The Sacramental Life: Taking Up the Cross

I’ve been asked in the past if I would post some of my sermon notes online. Since I’ve started a sermon series on The Sacramental Life a few weeks ago, I thought I’d post my notes so you might have an idea of what a preacher’s notes look like. I’m trying to edit them as best as possible but I still want to give you a bit of a look at what I’m viewing when I’m preaching.

The Sacramental Life: Taking Up the Cross

Opening Prayer: O Cross of Christ, the hope of Christians, the guide of the wayward, the haven of the storm-tossed, the victory in wartime, the security of the civilized world, for the sick a physician, for the dead resurrection, have mercy on us.

Sacramental Acts: Part One Sept. 16

Don’t stumble over the words! For many people from various faith backgrounds, I have found that when I use a word such as “sacrament” it turns them off. Immediately their minds shut down because it’s not a part of their experience. Hopefully, I will help turn this around. As a bit of background, this isn’t a word I used early on in my Christian journey but I’ve learned to find it very helpful for me because it communicates a sense of mystery which is something I find lacking in many Christian stories today.

Sacrament as defined in the dictionary: A religious ceremony or act of the Christian church that is regarded as an outward visible sign of an inward and spiritually divine grace.

The definition of sacrament which I will be working with is, “A sacrament is a sign that catches our attention and leads us to remembrance by bringing us into a transformative experience with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus is met in mystery and revelation and these sacraments become a visible sign of grace/Jesus working into and through our lives.

And it is this Jesus who turns the signs upside down! Take the word Christ. It hasn’t been seen in Mark’s Gospel since the first verse and Jesus tells them to KEEP IT A SECRET. Why? Why keep silent about Him being the Christ when He is openly telling them He will suffer? It’s because Jesus wants to change the way people see who the Christ is meant to be.

Instead of seeing him as a coming King who would smash his enemies or view him as a political liberator who would get all the right people on his side Jesus is re-imagining the Hebrew idea of a Messiah/Christ to be that of the Suffering Servant…this Jesus is to be the Crucified One.

And that’s what I want us to do today. Re-Image how we view the sacramental life. For some this is a new term, for others it’s loaded with baggage, and today I want all of us to see it in a fresh way.

Let’s view Self-Denial and Cross Carrying as a sacrament. Even the Psalmist understands this idea. Don’t we see hints of carrying a cross in these words from Psalm 116 I was brought very low and [the Lord] helped me…for [the Lord] has rescued my life from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling“?

Pain & trial are part of life & without God walking with us they don’t make sense. It’s not about “Why does God allow it?” but, rather, “Where is God in the midst of it all?”

Jesus’ followers must be willing to embrace hardship, shame, and suffering with Him. He has suffered and pain is a part of life so we walk with One who knows exactly what it’s all about. In fact, we find especially present in these moments.

The cross is an instrument of murder/death yet it is also a symbol of resurrection. In the cross there is death AND life. The reason we cannot live into the sacramental life/divine presence of Christ is because we’re too busy dying instead of living.

What are the sacramental acts (outward visible signs of God’s inward transformation) that we practice? In this passage, two acts are mentioned: self-denial & taking up the cross.

But what do they look like? And where do they occur?

For Jesus’ early followers these acts often began in the big places (family, society) but, we find, in our culture it can become the smallest of places.

Self-denial in Worship.

Taking up the Cross in Worship.

I was speaking with another minister recently and he mentioned it would be interesting if someone drove by a church early on a Sunday morning and it was packed. He then proceeded to say the person driving buy wouldn’t know what was happening because it couldn’t be a funeral or a wedding, right? No one has funerals or weddings early on a Sunday morning, do they?

Then it hit me. Every time God’s people gather together to worship it should be both a funeral and a wedding! When we gather together we should lay all of our sin, faults, and frustrations on this instrument of death and just let them die. Then, after a few moments, we would return to the cross and look at it in a new light. Now we look at it and realize it’s empty. The Bridegroom has come down off the cross and has destroyed sin, death, and the grave! It’s time to celebrate a wedding of ourselves as God’s people and worship in happiness and joy.

Now, how do we practice the next sacramental act?

Self-denial in the present moment.

Be attentive. We have to learn to shut up and LISTEN!

This sacramental act was brought home to me recently when I was in Portland. I was walking down the street late at night and saw a bedraggled lady begging on the street corner. I pulled some money out of my wallet and walked on my way. She tried to call out, “Thank you” but I just kept walking. I’d done my Christian duty, right? No, I had not. I’d sinned because I wasn’t being attentive.

This was brought to life to me the next day when I saw Jesus. Where did I see Jesus? I saw him a few streets over from where I’d been the previous night. He was bending over talking to yet another street person. Oh, this didn’t look like the Jesus we’re familiar with in all of our paintings and images. Jesus looked like a young man in his late twenties or early thirties wearing shorts and talking to a homeless person. I never saw this Jesus give the man any money but I did see this Jesus giving the man his time.

I stood back at a distance and watched Jesus at work. When he was finished talking with this man, they shook hands and I heard the man say to this Jesus, “Thank you” and this Jesus smiled at him, acknowledged him as a human being, and walked slowly away. This was the sacrament in action.

I’m beginning to realize this particular Jesus practiced self-denial and knew what it meant to see the cross as a life giving experience. I’m realizing that walking in suffering and self-denial are moments of divine grace for Jesus walks with us and in us during those times. This is why they are sacramental acts.

How will we enter into these sacramental acts in our life? Where will we bring the cross as the death/life instrument which it is? Where will we deny ourselves to allow this Jesus to walk in and through us?

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