Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
When I moved here to start as vicar, going on twelve years ago, I was new to email. (Sounds impossible to believe! Now email is being eclipsed by Facebook and Twitter.) I picked as my email address holyx, for Holy Cross. I didn’t realize that I could have used a plus sign instead of the x and had an address that avoided negative connotations.
Anyway, it’s occurred to me sometimes that X is an interesting take on the Cross. (Actually, the crosses used in crucifixion apparently weren’t like the Latin crosses we’re used to seeing. They were tau or T-shaped. And some crosses were actually X shaped, the victim’s hands and legs stretched out more painfully.) But the thing about X and the Cross is that “X marks the spot,” X is the intersection of space and time, X is the cross-hairs in a gun sight. And all of that is true of the Cross of Christ, the Holy Cross, the namesake of this church.
When, in this morning’s gospel, Jesus tells us that if we want to become his followers we must “take up our cross,” he means we must find the X place in our lives—or sometimes these are plural, X places—and focus in precisely on them, not avoiding them but “taking them up” as the centerline of our journey forward in life.
So I ask you to ponder now, what is the place in your life you want to avoid at all costs? What is the thing you don’t want to deal with, the person you don’t want to face, the situation you keep wishing away? Precisely there is your X, your cross. Pick it up and follow Jesus.
A friend of mine has been ill for a long time. To all outward appearances she has dealt with her condition well. She always spoke and planned for a future day when she would be free of disease, able to take up again the dreams of her youth. But a few weeks ago she received bad news. Her illness had taken a turn for the worse. “I can’t talk to you about it right now,” she said. “I just start crying. I think I will deal with this latest news as I’ve dealt with everything else: I’ll just deny it.”
Well, it is, of course, her choice. Who knows what any of us would do in her place? But talking to her, I found myself wondering what she would be losing by choosing denial? Maybe the psychological pain for her would be lessened, at least for a little while. But in embracing at last the depths of her tragedy, might she not finally come to rest in Jesus? Might she not find a far greater, richer peace? She has never been a believer. She has scoffed gently at my faith. Had this been, I found myself wondering, a function of her habit of denial? That she senses the danger in religious commitment, the Cross in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
I know that in my own life, the most painful points have been the ones that ended up holding the greatest growth for me spiritually, when at last I was forced to face them. I know that I’ve spent years of my life and thousands of dollars avoiding and denying, while accepting and “taking up” can be done at any time and for free.
After I bombed out at St. Matthew’s, Evanston, and my onward and upward career in the Church was clearly not going to happen, I went on a solitary bicycle trip in rural Wisconsin. I rode the country roads, stayed in bed and breakfasts, ate at small town lunch counters. All my life I had been groomed to be important, to be a leader, one of “the best and the brightest.” This was the way my parents needed me to be, the way I was educated, the way I came to need to be. But all of a sudden, cycling along on a spring morning, it came to me that I didn’t need any of this. Wherever I landed, I would be myself and Jesus would be with me. And nothing else was necessary.
I don’t claim that I’ve held onto that grace (for such it was) a hundred percent of the time since them. But it has become the road I’ve chosen for my life. It’s what brought me here, to little Holy Cross—my X place! It’s what makes me able to say that no matter how deep or how long this recession may be, I’ll be okay. No matter what age brings to me. I’ll still have myself and I’ll still have Jesus—to the end, and beyond.
Life is really as simple as that. If we only embraced this truth! Out of that X, the taking up of our cross, come such gifts of grace: faith that sustains us in a life not centered on “needs”; hope that leads us forward though we cannot know with certainty what the future holds; love that expands the less power we possess.
Did you catch the news this last week about the auction of Gandhi’s possessions? A collector sold them for $1.8 million: a pair of worn sandals, a battered pocket watch, a simple plate and bowl, eyeglasses. Those were all the possessions left of one of the most Christ-like figures who has ever lived. And a collector in California sold them, a billionaire in India bought them, these holy relics without worth and without price—for $1.8 million. How Gandhi would have shaken his head. How Jesus would have wept. How has our world come to this?
My beloved, we stand in the crosshairs, at this time and in this place. Here and now is our holy X. Jesus calls us,
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.