Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tragedy and Promise

The Story of Jesus can show us that what may seem chaotic, dangerous and scary to us can actually be a part God’s plan to bring about hope for the world.   This theme is evident in Matthew’s accounts of Jesus’ early years.  We learn that the Magi (or wise men) who scan the stars for signs of divine activity on earth, are in search of a newborn King and are on their way to Bethlehem where Jesus is.  Tragically their journey alerts the paranoid old king Herod, who as he approaches death, sees plots and conspiracies to overthrow him behind every random occurrence.   He used what he gleaned from the wise men to find a focus for his delusional rage. He orders the death of all young boys under two in Bethlehem.   The forces of darkness and sin are trying to derail God’s plan at every opportunity.   Almost completely incomprehensible, is the fact that the collateral damage will be vulnerable and defenseless children.  Mothers and Fathers will suffer the most feared occurrence of parenting, the loss of a child.   The text is clear; this could have been Mary and Joseph.   They and their child Jesus were at risk. 

Yet Matthew’s message is ultimately one of hope.  God is working in the midst of the chaos to bring completion to the story of salvation.    We learn that the Magi when visiting Jesus come with gifts.   Not just any gifts, gifts fit for a king.   Yet these gifts are also portable, and can be taken with them on a journey.   God knows that Jesus may need to be on the move and that the resources will come in handy to provide for his and his family’s survival.    Joseph is warned in a dream to get up and take his family to Egypt and flee Herod.  Egypt would be a relatively safe place as it was outside of Herod’s territory, controlled directly by a Roman governor, had a thriving economy, and there were large communities of Jews already living there for many years.   God’s hand of guidance can be clearly seen protecting and directing the young Jesus.   The gifts from the Magi that fund the trip, the dream to get Joseph moving, a country of sanctuary a reasonable journey away, and a community of fellow countrymen when they arrived, are all just too convenient not to be planned out by God.

We see the hope in the story working on a number of levels.   One is that God is clearly more powerful than all the forces of this world.   God is able to overcome any chaos that world throws at Him.   More importantly for the Christian witness, is that God goes through the chaos of life with us.   The story of the flight to Egypt is sadly not an uncommon one.   People must flee adversity or leave home for opportunity all the time.   There are dangers and tragedies on the way for many migrants and refugees whose stories each and every day are similar to that of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.   What does it mean that we have a Savior who spent time as refugee from violence?  The writer of the book of Hebrews gives us a clue when we read: Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. (Hebrews 2:18 NRSV)”  

Jesus would experience the full range of human experience both good and bad.   We do not have an indifferent Savior, but one who literally and actually knows our pain.  This is what the miracle of the incarnation is all about, that God becomes one of us and accompanies us through the chaos of this world.   This is proven most powerfully at the cross where Jesus suffers the abandonment of all and the painful death on the cross.   Jesus is brought through this death into the resurrection showing us exactly what God will do for those who trust in him, give eternal life.

So the story of Jesus’ escape to Egypt is designed to do two things for us.  The first is to strengthen our faith and build us up so that we can be confident in the loving care of a great and amazing God who is more powerful than anything in all the universe.   The second is to have compassion for our brothers and sisters in the world who suffer today.   Matthew will report towards the end of his Gospel (chapter 25) the teaching of Jesus that says when we serve those in adversity we are helping Jesus himself.  This will be the sole criteria of what a living, active and fruitful faith looks like, or as the apostle John will write in his letter “for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20 NRSV) 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tis the season to remember the homeless in our area.

What child is this? 

The old Christmas carol goes. The standard answer is given as the song continues is “this is Christ the King”, but if one takes the Christian Scriptures seriously there are other answers. In Luke chapter 2, we learn that Jesus was born in shelter for animals and placed in a feeding trough. This was because in an unimportant town far away from the rich, powerful, and entitled, there was no room for them in the local i
nn. So Luke gives another answer to the question of what child is this? It is a homeless one.

