The Rev. Denise Vaughn
Will the Cross Sell?
The question that is often asked by professional marketers, especially if you belong to the Coca-Cola Corporation and you want to start a new Coca-Cola product, the question asked is: Will it sell in Peoria? One of the places where Coca-Cola field tests products is in Peoria, Illinois because if a product can sell in Peoria, chances are it can sell in Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Atlanta. Now, you may or may not realize it, but Peoria, IL is in the geographic center of the United States. But, it is not merely the center of the country, it is also the weathervane; the cross section of good, old USA. If an idea or person or a product will sell in Peoria, IL, chances are good that it will sell in Seattle or in New York City. The question to ask is; will it sell in Peoria!
Quite possibly this should have been Jesus’ question to his disciples as he tells them upfront the cost of discipleship. Today’s gospel text is another example of Jesus telling it like it is. The text today is part of the so-called “Missionary Discourse,” which addresses the issues the disciples might encounter as they carry out their mission. Last week and today, we hear Jesus give his disciples instructions as he sends them out on a mission of healing and preaching the good news. This teaching in Matthew chapter 10 is about radical discipleship. If Jesus was ignored, maligned, misjudged, abandoned, betrayed, tortured and crucified then those who follow him and those who belong to him should not expect anything different. No wonder these ideas about the cost of being a disciple didn’t sell very well in Jerusalem; and they don’t sell very well in Peoria.
Yet, it is important that we hear about the cost of taking up the cross. Last week, we heard Jesus say that disciples are to share the gospel and heal the sick; they are not to take any money with them; they are to sell what they have and give it to the needy. If you look around you and you see some poor, hungry, or needy people, your heart is so moved with compassion that you are willing to sell all or some of what you have in order to help those people. Disciples are to go into hostile environments that do not like God or God’s ways; they are to be wise and innocent; they will be ridiculed and persecuted by religious leaders, governments and family but do not be afraid of those who are persecuting, ridiculing and killing.
Today we hear Jesus say, “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered or secret that will not become known.” “Don’t fear those who kill your body but cannot kill your soul. Rather, fear God who can kill your body and soul in hell.” Be public about loyalty to the Lord God and Jesus Christ. Expect divisiveness and tension from our families because of our beliefs. Love God more than our families. Pick up our cross and follow Jesus. Lose our lives and thereby find our lives. And let me tell you that kind of talk didn’t sell very well in Jerusalem. And the people of Peoria didn’t like it at all either. We hear these words of Jesus, and they are too much for us, therefore we tend to water down the radical teachings of Jesus, so that they will be more acceptable in Peoria.
There must have been many believers in the Christian communities that Matthew and Paul were addressing in their writings, who misunderstood the implications and meaning of the gospel. Therefore, we hear both respond strongly in the texts today. In Matthew’s community, there were some who thought they could give absolute trust in and loyalty to the God revealed in Jesus Christ yet withhold a radical commitment to living out the ethics of the new community Jesus revealed in the Sermon on the Mount and the love commandment. Certainly they could follow Christ and not go so far as to “lose their lives”?
In the communities begun by Paul, there were some who concluded that since sin is universal and since “Christ died for ungodly people, then there is no point in worrying about how much one sins. Believers may “continue sinning so grace will multiply.” Members of both communities presume that grace makes no demands upon those who receive it. This is what Bonhoeffer called “cheap” grace and Paul responds “By no means!” And Matthew’s Jesus says: “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace on earth. I haven’t come to bring peace, but a sword,” and then to clarify the point, he says, “Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me.” We want to compromise Jesus; we want to explain and interpret Jesus so that Jesus will sell in Peoria because it too hard to understand the offensiveness of Jesus.
The people did not understand Jesus when he said: the world hates me and is offended by me because what the world is doing is wicked and I tell them so. They did not understand when Jesus said: “The gate is wide and the path is easy that leads to good life, and many are those who find it; but the gate is narrow and the path difficult for those who go to eternal life and very few are those who find it. The gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive; it is radical and Jesus is the revolutionary force in this world; and today, Jesus is inviting us to become part of this movement where we dedicate and surrender our lives to him and his mission. Paul reminds us that we have been baptized into Christ Jesus. Therefore, “we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” As we live in Christ who has overcome sin and as the Spirit of the resurrection also dwells within us, we have the power to resist sin. We have the power to understand the offensiveness of Jesus. We can take up our cross and lose our lives for the sake of the gospel.
To live such a life is to find oneself regularly vulnerable and off balance. It would be far easier to engage others secure in our own uprightness from the threats and challenges of the world. However, this is not the life that disciples are to lead. “To give one’s life away in the name of Christ; is to be given all that makes life free, holy, and good.” For it is in the life of Christian discipleship that God’s compassion, mercy and justice are known. The gospel will always be radical. Jesus was the most revolutionary force of dedicated, selfless, giving, loving people who lived under the cross. And this type of life may or may not sell in Peoria but for those who are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to the suffering of the world, we can be the most powerful revolutionary force today as we take up the cross for our life and for the life of the world.