Church of England Diocese of Birmingham Frankley

The Cross or the Crown?

30 Aug 2020, 2 a.m.

I don’t like to be made to feel shame at being British. We are not used to grovelling and apologising for past history. We have grown up being proud of what our country has achieved abroad. We learnt of pioneers and missionaries who brought hospitals and schools to poverty stricken countries. We thought of ourselves as civilised and caring.

Most of us enjoyed singing “Rule Brittania” and “Land of Hope and Glory” on the last day of the proms, not thinking of how the language of Empire is used in those songs to evoke national pride in a past in which Britain ruled much of the world. Little thought has been given to how descendents of those subjugated might feel.

Over the last few months we have been given a different view of history; one in which white supremacists colonised countries which did not belong to them and took away precious resources and slaves.

According to the descendents of these slaves, many of whom are now living in the UK, our wealth was built at their expense and they want compensation.

They continue to see themselves as victims. Black men are far more likely to be stopped and searched than white men by a predominantly white police force. They are more likely to be tasered, and die in police custody and suffer prejudice in other ways.

We have seen thousands take to the streets as a result of “The Black Lives Matter” movement, in the wake of the needless, cruel killing of George Floyd by a policeman in America and police violence has continued, the latest casualty being Jacob Blake, shot seven times in the back in front of his children.

Wisconsin lookslike a war zone with protestors killed and cars and shops burnt and destroyed. Jacob Blake’s mother said he would not be pleased.

In this country, our police force looked terrified as they faced the wrath of protestors. Statues of slave traders have been pulled down and Sir Winston Churchill’s statue covered with graffiti labelling him a racist. Former heroes have been pulled from pedestals.

The Church of England has not escaped criticism. It is seen as the church of colonialism, an exporter of British culture and religion.

The Church in this country is rightfully criticised for her prejudice and rejection of people of colour who came to serve.

Our church is often seen as condescending, pompous, controlling, rich, and belonging to a bygone age. Whereas the Church of England was once respected as part of the establishment, it is now mocked and attacked.

As the British Empire and American white supremacy ends we face unrest and an uncertain economic future. There is a great deal of fear around and it is easy to act in an unthinking way and retaliate.

When Peter confessed Jesus was the Messiah, (anointed one), the Son of the Living God, envisaged a world empire. Jesus was the prophet, priest and King of David’s line all Israel were waiting for.

Peter believed God would intervene in history through Jesus. The shackles of Roman domination would be thrown off. The nations would ally together against this champion of God and be defeated and Israel would take its place as the special, chosen people of God.

Jerusalem would be purified or a new one would come down from heaven and the Jews would be gathered from all over the world. The peoples of the world would be subdued or destroyed and a period of peace would follow.

This Messiah would be vengeful, violent, destructive and nationalistic.

Peter rightly recognised Jesus as the Messiah. He, not surprisingly, had the wrong idea of what that Messiah would be like.

Instead of forming an army to march against Rome, Jesus explained he was going to undergo great suffering. He was going to be rejected by the chief priests and scribes and be killed and after three days rise again.

Peter could not accept a suffering Messiah. Jesus had been speaking openly so Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke him and got a stern response, “Get behind me Satan.”

Jesus didn’t want to suffer pain and death any more than we do. Suffering love was the only way Jesus could win the world back to God, fully identify with us and obey the will of his heavenly Father. Jesus needed to avoid the temptation of doing what he wanted instead of what God wanted.

Peter, who wanted to save the life of his friend, must have felt confused and hurt. When Jesus called the crowd and his disciples together his teaching was designed to separate those who would follow him to the end of their lives from those who were part of the crowd because they wanted something from him.

Some followed him for political reasons, wanting to be on the right side when the new government came into being. Others needed healing. Some wanted the power Jesus had and others who wanted to get rich by following the one who multiplied food.

Some still follow Jesus for those reasons. Sometimes Jesus answers their prayers.

From this time forward Jesus journeys towards his death.

What had been good news now appears to be bad news for the disciples. If Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die, they would be at risk of dying with him. Jesus made this clear in his next words, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

They had seen the hideous crosses that surrounded Jerusalem with those nailed to them dying hideous, painful deaths

They had watched those about to be killed carry their crosses to the place of execution

The cross was shameful and Jesus was telling them that they had to prepare to die the same way if they followed him.

Instead of all the lovely things they wanted from life and Jesus, they were to deny themselves.

It is to the credit of eleven of the disciples that they only ran away when things got bloody and they didn’t know how to help Jesus any longer.

“Those who want to save their life,” Jesus said, “will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

If we want to live life to the full, Jesus is saying, we need to risk and spend our lives in serving others. We cannot keep or protect our lives. Jim Elliott, before being martyred by the Auca Indians said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Our passage ends on a triumphant note. Jesus will suffer but he will rise from the dead three days later and heaven and glory awaits him as it will us if we are not ashamed and follow him. The Son of Man will come for each one of us with his holy angels. The way of suffering love wins

If Jesus wasn’t God, then to say he was coming with his holy angels would either be a delusion, or madness

If he wasn’t God, the resurrection would be impossibility.

Because Jesus is God, we have to make a decision whether to follow him, putting his will before ours and making him King of our lives.

Jesus walked the way of suffering love so we could be forgiven and have a relationship with him. He overcame evil with good.

The shame of the cross comes before the crown. Jesus the suffering servant will one day reign, conquering sin. Today he asks us to follow him, by taking up our cross. Only humble love overcomes evil.