In Matthew chapter 2 we learn another answer to the question of what child is this? Joseph is warned in a dream to take up his young family and flee Bethlehem just in time to escape a political massacre with lots of collateral damage. This is known in church circles as the martyrdom of the innocents. So Matthew answers the question of what child is this? It is a refugee from violence.

Tis the season to remember the homeless in our area. Christmas celebrates the Christian doctrine of incarnation, which simply means that God comes “in the flesh”. What does it mean that God comes inthe flesh as a homeless refugee? It means that by meeting the homeless and the refugee you might just meet God. Centrist Christian teaching is clear; in Mathew chapter 25 we learn that besides worship, prayer and bible study we meet God in serving the homeless. This is because Jesus was homeless.

In our area the Elizabeth Coalition for the Homeless, Family Promise, Home First, and Monarch Housing Associates all work to end homelessness in our neighborhoods. By supporting and partnering with these organizations, you can not only help the homeless, but help your own soul as your work together with others to provide hope for our community.

With the high cost of housing in our area homelessness in Union county continues to be an issue for our families and communities. A minimum wage worker in New Jersey would need to work 108 hours a week to be able to afford a rental apartment in our region. We invite you to be part of the solution for your benefit as well as those we are called to serve.

The Union County Interfaith Coalition is sponsoring a Homeless Sabbath the weekend of December 16-18 where houses of worship of diverse faiths in Union County will offer prayers and raise awareness about the plight of our neighbors who need housing. The Coalition will also observe a homeless memorial vigil on the evening of Wednesday December 21 at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Springfield.

Please encourage your faith community to participate in these events. For if we remember a homeless family every Christmas eve, we should be able to remember our neighbors who live and work among us every day.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Only point of the Church is the Gospel

 A World Undone?

These past few months seem to be strange times for our church and Christians in general.   As write this we are in the midst of a national election that is bringing up powerful emotions in everybody.   Some of us fear a Clinton presidency will bring about the end of all that they hold dear.   Others of us fear a Trump presidency will bring about a police state to our county that will be complete disaster.  Indeed, others of us lament the loss of civility and the possible ending of relationships if people knew how we really feel.  No wonder mental health professionals are speaking of “election anxiety”.    Like the emotions generated by 9-11 and the economic meltdown of 2008, this anxiety seems to be affecting large numbers of us. 

What is a Christian to do?

Lots of voices in the culture are crying for me to as a pastor speak out.  The caveat is that this is only if it is for their particular side, other opinions are greeted with disdain and if I disagree any legitimacy I may have is automatically called in to question. In North Carolina during the past few weeks both Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s purse who supports Donald Trump and ELCA Bishop Timothy Smith who criticizes Trump’s views on women, immigrants, and Muslims used the following quote to argue for supporting their respective views.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
                                                                                                           -Martin Niemoeller

You know it gets serious when people quote a pastor who spent World War II in a concentration camp, worked with Dietrich Bonhoeffer to make a place a for Christians who refused to belong to a church that accepted the “Aryan Laws” and spent the postwar years trying to get Germany to grapple with how their society went so wrong.   Both of these pastors from North Carolina are telling us Christians to be engaged and to speak out, but what should we actually speak?

I will answer with another quote, this one from missionary and theologian Leslie Newbigin:

The business of the church is to tell and to embody a story, the story of God’s mighty acts in creation and redemption, and of God’s promises concerning what will be the end.   The church affirms the truth of this story by celebrating it, interpreting it, and enacting it in the life of the contemporary world.”[1]

In short, we exist for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  

As scripture will tell us, this is whether the times are favorable or unfavorable.   If Hillary Clinton wins the election and Donald Trump loses, we live out the gospel and help a wounded society.  If Donald Trump somehow pulls out a surprise victory, we witness Jesus and work as Christ's ambassadors to a broken world.  In addition to telling the Gospel story, Newbigin uses the word embody so the gospel does not devolve into a mere ideology.   The actions he describes should look familiar to those who walk on the path of discipleship.   Celebrating as when we gather for worship or fellowship in what the bible calls koinonia, it is God’s people gathering to live out the truth that we are one common humanity in relation to God.    Interpreting, such as when we read the Bible and show how God’s story meets our story and the world we live in, and we grapple with how best to navigate all these relationships.   Finally, he speaks of enacting the Gospel in today’s world, which means small acts of love which add up to become grace for the afflicted.

