Picking Up the Cross Right in Front of Us

The Sunday Sermon:  Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 20, 2020

Scripture: Luke 4:18-19 (Philippians 2:5-8)

Picking Up the Cross Right in Front of Us

In last week’s scripture reading Paul invited us to be of the same mind that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).  The hymn Paul used to invite us into this common awareness in chapter two of his letter to the Philippians, whether he wrote it or inserted someone else’s, is almost always understood individually.  “What does it look like, feel like, what would it be like for me to be of the same mind of Christ?”  Or for you – Sandy, Rebecca, Lamont, Debbie – to “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  That’s how we most often do things in the 21st century.

But what if we consider that Paul is writing to more than any “one” person.  In fact, he is writing “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” Phi. 1:1  It is appropriate, then, for us to wonder what it may look like for an entire congregation to embody the mind of Jesus, to empty not simply our individual “selves,” but our corporate Self, in order to take on the form of a servant.  How might our whole congregation become humble and obedient to the point of death?  What crosses are right in front of us – the congregation of Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church and the congregation that now includes all those who have been “with us” in recorded worship services since last March, or last Summer, or just last week – what crosses are right in front of us just waiting to be picked up?[1]

Pray with me …

So, here we go … Church.  “Be of the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.”  If we’re going to genuinely accept that invitation, accept it not just intellectually and superficially, we need to understand the mind of Christ.  No doubt that’s a lifelong endeavor, but let’s allow the Spirit to move more quickly.  This is the mind of Christ – a commitment to serve others, with an unwillingness to seek personal gain.  The mind of Christ seeks not to build up self but to build up others.[2]

Listen for the Word of the Lord.  (Jesus said …)  Read Luke 4:18-19.  The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

One of the “crosses right in front of us waiting to be picked up” are the black lives in our world, in our country, in our city, and so in our lives.  Back in June, our country once again exploded in the face of an ancient evil, racism.  More Black lives were unjustly targeted and killed by white vigilantes and by official law enforcement agencies reminding us of a divide that we have never – to date – been able to heal as a nation.  We looked down at our feet and saw that cross lying there still.  We cannot, we must not, look past it – step over it – anymore.

Back in August, from August 24th to August 30, our denomination offered us a “Week of Action” structured to provide a public witness that facilitated education, visibility, and action that reinforced our PC(USA) statements and policy around the support of eradicating racism and acknowledging that God loves all Black lives.  We made this week known to all of our congregation and those journeying with us through recorded worship.  I participated every day and I heard from a few, by which I mean two, of our members who said they had logged in and watched a video or heard a panel discussion or two.  I imagine a few others did, as well.  But, at best, I think, we knelt down and got a closer look at the cross at our feet.

Beginning on August 25th and running concurrently with the “Week of Action,” our Presbytery invited us into “40 Days of Prayer” in partnership with the National Black Presbyterian Caucus.  Every day from August 25th through October 3rd we have been asked to pause at noon for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time George Floyd endured and finally died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.  Forty days is, of course, a biblically significant number that regularly precedes God’s saving activity.  We were, we continue to be, asked to lift up seeking the courage to dismantle structural racism and wisdom for life in a Covid-19 world.

I’m not at all how sure who else has been observing these minutes at noon every day.  We’re on day twenty-seven this Sunday.  I confess I’ve missed more than one day, but I’ve been logging most of them.  I’m mostly alone in our sanctuary at noon, but I’ve also found myself with some wonderful people in different places, asking them to pause with me or just quietly praying on my own.  Anyway, still I imagine, we’ve perhaps reached out to touch that cross that we’ve taken a closer look at while it rests at our feet.

It is time to pick up this cross.

Since the summer racial unrest began, a small group of us here at PVPC have been meeting on Sunday evenings to try to understand who we are and who we are supposed to be as Christian men and women in the midst of Black lives that don’t seem to matter.  We have explored our own white privilege, our own white rage, and our participation in a system of racist ideology called white supremacy.  It’s been hard.  We learned early that when you begin to interrogate White Supremacy it fights back to protect itself and maintain its position.  It shames you, angers you, makes you grieve and rage, creates apathy, anxiety and confusion.  But we have persevered.  And we are reaching out, now, to finally pick up the cross that we’ve seen up close and touched but that still rests at our feet.  And we’re doing that with all of you. – members and fellow journey-ers.

During our Session meeting last Monday, our Elders unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed the “Day of Action” that our Presbytery is preparing.  In two weeks, on Sunday October 4th, the first day after our “40 Days of Prayer” we will be joining with other congregations across our Presbytery to become a visible presence in our own neighborhood. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, we will gather by our church sign on Central Avenue in front of our church building with signs or banners as witnesses – through prayer and presence – to our commitment to dismantle structural racism.  By witnessing in this way – separately, but together with other congregations in our Presbytery and on behalf of those watching us and unable to join us – we act as one church, one presbytery, one people – with one mind, that of Christ’s – speaking out for the day when God’s justice will roll down like waters, and God’s righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Perhaps some listening, members of PVPC or others, are even now finding yourselves uncomfortable.  “Should we be doing this?  Isn’t it divisive?”  I hear this discomfort most often expressed in the concerns shared when we say “Black Lives Matter” and support Black lives in particular.  The movement, like any human endeavor, can be undermined and misunderstood.  But the declaration, the assertion that black lives matter, must not be.   Your Session, your Staff and I believe with all our hearts that this in no way means that all lives do not matter. It is rather an acknowledgment that many lives – specifically Black lives today – are systemically devalued.

Jesus himself understood the need to lift up those who were, and are, systemically devalued.  In our gospel reading this morning we hear Jesus say, “Poor lives matter.  Imprisoned lives matter.  Blind and oppressed lives matter.  Did he mean that the rich, the prison-owners, the sighted and the oppressors’ lives didn’t matter?  Of course not.  Jesus’ faith teachings, the same as our own, tell us that each person is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and has intrinsic worth and value.  But when any lives are systemically devalued by society, attention must be focused.  When we claim boldly that “Black Lives Matter” at this moment, we choose to “be of the same mind as Christ” by insisting on the intrinsic worth of all human beings.

Jesus models for us how God loves justly, and how his disciples can love publicly in a world of inequality.  We live out the love of God justly by being of the same mind as Christ and by picking up the cross right in front of us.

It will be so in the weeks ahead.  Amen.

Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor

Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / September 20, 2020

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, year C, vol. 2.  173.

[2] Laura S. Mendenhall, Feasting on the Word, year C Vol 2.  172,174.