The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Based on Luke 9: 18-24

Opening Prayer: May the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings in our hearts, minds, and bodies, may all of it be acceptable in your sight, dear God, as we reflect alone and together on your word from Scripture for us this day. Amen.

During the readings you were invited to listen with care to your own thoughts and feelings emerging in response to these stories from scripture. 

What are some of the thoughts and feelings that emerged for you as you listened to these familiar readings?

How did the readings clarify for you what you already know about Jesus?

What are some of the things we know about Jesus?

What about the costs of discipleship?

In Jesus’ day, the taking up of one’s cross would be synonymous with intentionally moving closer to one’s own death by torture.

What do you think about that?

How compelling an idea would that be here and now?

What are the crosses we as community are called to bear here and now?

What resources do we have to manage that?

If you were to sum up the purpose of Jesus’ coming to the world and our study of that in worship, what would you say?

Here’s where the readings took me.

They took me back to a time a few years ago when I was serving on the summer staff at Naramata Centre. 

It was a time when I had the privilege of work closely with some of the centre’s most gifted program directors.

Our shared work? To support the growth and the learning of about 20 or so summer programming staff working daily with children and youth. 

The staff ranged from about 17-30 years of age. 

In listening to the start of our readings from Luke this morning, that’s where my mind took me.

Back to a set apart time and place where intentional reflection and debriefing around our goals and our practices as leaders in Christian community became a weekly practice. 

This happened, in between the coming and going of residents and of the relentlessly intense work of providing programs focussed on personal growth, healing and wholeness, and of course hospitality, all in the context of Christian community.

In my memory, I carry a fond picture of those 10 weeks’ worth of intentional growing and learning, living out the mission and ministry of hospitality and life -long learning with youth and young adults that is at the heart of Naramata Centre.

It felt very much for me about as close as I might imagine coming to experiencing a sense of clarity, commitment, and purposeful living for the well being of all involved.

Though we never used the language of ‘taking up our cross’ at the Naramata Centre, there was a sense of being intentional about letting go of bias and prejudice. 

There was a sense being intentional about relinquishing the need for any one person to be favoured over any other because of gifts or skills.

There was also a deliberate sense of being intentional about making space to focus on shared values emphasizing the well being of the many rather than the few.

Last, but never least, there was a sense of intentionally striving for the greater good rather than getting sidetracked by any of our own smaller, more individual and personal needs for adulation or reward. 

In other words, alone and together, we were about the business of intentionally dying to our own wills.

All done in the name of healing, hospitality, and hope for the building up of Christian community for the gathered body in that time and in that place.    

Coming back to the reading from Luke’s gospel on offer this morning, this was the sense I got of how it must have been for Jesus and the disciples as they gathered together for rest and renewal and for clarifying and focusing their shared purpose and vision as ones responding to God’s call for their new life together.

The building up of that kind of community requires a committed and disciplined focus on dying to one's own will, choosing instead to be transformed by the mind of Christ through a prayerful and intentional relationship with God.  This is what I understand Jesus was trying to get across to those very first followers in the Way of the Cross, his beloved disciples.

Here in the reading, Jesus is clear with his followers about the need to understand what they were signing up for as faithful followers in the way. 

He was also clear that such commitment would cost them dearly. 

Looking back on the last two thousand years of Christian history, it sometimes feels as though we have not come nearly as far along the path as Jesus intended. 

Indeed, the closer to the completion of God’s great clean up of the world we seem to get, where the last shall be first, the oppressed shall be set free, the blinded able to see, and those who might call themselves set apart or different made to feel welcome, loved, and cherished, the more that dream seems to elude us. 

‘What’s a person to do?’ we might ask ourselves.

Sometimes we can do nothing but step back, take a deep breath, remind ourselves from whence we have come, and begin all over again.

With all of that in mind, let us turn then to a time of prayer.

Dear God, this morning, we ask your healing presence on this gathered community of family and friends and neighbours. 

Together, we remember and pray for those among us and beyond our doors whose crosses seem unnecessarily heavy laden. 

We pray for those among us and beyond our doors who live with memories and experiences of power and abuse.

We pray for those among us and beyond our doors who support loved ones living with chronic illness and or conditions of instability and fear.

We pray for those among us and beyond our doors for whom aging and loss of function are twinned with loss of meaning and purpose

and

We pray for those among us and beyond our doors so easily blinded by false values and measures of worthiness based on privilege, wealth, and success. 

Help us, instead, open ourselves to that which you would have us be about in the name of your unfolding vision, mission, and ministry of this our beloved United Church family and for our presence in the wider community,  and on behalf of all of creatures and creation living as we do in such a broken and ailing world. 

God, give us faith and courage to meet each new experience as faithful followers in the way of Jesus, our true north, our compass and our guide. 

All this and more we offer over to you this day. Amen.