A Cross Before A Crown

Having a Mind of Christ 

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers [and sisters], by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. … Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God …” (Romans 12:1, 2; RSV)

“[As Jesus and his disciples entered the district of Caesarea Philippi, with all of its natural splendor and economic wealth] … Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes,  and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you [with all of your popularity and power]. … [But after correcting Peter,] Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:21-22, 24; RSV

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These two texts for this coming weekend, as we continue our study of St. Paul’s Letter to the Church at Rome … joined together with this passage from the “hinge chapter” (Jack Kingsbury) of St. Matthew’s gospel … beg the following kinds of questions: “What is this matter of ‘a living sacrifice’ of ‘non-conformity’ and having a ‘renewal of your mind’ – not only in the time of the early church but in ours as well – that St. Paul is referring to? And why is it that Peter and Jesus get into such a heated exchange?  What’s at stake here? What does it mean for us today, to ‘deny ourselves and take up Christ’s cross and follow him’?”

To begin with … Is it not that our role as Christians, as the people of the Cross within this world with all of its pressure to conform, precisely what Jesus said it was: to be salt, yeast and light (Matthew 13; cf. St. Paul’s echoing voice in Philippians 2:5-11). Our Lord’s metaphors for his community of witness were all of them modest ones: a little salt, a little yeast, a little light.  Hmm? And yet Christendom has tried to be great, large, magnificent: from Cathedrals to mega-churches, from powerful Curias to TV evangelists, from gunboats to China to opportunistic political lobbying. Christendom tried and thought (note the past tense) itself the object of God’s expansive grace; it forgot the meaning of its election to sacrificial and transformational responsibility.

Today, we are constrained by the divine Spirit of God made manifest in Christ, to rediscover the possibilities of … hmm … littleness (‘oft expressed in a spirit of humility).  We are to decrease in order that the saving Gospel “good news” news of Jesus Christ may increase. But we cannot enter this new phase without pain (“God forbid, Lord!” Matthew 16:22). For truly we have been glorious in this world’s own eyes and terms. It seems to many of us a humiliation that we are made to reconsider our destiny as “little flocks.” I mean, how in-the-world can St. Paul confess: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10)?!  Is he out of his “mind”?! And can such a calling of Jesus be worthy of the servants of him who is the Sovereign of the Universe?! Yet, if that Sovereign be the One who reigns from the cross, could any other calling be thought legitimate? 

See you at Saturday Vespers or Sunday morning …
In Christ

j.r. christopherson
Senior Pastor