Do you remember the time that Jesus struggled . . . struggled with his faith? It was towards the end of his earthly ministry . . . in the city of Jerusalem. He had a meal with his disciples in that upper room. Then he went to the garden to pray. Remember his prayers? He asked God to take away the burden of what was about to happen . . . the arrest, trial, and crucifixion. He struggled with what he knew God wanted him to do . . . struggled with having to do it; but, in the end he offered a simple prayer to God: “. . . your will be done.”
It has always been my opinion that this is the most honest and hopeful prayer in the Bible . . . thy will be done. As the followers of Jesus this is what we have been called to . . . to do God’s will. As the children of God this is what we have been called to . . . to do God’s will. To do what God wants us to do in order to establish God’s Kingdom in this time and place. And, as much as I believe that this is the most honest and hopeful prayer that any of us could ever utter, I also believe that it is the most difficult prayer for any of us to live up to.
Because it comes with a cost . . . and extreme cost; or, as Jesus told us this morning in our scripture reading, it comes as a “cross” that we must bear.
Jesus tells us: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” And just how costly is picking up this “cross” and following Jesus? Well . . . ultimately, it will cost us our lives. Jesus continued: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Fortunately for us Jesus showed us the means of losing one’s life in the way that he lived his life, performed his ministry, and through the words that he spoke. That was his invitation . . . follow me . . . be like me . . . sacrifice and serve.
Isn’t that the problem with the invitation that Jesus issues us? It doesn’t fit into our culture . . . doesn’t fit into our society . . . it’s just not what we are taught in school, at home, or in life. We are taught to be self-sufficient, pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and to take care of ourselves . . . we are to watch out for ourselves. We are taught that it is a dog-eat-dog world and that only the strongest and most powerful survive. We are taught that the amount of power and wealth one has provides one with status and importance in the scheme of things. It is a consumer world that gets us up and going each and every day. It is very self-centered and focused on ourselves. It begins with the question: What’s in it for me? With such a mindset it is difficult to jump in with both feet and fully embrace the invitation of Jesus to follow and be like him.
Think about the span of your life . . . think about all the money you have earned . . . all the money you have spent. Think about all of the stuff that you have owned . . . the big stuff and the little stuff. Think about the accumulation of a lifetime of work . . . all of your stuff. That is a pretty steep price that Jesus is asking us to pay in order to follow him.
But, guess what! Jesus means it. Jesus literally picks up the cross . . . gets nailed to the cross . . . and, dies on a cross. He ultimately gives up his life for the lives of other. No greater gift is there than to give up one’s life for another. That “cross” is a lot more expensive than we realize.
Yet, in our reading this morning, the disciples—especially Peter—get an inkling of what Jesus is trying to say. Remember how our passage began this morning? Jesus is telling the disciples and those listening about what would happen to him . . . describes it in detail . . . the arrest, trial, and even death. Remember how this upset Peter, and Peter pulls Jesus aside to tell him to stop. Peter rebukes Jesus. But, who could blame Peter for wanting Jesus to be quiet and talk about other things . . . what Jesus describes is not pleasant . . . Jesus is going to die . . . Jesus is going to lay down his life for the lives of others. The cost of this adventure is not going to be cheap . . . it will cost Jesus his life. That is the “cross” that Jesus must bear . . . that is the prayer he prays to God, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”
The cost of faith . . . of being in an intimate relationship with God . . . is not cheap, nor is it easy. Yes, it often means that one has to go against the prevailing mores and rules of society and the world. Yes, it often means doing things we really do not want to do because no one else is doing them. Yes, it means to think of others first, ourselves last . . . not something we are taught. It is tough to let go of “I” and all things that we cling to that makes us “I” in order to open ourselves up to the people and world around us in compassion, understanding, and love. It is tough to let go and let God have our lives . . . it feels as if give up everything . . . and, for what?
Yet that is the way that Jesus shows it to us . . . in his words . . . in his actions . . . it always comes down to love . . . love of God and others. Part of the problem that brought on Peter’s rebuke of Jesus in our reading this morning is the fact that Peter and the rest of the disciples did not quite get Jesus and what he was doing. They saw Jesus’ acts of healing and the miracles he did as signs of power. They did not see them for what they were in the mind and heart of Jesus . . . acts of love. And when Jesus describes to them the greatest act of love—giving his life for them and the world—they can only object.
As far as Jesus was concerned, that was their right . . . their choice . . . if they wanted to object. Jesus was not going to force anyone to follow him or his ways. At the same time, he warned them that in the end they would lose. They would lose it all. Everything. But, it was up to them . . . the cost of gaining one’s life is to give one’s life . . . to God and to others.
As I have said before, Kris Kristofferson said it best in his song Me and Bobby McGee: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When we choose to follow Jesus and his way of living life . . . choose to give our lives over to this completely . . . what do we have to lose? The truth is . . . we gain it all.
Life . . . what is it worth? Not much if we don’t give it away to be in relationship with God and others. That is the “cross” . . . that is the “cost” . . . we are asked to bear as we strive to grow deeper and closer to God and all God’s children. It is a struggle . . . probably a daily struggle . . . but one we must endure if we are to ever realize the Kingdom of God. May our prayer in these struggles be the prayer of Jesus: “Not my will, but thy will be done.” Amen.