A Call to Faith
By Dennis S. Hankins
And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Jesus
I often think about what it means to follow Jesus. And the gospel today invites us again to think deeply about this very thing. From Peter we hear a profession of faith. Deep within himself Peter embraces the gift of knowing who Jesus is and responds, “You are the Christ.” No doubt there were affirmations from the others standing nearby. “That’s right!” someone added. “That’s what I think about you too, Jesus,” someone else exclaims.
And then it goes south. It’s difficult to keep reading. Jesus asks everyone to keep this revelation of his messianic mission under their hats for a while. He teaches them how he must suffer many things. Just a few moments ago Peter and company were elated. Like a balloon rising on the wings of the wind these disciples of Jesus were riding on cloud nine. And then Jesus explains his future is filled with religious animosity and official rejection by the spiritual leaders of his day. As his tone became more somber as his words reveal his sacrificial death. Speaking plainly Jesus bluntly bursts any thoughts reflecting any mediocre and frivolous notions of his messiahship.
You could hear a pin drop as we say in tight and awkward moments of silence.
And then Peter lets it out. He will have none of this. Sensing madness in his master he rebukes his Lord. Not all thoughts are inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is one of those moments for Peter. Jesus turns abruptly and looks each of his disciples in the eye. And then looking directly at Peter Jesus rebukes the chief son of his closest followers.
Just a few short years before Peter left everything to follow Christ. He heard the call of faith and in his heart he said yes. He dropped his fishing nets to fish with Jesus for the sons and daughters of Adam in the sea of humanity. And up until a few moments ago Peter saw Jesus clearly. But now Satan has sown doubt and fear and the very fabric of Peter’s understanding of himself and of Christ is torn. To save Peter and everyone else looking on this unbelievable scene of insubordination Jesus counters, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.”
Again the air grows thick and Peter buries his head in his hands.
Everyone takes a moment to catch their breath. Jesus invites the many who are following him on this day to sit down. There are things he must say. All eyes are on him. Everyone is waiting for him to speak…
My friend, Warren Evans, is a WWII veteran. He served our country as a member of Colonel Darby’s elite 1st Battalion Rangers. Warren grew up on the plains of South Dakota. There he discovered life in all of its peculiarities and foibles and promises. He met the love of his life there too. It would be a few years later before he could say, “ I do.” Before he made it to the altar of holy matrimony he would fight his way across Africa, Sicily, and Italy. In hand to hand combat with our enemies, Warren looked deeply into the eyes of soldiers who like him had left everything real and lovely to go war. He would spend over a year in a German POW camp not knowing what his future held.
Warren is now about 94. The trials and tragedies of war often haunt him to this day. Life and love of family, living and dead fill his heart. And memories of better days give him strength and courage to smile. I grew up seeing that smile splash across this man’s face. His chiseled jaw and white hair and joyous eyes inspire and enrich everyone around him to this day.
I think about men like Warren when I hear Jesus speak of courageous faith expressed in selfless and sacrificial words. However, we don’t hear words about self denial easily. Carrying a cross invokes images of suffering – rejection – death. Self preservation comes naturally. Avoiding pain and sacrifice is seen as strength. We are pampered by gnostic ideas espousing materialism as a sign of spiritual blessing. But what does it profit us, to gain the whole world and forfeit our soul? Life is more than stuff and things. Faith in Christ is more than a spiritual jolt and high. Sunday morning church is more than a Saturday night gig dressed up a bit for the liturgy and announced as worship. Living for Christ, answering his call to faith and love and worshipping at his throne is so much more. It is ineffable.
Many find the cross enigmatic. Yet it is here we discover our rich and life giving call to follow Christ, to live in his love, and to bring the power of his forgiving mercy to all the world. Everyone who takes up his cross and follows Jesus is responding to the call of faith. In every generation the call of faith goes out. Every boy and girl and man and woman who embraces a deep and genuine profession of faith testifies to the truth of Paul’s words:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Let us show our love for Christ in loving one another. May we respond in mercy to all who need the love and touch of Christ. Because faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. Amen.