Der Vasken's Sermon on September 17, 2017

Sep 19, 2017

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

"You mean you're going to fill all those buckets and ship them to Florida?"

Today is one of the five major feast days of the calendar year called the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  And so I want to tell you about a man I met the other day.  This man's name is Joe.  Joe works at a nearby Home Depot.  He, in fact, is the manager of the store.  Last Tuesday evening Yeretzgin and I went there to fulfill a goal of sending ten buckets filled with supplies to the hurricane-affected areas of Florida and Houston.  These supplies will help clean up the mold from all the water damage that left countless tens of thousands of people unable to re-enter their homes.  You'll hear a little bit more about this in the hall later today.

We went up and down aisle after aisle at this Home Depot and we filled our cart with buckets and sponges, gloves and cleaning supplies from every aisle of the store in search of what was needed, but one item we couldn't find. And so we asked for help behind the Customer Service Desk.  And the man we asked happened to be the store manager.  And when he helped us find our last item, he asked us what we needed so many of each item for?  "We're from a church," we said, "and we want to help"...and we went on to explain that there have been churches all across America doing this exact same thing and to date, 100,000 buckets like these have been sent to the South.  And we want to do our part. Joe was captivated.  He stood there taking it all in and as we were about to leave, he turned to us and said, "Listen, when you go to the check-out counter, tell them that Joe said to give you a 20% discount.  That's the least we can do and guys," he said, "thanks for doing this."  

Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross.  We can draw on this Sunday to ask ourselves what does the cross mean to you and me personally.  And we can draw on this Sunday to have the Cross of Christ lead us down the path He wants us to travel.  Listen to this quote from the Bible: "Then Jesus said to them: 'If anyone wants to follow me, he must first take up his cross and then follow me.'"  Jesus spoke these Words to His disciples but there are many people who hear these Words and get upset.  They don't get charged up.  They get upset.  They get upset because this quote conveys a message many people don't want to hear.  It tells us that we are not the center of the world.  And even though we live in an increasingly "Me centered world," we are not the center of it.  It's upsetting because it tells us that sacrificing our wants for the needs of others is actually a corner stone of the Christian faith and that unsettles some people.  In practical terms, what does it mean for us "to take up our cross" and follow Christ?

I remember participating in a Bible discussion a while back on this very passage of the Bible for a gathering of adults.  And I noticed that their answers were all very similar in tone.  They thought that "taking up our cross" meant

  • Suffering like Christ suffered--physical, painful suffering,
  • Suffering from the ills of this world like cancer or arthritis,
  • Suffering through an unhappy family life,
  • Suffering from being let go from work,
  • Or suffering by going through some financial rough patches.

They thought that Jesus encouraged us to accept these types of suffering with a smile on our face.  But that's not what this quote is about at all.  He was telling His disciples, and all of us, to pick up the cross that was placed on your shoulders and carry it forward.  To pick up the heavy weight that burdens your life and carry it forward and the road to your eternal life will begin to become clear. 

  • It's about doing God's work in this world.
  • It's about caring for God's children in this world.
  • It's suffering by denying your wants for the wants of others.
  • It's suffering by denying your needs for the needs of those around you.

He says it this way: "Whoever loses his life for Me will save it."  In other words, whoever cares for other people and puts their needs before his or her own serves God and will inherit eternal life.  We don't suffer from cancer or have an unhappy family life for Jesus' sake.  Suffering in the Christian sense is much different than that.  To "take up our cross" and follow Christ means to follow His example the best we can by reflecting it so completely that we set ourselves apart from the world while living in it and working in it and loving those around us and those who need us.

Living as a reflection of Christ is not easy.  Sometimes it's easier not to be like Him.  Sometimes it's more popular to be just the opposite because the world around us has little value for God or His ways.  "Taking up our cross in life" means living our lives with our faith in the center and denying our plans for God's plans.  And when we take up His cross, we're following Him on the only path that leads to eternal life.

So on this Sunday of the Feast of the Holy Cross, let's remember that we all have obstacles which try to prevent us from discovering the meaning of the cross in our lives and of discovering what God wants us to do in this world.  The Cross of Christ is calling us to find new ways to live out our faith every day in our corner of the world.

  • What stands in your way of "taking up your cross" and following him?
  • And what does your cross in life look like?

"Then Jesus said to them: 'If anyone wants to follow Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.'"