This is not just a Spiritual Thing about the Next Life

When we embody the Gospel, we start to live as if the Kingdom of God is already here.   We welcome those world deems as unclean, we feed the hungry, visit the sick and those imprisoned sharing words of hope and deeds of love that bring spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual comfort.  We do this because this is what Jesus did in the story of our sacred Scripture and because this is what Christ does today through those inspired by the Holy Spirit who serve their neighbors and world.

Because the Gospel is holistic it will always be political.   Jesus was political; handed over to the Romans and executed with a sign in three languages saying “the king of the Jews”.   His interrogation in John 19 is all about politics, “so you are a king” replies Pilate.  

There will be those extreme secularists who will argue we have no voice or are just a voice among voices.   Fundamentalists will say that we have nothing to say outside of those who already belong to their tribe.  Only if one becomes indoctrinated into their rigid culture and adheres to their litmus tests of purity is one given a voice.  Christ will call us to a different situation outlined in Scripture in such places such as Matthew 25.   Our razor to cut to the heart of the matter will be to ask questions such as how does the politics of the world affect God’s children?  It asks also questions like, who has the most authority? Or, who is most vulnerable?

In Christ Alone

The real heart of the matter in this toxic emotional environment engendered by the power politics of today is to ask the question where does my loyalty as a follower of Jesus Christ ultimately lie?   The biblical witness, and the witness of the faithful agree; it is to Christ.   Faithfulness to Christ is not synonymous with patriotism, and is certainly not synonymous with loyalty to a political party.   Conservative Evangelical leaders who have made political party loyalty a litmus test for authentic Christianity have created a pernicious heresy completely antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Liberal or progressive Christians who castigate those who espouse conservative views conform to the same worldly attitude.   The prevalent attitude of our culture was captured succinctly by journalist Matt Taibbi.

Lie No. 1 is that there are only two political ideas in the world, Republican and Democrat. Lie No. 2 is that the parties are violent ideological opposites, and that during campaign season we can only speak about the areas where they differ (abortion, guns, etc.) and never the areas where there's typically consensus (defense spending, surveillance, torture, trade, and so on). Lie No. 3, a corollary to No. 2, is that all problems are the fault of one party or the other, and never both. Assuming you watch the right channels, everything is always someone else's fault. Lie No. 4, the reason America in campaign seasons looks like a place where everyone has great teeth and $1,000 haircuts, is that elections are about political personalities, not voters.” [2]  

This is not the way of Jesus Christ; we are called to stand against such thinking. A person who has as their ultimate concern the furtherance of the Gospel will see the world differently than many.  This person will also realize that my faith relationship with Jesus Christ may lead me to have different concerns than they do and that we can disagree in love.  As I once heard Shane Claiborne say, it is how we disagree as Christians that really matters.  

The world may not view this perspective as legitimate, but I have met many Christians who hold views that cross firm party lines.   One can find a follower of Christ, who opposes abortion and the death penalty, who cares about the empowerment of women and worries that our jobs are going overseas, who is ready to welcome the refugee but worries about the size of government.  In fact, if as a disciple of Jesus Christ your views conform perfectly to a candidate’s or political party's, I would ask you to go back to your Bible and think about things a bit more.

