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22 OT A ~ "The Message" ~ Susan McGurgan, DMin


From a marketing standpoint

this message is a complete disaster.


“Who ever wishes to come after me

must deny themselves,

take up their cross

and follow me.”


Imagine the Madison Avenue suits

trying to nuance this one

or strategize damage control.


“Listen boss, I think it might be a little

off-brand

for the God of love and light.

I mean, potential customers

might be confused.

It’s a bit off-putting,

don’t you think?

Just sit tight where you are—

hang out in some invisible village.

Don’t head into the big city just yet--

don’t enter Jerusalem

until we have a chance to

run the metrics--

do some storyboarding

on different messages—

analyze the market research

and listen to some focus groups.


If you lead with such a

bold and…

well let’s face it...

it's not really a customer-friendly statement--

is it?

This could be a PR nightmare.

Worse than the whole

John the Baptist fiasco.”


Why not repeat that story

about lost sheep?

Now, that’s comforting!

Baby animals always sell!

We could prepare a full color spread

of you carrying a little lamb

on your shoulder.

It's a natural.


Or,

let’s repackage the miracle

of the loaves and fishes!

We could center

a whole marketing campaign

around food,

parties,

feeding hungry crowds,

multiplication of blessings--

Now, that’s a winner, right there.


But crosses?

God forbid, Lord!”


Imagine how many followers Jesus might have

If only he had said,

Lay down your cross and follow me.


Ignore your burdens,

and I will make them disappear.


Follow me,

and you will never suffer again.


Those are messages everyone can embrace,

and the Gospel of prosperity and ease

still attracts many, many followers--

and more than a few leaders.


But suffering?

Crosses?

I don’t want to talk about suffering.

Suffering can squeeze and twist your soul

into unrecognizable shapes.

Pain can enter your life like a stealth bomber

exploding your world into a thousand brittle shards.

Illness and loss can leach away happiness

leaving us dry and empty husks,

wondering what ever happened to joy.


OR,


Suffering can be the way we discover

the depth of our humanity,

the power of our faith,

the measure of our love.

Suffering can carve away

everything non-essential in our lives,

revealing the strength

of our connection with God

and the beauty of our bond

with each other.


The difference lies in the cross.


The cross teaches us --

not that God will prevent all pain

remove all barriers

heal all wounds

take away all sorrow--

not on this earth at least.

Rather,

The cross teaches us that these burdens

can be transformed.


I don’t pretend to know how.

I’m not sure you can, either.

I only know that through the cross

by way of the empty tomb,

our burdens

can be taken up into the heart of God,

blessed,

and returned to us as life.


The cross dares us to believe

that a loving God

lives at the center of everything,

even those things we don’t understand.


Jesus never explained the mystery of suffering.

He never promised we would always

be happy or safe.


But he did promise

we would not be left orphans.

He promised

that his Father’s house had many rooms.

He promised

that he would return for us.

Through his death and resurrection,

He promised

that evil would be redeemed,

that suffering was not the final word,

and that the agony and loneliness of death—

even death upon the cross,

was somehow

the beginning of life.


These aren’t empty promises

or cheap comfort for difficult times.

These words are true.

I don't know how,

but they are,

because they were spoken by someone

who knows what it’s like

to stand alone in the garden.

By someone who knows

what it’s like to be betrayed.

Who knows what it’s like to suffer,

to feel pain,

to be abandoned and afraid.


This is a promise made to all of us

by the God who stoops to wash our feet.

This is the message Jesus

wants us to hear so badly,

he walked out of the tomb to tell us.


Believe in the power of the cross.

Believe that justice and mercy

are stronger than hate.

Believe that beauty survives brutality.

Believe in life

even though the world so often celebrates death.

Believe in the counter-intuitive,

PR nightmare,

marketing disaster,

off-brand message

from the God of love --

to walk toward Calvary,

carrying whatever baggage,

whatever burden,

whatever splintery,

top-heavy,

hard-to-drag-around-

Cross

you have been asked to bear.


It’s not always an easy journey,

but we will have plenty of good company

along the way,

and it is on this journey,

we encounter the living God.



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