Carrying the Cross

Rev. Vilodi Sakhrie

Today I stand before this congregation with a very sad and heavy heart. Till yesterday I was planning to speak on something related to the Christian family. But the sad turn of event yesterday has made me to change my mind. It has made me to think how we can truly live as Christians in such a time as this? How we can be true disciples’ of Christ? A few years back a good friend of mine said that ‘many of us like to have the cross as a decorative piece but not many are willing to carry the cross.’ Crosses abound in Nagaland. On mountain-tops, rooftops of churches, jubilee ‘pandals’, and around the necks of people. But how many of us are really willing to carry the cross?

Many of us think that to carry the cross is something that happens to us when there’s a sickness in the home or a problem child in the family. And we say, ‘Oh, that is my cross.’ But I believe that that is not what Jesus meant. To carry the cross is a choice we have to make, it is voluntary. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34).  What does the cross mean? The cross means death. During the times of Jesus if a person was seen carrying a cross one thing was certain. That person was going to meet his death.  

If the cross means death the next question is what are we to die to? We are to die to our ‘self’. We are to deny our ‘self’ (Mark 8:34).  We usually think of denying or dying to our ‘self’ as denial of worldly pleasures or sinful habits (usually understood as chewing ‘paan’, drinking alcohol etc.). But the denial Jesus talks about goes much beyond that. We are to deny our SELF, the tendency to put our ‘self’ first rather than God. We are not only to deny the sinful things but also to deny the so-called good things in life, anything that can take the place of God in our lives. 

Jesus said in Luke 14:26 & 27, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Such harsh words, seemingly. Does Jesus really want us to hate our own family? I do not think so. Elsewhere in the Bible it is written that we are to ‘honor our parents’. What these verses mean is that we are to love God so much so that others seem like hate in comparison. We are not to take these words to the letter so as to miss the point of what Jesus is really trying to say. 

The apostle Paul also makes a similar point in his letter to the Philippians. In Philippians 3:13 Paul says, “Forgetting what is behind.” What is Paul to forget? We find the answer in the same chapter in verse 4 and below, “If anyone else thinks has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eight day, of the people Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” Paul was a ‘pucca’ Hebrew. Yet, he was willing to let his tribal and national identity take a secondary place. He even goes as far as to say that he considers them a ‘loss’ and ‘rubbish’ compared to the ‘surpassing greatness of knowing Christ’ (v. 8).

It is very interesting to note that Jesus uses the words ‘cannot be my disciple’ three times in Luke 14:26,27&33. How are we to make sense of these words? A popular understanding can be to think that Jesus will not ‘allow’ us to be his disciples if we are not willing to take up our cross. But there is another way that we can look at these words. It simply means that no matter how much profession we make as a Christian if we are not willing to take up our cross we simply cannot follow Christ. We will not be able to live the Christian life in its truest sense. And I think this makes better sense. It’s not like Jesus is stubbornly saying, ‘I will not allow you to be my disciple’ but Jesus is saying, ‘you simply cannot be my disciple (or live the Christian life)no matter how much you try unless you are willing to take the way of the cross.’ And the way of the cross is death. There is no other way.

The way of the cross demands that we die to the things we love most, to the things that we hold so dear. That includes our family, tribe, nationality or even our nationalism. Unless we are willing to die a time will come when we will have to choose between Christ and the things we hold on to and our allegiance towards the other things will take precedence over our allegiance to Christ. When that happens the results are disastrous. We simply cannot hope to live the Christian life when our allegiance is misplaced.

Someone said that there are two forces or movements in the world moving in two opposite directions. Globalization and Balkanization. Globalization is something we all have a vague idea so I need not say more. Balkanization is a term to explain the disintegration of some multiethnic states and their devolution into dictatorship, ethnic cleansing and civil war—of ethnic and political fragmentation. The world has grown smaller, we live in a global village, so we say, but it is also a world that is so fragmented by ethnic and racial conflicts. Most of the problems that we read on papers or watch on TV globally, regionally or locally fall on these lines. It is frightening to see how much our tribal or ethnic identities can cloud our thinking and impair our judgments. A lot of crimes have been committed in the name of racial superiority or a person is seen as the ‘other’ just because of his ethnic identity and thus branded an enemy. When we view things or other people through these lenses we fail to see the ‘other’ as someone created in the image of God sharing our common humanity and thus deserving our utmost respect.

Alkesandr Solzhenitsyn, a Nobel Prize winner, a Christian who was imprisoned for his dissent against the communist regime in the former USSR, says:

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

These words of Solzhenitsyn should serve as a warning against demonizing others and to look at our own hearts capable of evil in its most heinous form.

In conclusion I would like to say that as Christians we have been given a new identity, ‘Sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:26). And in Christ Jesus God has created a new society, a new community—the Church, not on the basis of tribe, race, nationality or gender but on the shed blood of Jesus. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28). May this give us a fresh understanding of God’s vision for a new humanity, rising above our parochial outlook and embrace one another as sisters and brothers in Christ. This will only be possible as we take up our cross deny ourselves daily and follow Jesus. May God have mercy on us.

Rev. Vilodi Sakhrie is the Pastor of Town Baptist Church, Dimapur. This sermon was delivered at the Town Baptist Church on 2nd September, 2012