Hope for the World

My hope is that like the group that gathered around Jesus our church will have people across the political spectrum who will work together for the love of God, neighbor and world.  If you will vote for Trump, we invite you to be with us.  If you will vote for Clinton we ask you to join us.  If you are frustrated with the process, we really want to include you in our walk with God.  We have no choice but to do this because we exist only for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Be blessed

Pastor Knecht

[1] Newbigin, Leslie, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (1995, Grand Rapids MI Eerdmans) 76.  Emphasis added
[2] Taibbi,Matt “The Fury and Failure of Donald Trump” accessed 10-20-2016.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fear and All its Friends

Psalms 55:1-2
Open your ears, God, to my prayer;
don't pretend you don't hear me knocking.
Come close and whisper your answer.
I really need you. (MSG)

When I heard of the bombings in our area last weekend I felt afraid.   Not afraid of riding the train, or what might happen to my children, friends or family.   I had no fear of terrorists running amok.  I was afraid of our reaction, what fear will change in us.  So I gave thanks to God for the two homeless men who found the bomb at the Elizabeth train station and reported it to the authorities before anyone could be injured.  Indeed, I was even more relieved when a suspect was arrested.  It was blessing to move on before fear could be stoked further.

Listening to an interview with film director Antoine Fuqua later in the week, I heard him begin his remarks about the unrest and conflict over the shooting of black men by police officers by saying everyone is afraid, black men, the police, the rest of us as well.  Mr. Fuqua is right, and a large part of the dysfunction in the relationships between the differing groups of our society is due to the fears that each group has.

These fears are real. Black men have a radically different experience of American life than I do, and these experiences have led to very real and indeed rational fears.  It is not one incident that has sparked these fears but the repeated daily negative experiences people of color have in America. Police officers also have very real and understandable fears.  Service in the police is a very dangerous calling in our country.   They are repeatedly placed in the most stressful situations that happen within our communities. It seems however that in certain areas (particularly in regards to race)  that we are unable to listen to and understand our neighbor's fears. The problem seems to be that dealing with our own fears crowds out our ability to grasp the fears of others. Therefore with our empathy blocked, situations escalate.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that fear has seemed to become a preferred method of communication for many of us.  Since the invention of the printing press, media has used fear to sell newspapers.  What is different today is that in our social media age the boundary between the media and the general public has been blurred.   If I post on my twitter or facebook account stories in the news, or my opinions of events, then I have effectively joined the media.   We have met the media and it is us. So when I repost an article highlighting a particular fear, I am embracing, validating and spreading that fear.  By embracing that fear I may be closing myself off to understanding the other. The more I broadcast my own fears, the less I am able to listen to you.  The more I see other people's fears shouted from the rooftops the less able I am to feel that others will understand me.  Perhaps this is why FDR famously said they only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

The only way I know to go forward is to follow the advice of St. Peter "Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7 NRSV).  Indeed it is in times like these that our faith matters most.    When we trust in who is God good enough to offer us salvation without condition (grace), it gives us a foundation to stand upon when dealing with our fears.  When we pray, the first work to be done is within our own souls.  It is to remove the veil of fear so we are able to receive God and love our neighbor.   If we cannot empathize with their fear, we cannot love our neighbors.  Furthermore, if I cannot empathize with someone else's fears, why would I have the nerve to think that they would even stop to give me the time of day?

When we are better able to understand each other, we are better able to meet together and work towards solutions grounded in justice.  So the idea is simple, ask God to help you deal with whatever fear you have today, so you are more able to love others and understand that you are loved yourself. As with most simple ideas, the practice will be harder than the concept.   Perhaps you will be impatient or angry with me because I am really not offering a solution to anything, but just asking you to pray.   Prayer is not a solution in and of itself,  it is a means to work toward that solution hand in hand with God.  Prayer is never the finish line, but is always the start.

I am hopeful because I know that around the country and around the world there are people of Christ who are in prayer about what is going on today.   One of the underreported facts about what is happening in our country now, is that in every city where there has been unrest these past few years churches and faith communities have been on the front lines trying to do the very hard work of getting people together to work on ways to move forward towards mutual respect, dignity and justice. When these folks go to those front lines they are just as fearful as you and I, but their prayers help them move forward to build solutions.  So answer the call to prayer perhaps all you have to lose are your fears.

Be blessed

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

How is it going at Holy Cross?

