(Jeremiah 15:15-21, Psalm 26:1-8, Romans 12:9-21)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/1oALiBepWRA)
21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.
24Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
27‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’
Being a Christian is a hard thing to be. If our readings assigned for this morning have told us one common thing it is that…being a Christian is a hard thing to be. And it has always been hard to be a Christian. The persecution that Christians receive today is no different than the persecution received by people from nearly 2,000 years ago, and since then. It is a hard thing being in relationship with God through Christ. Just look at what the world did to Christ! It’s no wonder that followers of Christ would receive the same treatment! Of course the world would persecute Christians…it persecuted Christ! Yes, being a Christian is a hard thing to be. And yet being a Christian is a sure way to getting to know God and being known by God. When we know Christ then we know God and God knows us. You might say that Christ is the middleman between God and us. Christ reveals God to us while at the same time hears us and heals us. He loves us as only God can love us—unconditionally, unendingly, unsparingly. Christ is God and God is Christ. Christ is also us and we are Christ. I know, a lot to wrap our heads around this morning! But the point remains that it is difficult to be a Christian.
And it’s difficult being a Christian for a number of reasons. Being a Christian involves looking out for your neighbor. It involves being vulnerable to your neighbor. It involves serving your neighbor. Being a Christian involves sharing God’s love with a world that so desperately needs it but so often refuses to accept it, at least as a free gift of grace. Being a Christian involves being in the world but not of the world. It involves living in the sin of the world, adding to the sin of the world, and at the same time shunning the sin of the world, choosing to live as God wants us to live. We can’t avoid the sin of the world. We can’t even avoid adding to the sin of the world! We are all sinful people! And yet when we choose to live as Christians, when we choose to allow Christ to guide our lives, when we choose to welcome Christ into our hearts and minds, we take on new identities. Not necessarily free of sin but freed of our bondage to sin. We no longer have to sin. We can choose to live according to how Christ wants us to live. We can choose to live better lives, God-pleasing lives. Christ makes that possible for each one of us. He makes it possible for us to rise above our sinfulness. He enables us to cheerfully love and serve our neighbor. Perhaps more importantly, Christ enables us to love ourselves, truly love ourselves. Not pridefully, not selfishly, not arrogantly but with humility, selflessness, and humbly. Christ enables us to love as he loves, both ourselves and those around us. After all, it is Christ within us that is shared with ourselves and those we interact with. We can’t take credit for the work of Christ within us. It is Christ within us who helps us and sustains us. And it is Christ within others that shares with the Christ within us. It is Christ’s work and to him we give all honor and praise!
But getting back to how it is difficult being a Christian. I think what makes it most difficult to be a Christian, and what I tried to lift up in the children’s message, is this expectation of sacrifice. It is hard having to make sacrifices. We don’t want to give up anything. We don’t want to give up our time or our possessions or our freedoms or our control. We certainly don’t want to give these up to someone else! We do it for those we love because of the love they share with us. We do it for those we work with because of the paycheck and all the freedoms and control and possessions that it provides. We make sacrifices for any number of reasons but that doesn’t mean we LIKE to do it! It is hard to make sacrifices and the rewards are often too little to even justify making them. But sometimes, just sometimes, the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. Sometimes we make sacrifices that reward us in ways we could never imagine. Sometimes the rewards give us more than we lost.
When you allow Christ into your life, you make all kinds of sacrifices. You can no longer destroy your body because he needs it to carry out his work of sharing his love with the world. You’re no longer a master over anyone. You become a servant to all. You’re no longer able to tear others down but obligated to lift them up as they fall. You’re no longer in control of your life. Christ leads your life and sends you where he wants to send you. Christ compels you to say and do what he wants you to say and do. You’re no longer enslaved to sin but instead enslaved to righteousness. You’re compelled to doing what’s right and holy and God-pleasing. Make no mistake about it, these are sacrifices you make when you live as a Christian and they are hard sacrifices to make. And to further add to their difficulty, the world judge you for making them. The world doesn’t want us to make the sacrifices necessary for following Christ. The world wants us to revel in our sinfulness. The world wants us to wallow in our pride and arrogance. The world wants us to die. But Christ wants us to live! Christ wants us to make sacrifices so that we might live and live abundantly! Christ wants us to carry a cross so that we can constantly kill our sinfulness and pride and arrogance and selfishness. We can constantly die to ourselves and rise to new life in him. We carry our own executioners, ever eager to put our sinfulness to death.
And the rewards for being a Christian…oh, the rewards! Peace, assurance, acceptance, wisdom, LOVE, joy, satisfaction, integrity, self-worth, LOVE…these are but a few of the rewards for making the sacrifices. Be assured, the rewards are plentiful. Indeed, the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. It is hard being a Christian in today’s world. But it has always been hard and will likely always be hard. Christ’s way is the way of truth. Christ’s way is the way of love. Christ’s way is both of the world and above the world. As we continue through this season of Pentecost, let us acknowledge the difficulty of being a Christian while at the same time rejoice in all the rewards that go along with being a Christian. There are great sacrifices expected of us but the rewards certainly justify them. We know God and are known by God. We are assured of God’s love for us through Christ and such assurance is no small thing! We are loved…Christ tells us so! In the way of Christ, let us be glad to…take the high road.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.