“Picking Up Your Cross” Colchester Federated Church, June 21, 2020, (Matthew 10:24-39) Third Sunday after Pentecost (**Virtual Worship)

I’m currently reading The Book of Gutsy Women by Hilary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton.  It’s this fabulous 400+ page book that details the lives of gutsy women throughout history.  In the chapter on Advocates and Activists they talk about the life of Ida B. Wells.  And share that in 1913 there was a Women’s Suffrage Parade, the day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson.  More than 5,000 women went to D.C. to march for the right to vote. 

Now at the front of the parade was Inez Milholland who was dressed all in white and rode a white horse.  At the back of the parade was a group of black women, including the founders of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.  Now Ida B. Wells was a member of that sorority and had brought several members of a suffrage club in Chicago to march with her.  Though she didn’t think that it was right that she should have to march at the back of the parade when she was primarily there with her suffrage club out of Chicago.  The parade’s organizers, including Alice Paul (who is heralded for all she did to fight for the right for women to vote) discouraged black women from marching in the parade at all.  Some of the white women were worried that the inclusion of black women would alienate Southern politicians who might otherwise support women’s suffrage.  So when Ida B. Wells was told that she should march at the back of the parade, she wasn’t having it.  And the day of the Women’s Suffrage Parade crowds could see Ida standing right among the delegation from Illinois near the front right where she belonged.[1] 

Sometimes standing up for yourself isn’t easy.  Standing up for what’s right isn’t easy.  Though taking a stand for what we know in our heart is right is something that needs to be done if we are to live with integrity.  The words of Jesus aren’t exactly easy to hear this morning.  He basically tells his disciples that preaching the Gospel (in essence standing up for what’s right and following his teachings) will bring persecution.  Jesus says, “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword.  I’ve come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  People’s enemies are members of their own households.  Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me.  Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me.”[2]

Yikes, this is a difficult passage and it’s hard to make this easier to digest.  What Jesus may be trying to get his disciples to understand is that there are consequences of the mission that is before them.  Not everyone, including not even members of their own families would agree with the disciples following Jesus and all that meant for how their lives would change.  Discipleship has joys and discipleship has costs.  That’s why the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a classic book called The Cost of Discipleship. 

Don’t forget that the disciples James and John were in a boat with their father Zebedee repairing their fishing nets when Jesus called them to follow him.  Matthew tells us earlier in Chapter 4, “Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”[3]  Now we might say that this is understandable.  After all, it’s Jesus himself who called James and John.  So it makes sense that they left their father behind to follow him.  But how do we think that Zebedee felt when his sons abandoned him in that boat (after all it’s Father’s Day—Happy Father’s Day to everybody celebrating!)?  We modern Christians can possibly understand that the call of Jesus came before the family fishing business.  But did Zebedee feel that way when his sons left him behind?  It’s not as if he knew exactly who this Jesus of Nazareth was, let alone believed him to be the Son of God and the Messiah right then. 

Perhaps what Jesus is reminding us today is that following him and picking up our crosses has consequences.  There are joys and costs to discipleship.  Not everyone will understand our choices.  Neill and I are heading to visit my family in Ohio coming up and he pointed out recently that there may come the day where I’ve lived in New England longer than I lived in Ohio. (Since leaving Wadsworth around the age of 18 for college in North Carolina and having lived in Massachusetts and Connecticut for 12 years by now.)  My response to Neill was a super mature—I don’t want to talk about that, I’ll always be an Ohioan who lives in New England right now, thank you very much.

Though when taking my first church out of Seminary in Massachusetts a comment I heard from more than one person was—oh, so there’s no UCC churches for you to serve in Ohio?  It led to some soul searching.  In truth, choosing to live and serve churches in places that aren’t anywhere near my hometown and my family has often felt like picking up my cross and following Jesus.  There’s sacrifices that are made anytime someone doesn’t live near loved ones.  It’s not always easy no matter what our job happens to be. 

My secret hope is that Zebedee understood James and John leaving him behind in that fishing boat to go follow Jesus.  Because sometimes children do fly the nest because life is short, and the world is wide.  Sometimes there are callings beyond the familiar.  Sometimes there are callings right where we’re from too.  The point is that not everyone will understand why we do what we do.  And sometimes following Jesus (which could be argued is rooted in following our hearts since God is love) has joys and costs.

Jesus is challenging us to contemplate how we follow him and what following him looks like in our own lives.  What does picking up our crosses and following Jesus mean to you and to me?  What are the consequences that inevitably come from following him and choosing to stand up for what’s right? 

The whole passage about family members turning against each other isn’t easy, especially on Father’s Day.  Though there’s some hopeful words here as well and that’s what we can contemplate to end.  Because Jesus reminds us even in the midst of these hard teachings that two sparrows are sold for a small coin.  Yet not one of those sparrows will fall to the ground without God knowing about it already.  Jesus says, “Even the hairs of your head are all counted.  Don’t be afraid.  You are worth more than many sparrows.”[4]  No matter what picking up our crosses and following Jesus looks like in our own lives—we need not be afraid because we are worth so much to God.  Let that sink into our hearts, especially on the tough days.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, The Book of Gutsy Women, 247-248.
[2] Matthew 10:34-38, Common English Bible.
[3] Matthew 4:22.
[4] Matthew 10:30-31.