We want to follow Jesus – why else would we be here this morning? So, it sounds like we had best take up our cross and get on with it. But what does that actually mean?...
For we must be honest with ourselves as Jesus was with the disciples in this passage. The Christian journey is not for the faint hearted. Accepting our vocation as individuals or as a parish is likely to prove costly. As the Very Revd. Alan Webster, sometime Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral often said, “the cross comes when you try to change things.” He certainly experienced this, both in conflicts with the cathedral establishment, and with then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher over his determined stance that the service marking the end of the Falklands War would acknowledge the pain and loss of both sides. He and his wife Margaret were also prime movers in the Movement for the Ordination of Women and suffered greatly for their public role in that struggle.
The cross comes when you try to change things. In other words, our ‘cross’ is not unchosen - some pain or sickness we are simply asked to bear without complaint. It most certainly is not any form of abuse we are asked to suffer. We have some choice in whether or not to accept our vocation, just as Jesus chose to challenge the authority of the leaders in Jerusalem. But we encounter our ‘cross’ in the resistance we meet, both within ourselves and in the wider community, to the possibility of change and indeed spirit-led transformation.
For change of any kind, as we all know, is exceedingly difficult. Jo and I have been doing some down-sizing and clearing out and moving a few things around. We can see the obvious benefits of this. Yet even this simple, clearly beneficial change, is not without struggle and effort and we sometimes resist, as Jo will testify that I do! If even such simple change is difficult, how much more difficult are profound but necessary changes to our church and world.
Today we thank God for the pioneers who brought about the emancipation of slaves, measures to end child labour and increase the education and equality of women, and every move towards a more fair and just society. None of these changes came without cost, without the cross, for those who promoted them at the time. Many of them are still battles being fought, crosses being carried, in different parts of our world.
So, what about us? What cross is Jesus asking us to bear, in the transformation of the world? Well that is a question with which I hope we will wrestle in the coming months. But as a starting point we might consider how we are living into our self-description. Our website declares us to be a “contemplative, connecting, creative community in Brisbane’s inner west”. Contemplative, connecting, and creative – what might be the call, and therefore the cross involved in each of these?
What is it to be contemplative? Well that is probably a question for a lifetime, but at the least I think it means we put prayer before anything else – the kind of prayer that involves being aware of God in each moment, in the place where we are. We practice such prayer and in so doing seek to surrender our ego-driven desires, which is part of what Jesus meant when he told those who would follow to ‘deny themselves’. Surrender of the ego is the beginning of carrying the cross.
Then connecting. When I think of connecting, the image that comes to me is of a bridge – and of course bridges of their essence get walked across! Perhaps a part of our call and therefore of our cross, is to make connections between diverse parts of our community, allowing those who might not otherwise meet to do so and to listen deeply to each other’s needs. This is part of what it means to be a community that not only includes and affirms, but also celebrates diversity. Those who prefer to keep others in their separate boxes may not approve or enjoy that approach and so conflict and the cross can arise.
Finally, creative – and really this is where our many artists need to speak. But to create, to make something new where nothing existed before is always a self-sacrificial act. It can also be an act that draws attention to something and raises awareness and hence can be an instrument of societal change. This is the kind of creative work being attempted by the Curators’ Theatre group who are now renting space at Christ Church and with whom we hope to forge partnership. As we live in to what it means to be a creative community, we will be asked for much vulnerability and risk-taking, as all artists are.
So, we are not in for an easy ride. Jesus made that clear and I believe it is clear for us as a community that living out a faith community that is truly contemplative, connecting and creative will not be easy. It will ask all that we have and are. Yet as Jesus promised, ‘those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’ May Christ grant us courage for the journey and the grace to take up our cross and follow. Amen.
Penny Jones, for Sunday 30 August 2020