Many of you are much better than I am at self-denial. I’ve been trying to follow Jesus nearly 45 years now. But I still struggle with taking up my cross – “the emblem of suffering and shame.” Embracing the cross, losing my life, is still part of the gospel that I continue to find challenging. Which may be why I’m fascinated with the artist Marc Chagall’s portrait of himself – painting Christ on the cross – that graces our bulletin cover today. (I’m the adult child of an artist on my mother’s side, and Chagall’s my very favorite artist. You may have noticed how often his pictures appear on our bulletin covers.) He was Jewish, and very familiar with the long, sordid history of Christian persecution of Jews. He grew up in Russia where anti-Semitism was rampant, and lived through the era of Hitler and the holocaust. As a Jew, he could probably think of reasons not to be interested in the founder of Christianity. And as an artist, Chagall loved life in all it’s colorful diversity. He painted many scenes from the bible with great sensitivity. He also delighted in painting scenes of sensual beauty…And as an artist, he probably could think of reasons to avoid Christ on the cross… But here’s Chagall, inspired by both the Spirit and the flesh – not only painting Christ on the cross – but painting himself into the picture with Jesus… Chagall in fact painted Christ on the cross...

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