Sunday 30th August – Trinity 12

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

In 1849, after the siege of Rome, the Italian general Guiseppe Garibaldi, said to his men, “Soldiers, all our efforts against superior forces have been unavailing. I have nothing to offer you but hunger and thirst, hardship and death; but I call on all who love their country to join with me” – and they came in their hundreds.

Such words were echoed by Winston Churchill after Dunkirk, offering only “blood, toil, sweat and tears.”

Or Shackleton, when he proposed his march to the South Pole, facing blizzards, hunger, intense cold, many dangers – he asked for volunteers, expecting to have difficulty finding people willing to go. He was inundated with letters, from all walks of life, rich and poor, old and young, all wanting to be part of that great adventure.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

This is not a warning. It is not a command. It is an invitation.

A book I read recently spoke of the “cross-marked character of the Christian life.” Each and every Christian is marked with the cross at the moment of their baptism. I often remind parents to think carefully what this means.

The cross was an instrument of death, a slow, agonizing and humiliating death. The Romans were no idiots, they knew how to keep conquered people in their place. If Jesus we born in a different age would parents watch smilingly as their child was marked with an electric chair or an AK47?

Each one of us leads a cross-marked life. Easy to say, but what does it mean?

There is a clue in our relationships with one another. For example, marriage vows are for richer and poorer, for better and worse, in sickness and in health. Each of here will know of people who have lived the fullness of those vows. People whose loyalty, friendship and love has been maintained through the most awful of circumstances.

There is lot of talk of marriages that don’t work, and behind the statistics there are real people for whom this is the last thing they wanted. But the stories of marriages that endure are largely untold, much patient courage goes unseen and unsung. Cross marked living is all around us, we just tend not to notice.

That cross-marked living is seen also within a parent’s love for their child, and in many a child’s love for their parents. I’m thinking of those young people who as they grow up have become the main carer for a seriously ill relative. Cross-marked living is within friendships, and sometimes also seen in our places of work.

A man who faced a cynical and manipulative boss did not know what to do. Nobody would challenge the bully, some benefited by siding with him. To make a stand would be to risk becoming a target, probably lose his job, and the consequential suffering imposed on his family.

One day his wife confronted him. “Look,” she said, “We may have to face some hard times. I can live with that. What I cannot live with is a man who spends the rest of his life broken because he did not take a stand.”

Sometimes by playing safe we lose everything. It depends what really matters.

We don’t have to stop and think too long to realise that cross-marked living is within our field of experience. In Star Trek Dr McCoy was fond of saying, “It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.” Cross-marked living is life, and life as we know it. Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven is closer than you think.

If cross-marked living is known in our relationships with one another. It is known also in our relationship with God.

When Moses answered God’s call in the burning bush it was no small task that was set before him. To leave a place where he had made a good home, married, done well for himself, and go back to a place where he had fled from.

Moses knew two things about that call. Firstly that it would be difficult and dangerous. Secondly that he had no idea what to do and felt entirely out of his depth. This is also cross-marked living.

It may help us to remember that in the original text the word used for the bush that flamed with the glory of God means – ‘a tatty weed’. God speaks through a tatty weed. He chooses the things and the people that are inadequate, and through them performs wonders.

Cross-marked living is a sign of our living with God. The signs of its presence are not the usual signs of this world – success, wealth, targets achieved, numerical growth. By all those measures Jesus was a failure, and so were many others, Jeremiah, Moses, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King. People who do God’s will don’t measure success by all the usual signs.

Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labour and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do your will.; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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