The Fork in the Road
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at
Christ Church Savannah on March 1, 2015
The Fork in the Road
“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The imminently quotable Yogi Berra might have missed the point. He seems to be blissfully unaware that a fork in the road presents two options. “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Jesus’ disciples seem likewise to be unaware that they are at a fork in the road. They have a clear option, but all seem to push ahead as if no choice presents itself. Mark’s Gospel tells us, “Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.”
No matter what the disciples thought their destination was to be, Jesus now tells them clearly that they are headed toward his death. He does say he will rise again, but that’s not what they hear. They hear suffering and death. We know this because Peter reacts by taking Jesus off to the side in order to scold his teacher for talking like this. Jesus then looks back to the rest of the disciples and gives a scolding of his own saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
When Peter tries to stop Jesus from talking about his own suffering and death, Jesus tells Peter to set his mind on divine things rather than human things. Then he goes on to say some very tough words,
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
This is the point in following Jesus when it would be tempting to just sort of drop back in the line when walking, let the others get ahead for a while, and then turn around and go home. Jump off this train bound for Calvary and crucifixion before things ever get that far. Walk on back home to worry about tending fishing nets, or collecting taxes, or whatever it was you were doing before Jesus said, “Follow me.”
It is interesting that none of the twelve took this option. Jesus knew the men he picked when he picked them, for not one of them turned their backs on Jesus when he started to talk about his death. They tried to misunderstand. They wondered if he were talking in metaphor or analogies, like the man who goes out and sows seeds, but really he is a preacher spreading the Good News of Jesus. In that same way, they wondered what Jesus meant by suffering and death and rising again. But whatever, they thought, the disciples kept following.
Often this saying gets watered down by saying of nuisances or minor difficulties “This is the cross I have to bear.” Whatever, we mean by taking up our cross and following Jesus, it can’t just mean “deal with the minor problems and annoyances of life and follow me.” There has to be some sacrifice. Sure my wife and daughter have to bear up with hearing me repeat the same dumb jokes over and over, but this is not a cross to bear. This is one of life’s annoyances. Jesus means something more telling. If taking up your cross doesn’t sound difficult enough, imagine taking up one’s hangman’s noose or one’s electric chair, or one’s firing squad and following Jesus.
If we might could have taken this passage less serious in recent years, not anymore. News of Boko Haram killing Christians in Nigeria would be enough. But then there is the unforgettable image of 21 Coptic Christians put to death by the Islamic State. The men refused to renounce their faith in Jesus and were put to death. Take up your cross and follow me seems all too real, and serious.
This passage in Mark’s Gospel was written at a time when following Jesus put one at odds with the Roman Empire and the Empire didn’t mind lining up bodies on crosses along the roadside until the populace fell in line with what Rome wanted.
But what about those of us who are not called to live out our faith in a single act as martyrs. We may never face persecution and death for the faith that brings us here to worship this morning, but that does not mean that the grace God has so freely given to us was not bought at a great price. Our salvation was costly and our loving response should not be cheap or free. We may not be called to pour out our lives in a great act of self-sacrifice as Jesus did. We are called to respond to what Jesus has done by dying to our selves day by day.
I have tried to teach this before in different ways. I remember years ago wanting to show how we should let what happens in church infuse our whole week. Like a tea bag infuses hot water so that you can’t then separate the water from the tea, so should our faith be instilled in every aspect of your lives. I previously served a church with a lot of young families and I talked about how families can lose their religion on the way to church trying to get everyone up and dressed and in the car and all the way through these doors on time. No matter what happened on the morning or en route, the children would all look like angels once on church soil.
I bagged up dirt from the yard here at the church and offered to send it home to spread on the yard at home as silly sign that we are to act at home as we do at church. I remember seeing a dad toss the bag of dirt on the dash of his van as the family left and I thought, “I didn’t think this through very well.” I wondered about a scene in which someone would get pulled over for some traffic violation. The policeman would see a baggie full of a suspicious substance and not trust the driver that claimed the baggie to contain dirt from the church yard. Then in the style of TV cops, one policeman would dip a finger into the bag. The other would ask, “cocaine? Heroin?” No the taste tester would reply, “Topsoil.” Probably not my best teachable moment.
Imagine it like this instead. Let’s say that your life is worth a million dollars. Of course, you are worth far more than that, but this is an illustration. If this were the value of your life, you will not ever likely face the opportunity to pay it all out in one great sacrifice. Instead, for most of us, it’s like you keep headed to the ATM that represents your life and take out ones and fives and tens. In small acts of love for others, you offer your life a little at a time. Let the Mom with the two squirming kids ahead of you in line at the grocery store—fifty cents. Go to the break room at work following a co-worker who just learned his son was in a car accident, sit with him without saying a word and when he says he doesn’t know what to do, offer to pray—ten dollars. Forgive your father for never offering the love you needed because he never knew that kind of love himself—ten thousand dollars. Decide not to dump on your wife everything that went wrong during your day as you walk in the door. Stop and ask how she’s doing and listen—fifty cents. And so it goes. In every selfless act, every time you do something because you are more concerned about the other person than yourself, you live into the love God has for you and for everyone else. In these ways, most small and some larger, you can offer your life to God.
Taking up our cross and following him still holds some meaning. For if we really follow Jesus in such a way as to really change how we act each day, then others will notice. A tea bag infuses the tea into all of the water in a cup. If we really let the faith that is in us infuse our whole week there will be a noticeable difference in our lives. This path may not lead to suffering and death in the way that Jesus suffered and died, but if we have taken the fork in the road that Jesus took, then it will lead to a difference that others will notice.
We don’t get the gift of dying for Jesus in which we only make one decision not to deny him when faced with death and then all is over. Instead, we are given the choice to follow him in such a way that we have to see how our everyday lives can be lived differently because we are Christ followers. We don’t put the million dollars down all at once. Instead we pour out our lives 25 cents five dollars, a hundred dollars at a time to use my metaphor from earlier. We do this with acts of love and self-sacrifice that show our faith in Jesus to all the people in our lives. If we do this, the people in our lives will see that when we came to the fork in the road, we took the Gospel path of self-giving love. And when that self-giving love governs our daily decisions big and small, then we are really taking up our cross and following Jesus no matter where that path of love leads.