If you are wondering how things are going at Holy Cross these days, here is my annual report to the congregation

Pastor’s Report to the Congregation 2015-16
I would like to give thanks to God for another exciting year of faithful ministry at Holy Cross. We have ministered in new ways and old to make known the promises of God.  We have faced joys and met challenges.   Being the church today is always a bit of a scramble as the pace of change in society flies forward, but we take hope in the fact that we have the promises of God, which remain constant no matter what.
This past year we have been saying the following phrase at every worship:  No matter how you classify yourself or the world classifies you, we would like to welcome you to find God with us.   A couple of people have asked, what do we mean by this?   May answer is simple; it is just the restatement of what the bible actually says.  For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." (Acts 2:39 NRSV)  Our society is more fragmented than ever into interest groups, cliques, age groups, language groups, cultural groups etc.  God however, wants the promise to be for all his children no matter what the world thinks.   Holy Cross has worked to live out this reality of God in the past year so that we are able to change lives by introducing Christ to our neighbors.
We have had wonderful experiences of worship and outreach this year.   Some of the highlights have been outdoor worship at the Fall Festival in Springfield, which was a powerful witness to the community.  I have regularly heard about the impact of this when meeting with community leaders in town.  We then hosted the interfaith thanksgiving service in our sanctuary, which was a vibrant and well attended event which has helped to break down some barriers between us and the community.  Our live Nativity continued as an ongoing tradition.  We started leading worship monthly at the Market Street Mission in Morristown to support the good work they do.  
Our school is rebounding from lean attendance to reach some new families with compassionate care that introduces Jesus Christ.   Our food ministry continues to witness to our desire to bless our neighbors as best as possible.  We have partnered with other Lutheran congregations to try to reach the youth of our area.  Finally we had an amazing evening with Shane Claiborne where we worshiped, were inspired with a message to be the church God calls us to be, and fellowshipped with a diverse group of faithful people from many congregations and traditions.  
All of this is a faithful witness to what Scripture calls us to.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2:13-14 NRSV) Part of what we are called to do is break down walls constructed by society.  Most religions work to build walls between the pure and impure, faithful and unfaithful, chosen and rejected.  Jesus Christ came to do something different: to offer salvation to all.   I can in good conscience tell you that our congregation has tried to take this teaching in Christ to heart.
We have been blessed with relative financial stability this past year because of the fruitfulness of our Step by Step capital campaign which has greatly improved our financial outlook. We are by no means out of the woods, but has been a blessing not be in crisis mode for a while.  Although the coming year may be challenging, we will continue to be prudent in our finances and look for new sources of revenue that contribute to our mission without getting in its way.
Our effort to rebuild our congregation has done well in the areas of community outreach and financial stability.  Where we need to work on in the coming year is the building up of our life together.  We need to grow our congregation by any means possible that is in line with basic Christian teaching. We also need to have better methods to care for one another and build each other up in the faith. The vision is laid out in the book of Acts where the Holy Spirit called together the first church.
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42, 46-47 NRSV)
We will need to be intentionally hospitable to anyone who visits us, we will need to put in place structures of mutual care and spiritual support, and we will need transition from a welcoming place into an inviting one. Our church is already quite welcoming; our growing edge will be to become more inviting, less passive, and one that invites others to a new life in Jesus Christ.   I am not as pastor able to do any of this without you. Just as we struggled with financial viability we are now struggling with spiritual viability and the only way forward is if we all work together.
I am confident we can do this, because this is the bread and butter of our congregation. We have committed people of prayer.  We have people who want to help and serve their community. We have leaders who care about what God’s word says.  We have people who hear the call of Jesus to love their neighbor.  We have people who yearn for the presence of God.  
So we are blessed as a church and I am hopeful that these blessing will continue.
Submitted Respectfully in Christ
Pastor Knecht

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Why I Give: A Witness

Giving is spiritual act,  it is also a deeply personal one.   How and why we give is a critical part of how we relate to God and the world.   People give for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I need to ask people to give, so think it is important for those whom I ask to know a couple of things about me.

