Mark 8: 27-38
Jesus says, “take up your cross and follow me.”
Not pain for pain’s sake. But the consequence of believing a different story than the one our cultural tells. The story that we are not in change of the world or our lives, but that God is. The story that says that person’s worth is not decided by how much money he makes or how by how much stuff is in her garage, or by how smart they are, but by how much they loved and served others the way Jesus loved and served.
That’s Jesus’ story, and the story he calls us into.
A baptist church in Atlanta decided that there were going to live that story. The looked around and saw that there were enough generic, megachurches, in the city, and so they were going to be different.
They weren’t going to worry about growing, there wasn’t going to be a high-profile marketing campaign, they weren’t going to pay people $100 to attend church like one of their church neighbours did, they weren’t going to auction off a Porsche on Easter Sunday like another church did, they weren’t going to hire a professional rock band to lead the singing. They were simply going to live as Jesus asked them to live.
They were going to follow the way of the cross. They were going to be servants to the community and tell them Jesus’ story.
They organized a food pantry that grew into a food bank. They handed out sandwiches and coffee to homeless people and prostitutes. They prayed for their neighborhood, not that people would come to church, but that a woman’s cancer would be healed, that the guy next door would find a job, that the boy from down the street would be kept safe while serving in Afghanistan.
They marched against racism and child poverty. They advocated for abused women. They challenged gangs in their neighbourhoods.
And soon folks started coming to their church. They formed membership classes where the faith was explained and expectations were outlined. If you were healthy and in town on Sunday, then you were at church. No exceptions. You had to join a small group. You had to help out in one of the church’s ministries. And you had to tithe 10% of your income. No tourists allowed.
“They crazy thing is,” the pastor said, “people did it- joyfully! We grew despite all the expectations we threw at people. The more expectations, the more we grew. I guess people aren’t just looking for a Sunday morning fix. It looks like folks are hungering for the real thing. ”
Of course, the danger is that Christianity can then be seen and experienced as a bunch of tasks and obligations, do’s and don’ts, rather that living in God’s forgiveness and love. But one thing I found fascinating about that church was that they didn’t specifically worry about growth, they worried about living the way Jesus asked them to live.
But did they invite people to church? Absolutely. Did they work hard at sharing Jesus’ message of new life with their neighbours? Definitely. Did they love their neighbours’ with Jesus’ love? Undoubtedly.
And they did more than that. They called people into a story that wasn’t of their own telling, a story they couldn’t make up for themselves. They called people into a story that went beyond themselves, beyond their consumer needs, beyond their petty hungers and desires. A story that asks them to die, so that they may rise again with new eyes and a new heart. A story that says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”