First, is that I give, a Christian congregation is a community and as a servant leader I am called to do my part.   Since our capital campaign Mei and I have been giving approximately 12% of our income to Holy Cross for the work of  the ministry.  We also help out in the wider community and give to causes and ministries outside the church.

Second, is why I give.  This is helpful because we can all learn from each other when we share our stories and motivations for giving.   So the following are some heartfelt reasons why I give.

1. To Learn to Trust God 

The most important reason I give is to remind myself that God is good, and that God will provide for me and my family when I take the risk to give.   My witness is that so far God has proven faithful.  While I would always want more financial security, more opportunities, and yes even more stuff, God has always met every actual need we have actually had.   Often we have been surprised by a timely gift or opportunity that met a need we were worried about.   It has not always been easy, a giving lifestyle means making intentional choices every day.   My witness can also tell you that making these hard choices is not so bad in the long run.   So what if my kids don't have smart phones and tablets, they read books, play sports, make art, and do well in school.   Yes my cars are getting old, but they still work just fine.  No we don't go out to eat much, but we like home cooking better anyway.  Being able to give has deepened my relationship with Christ and I have had tangible signs that God is walking with me through both the good and bad of life.

2. To Lead the Community 

A key part of what I do is help people examine how to live a life in relationship to Jesus Christ.   Giving financially has been a key discipleship practice since the formation of the first Christian community as recounted in the book of Acts in the Bible.  In order to really teach something one must know how to do it.   One of the things that helps lead and teach others is my own experience of giving.   Over the years I have given in many different ways,  these help remind me and show to others that everyone has a different situation.  You may need to give in a different way than I do.  I give financially in at least three ways:  direct withdrawals from my bank account monthly,  in kind gifts of things the church needs, and occasional extra contributions.  You may need to give weekly, monthly or yearly and that is OK.  The most important aspect of giving that I teach is that it be done in prayer.   Lots of people have told me they do not electronically give because writing the check has become a prayerful act for them, and that is a beautiful thing.  Financial giving should not be done in isolation but in combination with our other faith practices.

3. To Live Faithfully  

I don't know about you, but I have trouble asking people to give if I am not willing to do so myself.  I would feel awful if I was merely taking from the community without contributing to it.   I see the contributions of many faithful people at Holy Cross and I am inspired to serve.   I am blessed to be part of community that is so generous, and I do not want to take that for granted.   My giving makes me more of a part of the congregation because I have a stake in it.   My giving also helps me take my faith life more seriously.   I am more likely to pray, serve the poor, worship regularly, talk about my faith because I give.   My desire to give comes from my faith, but it also reinforces it as well.  God gives us the chance to give because it can strengthen faith and people can find joy and peace in doing it.

There will be times when we can not give financially, and it is important to remember that giving is not a goal in itself, the goal is a strengthened relationship with Jesus Christ, and that it will be blessing for us and the world. If giving gets in the way of this then one should pray about giving in different way. St Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:7-8:

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (NRSV)

Faithful giving is motivated by a desire to be a blessing to others.  Like the perfect love of God described in 1 Corinthians 13 it never demands repayment.   It is not an investment that demands return,  it is grace given freely.  The model is God's own son Jesus Christ who gave it all for the sake of the world.  This is something we are unable to give back, but that we are able to pass on.

So my only request is that you prayerfully consider your own financial giving so that you can bless others the way God has blessed you.  We at Holy Cross will be asking people to support our work, but we hope that by doing so you can deepen your own discipleship walk with Jesus.

Be blessed

Pastor Knecht

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Who Bears My Cross?

Who bears my cross?  How we answer this question will reveal much about what we think about God,  the world and our own selves.  Perhaps you have an obvious answer or you struggle to figure it out. maybe you have never even thought about it.  This Holy Week and Easter I would like to wrestle with this question and see how different answers lead us in different directions.

Answer 1: Jesus Bears My Cross

Perhaps if God has gotten you through a tough time in your life recently this is your answer.   One looks at a situation that seemed impossible to overcome and yet by God's grace that person is still standing.  One realizes his or her limitations and relies on the power of God to make up for one's weakness.  The strength of this answer is that it can lead one to a powerful, daily, and living relationship with God.  

The problem with this answer is that Jesus specifically excludes it. 

Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't be my disciple. Luke 14:27(Message)

The way of Jesus Christ demands that we carry our cross behind him. In fact Jesus never tells us that he will bear our cross, he promises life eternal, forgiveness, healing, and hope, but not an escape.   There is a way that the statement "Jesus bears my cross" can be used to justify not living out one's faith at all.  One simply states "Jesus is my Lord and Savior" and "he took all my sins upon the cross" to justify a lack of transformation in one's life.   Then that one can go on living the way they always have.  

This answer can lead to a narcissistic focus on the self.  Jesus becomes our personal servant to bear any on the hard spiritual work we should actually be doing.  In this picture Jesus becomes "the help" and one barely knows his name and certainly little about what he is actually doing.   

Unfortunately, using the answer that Jesus bears my cross is good business.   It can be used to market a consumer friendly version of the gospel that makes no demands on life of the believer.   Just accept a few words as true and drop a few bucks in the plate is all they will ask.   This is what Diettrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace,  grace bought and sold on a religious marketplace.  Seeing this picture in all its gory detail leads me to ask did Jesus really die for this? 

Answer 2: I Bear it by Myself

This answer seems to correspond to Jesus' call carry one's own cross in discipleship and follows the pattern Jesus himself set.   Jesus carried his own cross after all. 

Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. John 19:17-18 (NRSV)

The strength of this answer is that it does place accountability for the spiritual life back onto the shoulders of the believer.   One is taking up the cross head on.  One is making the changes in his or her life that should lead to transformation.  It confirms the truth of the the saying "we all have our cross to bear." It also recognizes the truth that Jesus' cross is different than mine. Jesus bore the sin of the world, I only bear an image of what he did.   

However,  as tempting to see this as the final answer it also has some serious weaknesses. If one focuses too much on our bearing the cross on one's own, one crowds out God.   Bearing the cross on one's own becomes a path to self righteousness.  It is all about what I do and not what God does. It also is over focussed on the self; the struggles of others have little meaning. This leads me to ask along with St. Paul the question "if I bear it myself then why did Jesus have to die?"  (Galatians 2:21) 

Answer 3: I Bear it with Help 

The simple fact of the matter is that when Jesus bore the cross he did not make it all the way on his own.   

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. Luke 23:26 (NRSV)

Jesus the human couldn't do it all on his own, he needed the power of the Father and the help of others to carry the cross. This was all part of  God's plan to show us the way of salvation and peace.  A clue can be found on the night in which Jesus was betrayed when he gave a new commandment 

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. John 13:34 (NRSV) 

We are limited sinful human beings we can not always bear our cross on our own.  One centered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ realizes that while one is accountable to carry one's cross and follow Jesus, we are not always able to do it, and sometimes we will even rebel from doing so.   I have noticed in the churches I have served over these 20+ years that often when I ask for a deeper commitment to Christ or the congregation someone will not able able to make it. 

Jesus realizes this and that is why he gave us the gift of church.  By this I do not mean the institution but the Christ centered Spirit filled organic community that is the Body of Christ.   We are called to help each other bear our crosses.  Yes we all have our cross to bear, but that does not mean that can't help each other carry them.   An individual can never separate his or her personal discipleship from the rest of the body of Christ.  We are connected to each other. 

When we focus exclusively on Jesus bearing the cross for us, or it's opposite, our carrying exclusively it on our own, we individualize and spiritualize the gospel.   When we realize that we are called to not only carry our own cross but to help each other along the way the gospel becomes more tangible.   My personal cross to bear has spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, and political hang ups.   When we bear each other's cross we get involved in the reality of our world because we get involved in the reality of our fellow children of God's actual lives.  

So this Holy Week and Easter I ask that we follow the advice of St. Paul: 

Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2(NRSV)

Be blessed, 
Pastor Knecht