Please join us for worship.
The service this week is lead by Rev. Peter Nimmo with a reading from Liz Harbinson.
The music this week is provided by the Music group.
Hello, I’m Peter Nimmo, the minster of the Parish of Cambuslang. Welcome to this Sunday’s church service. It’s great to have you join us, whether you’re watching on the internet, if you’re listening on CamGlen Radio, or if you are using our Dial-a-Service telephone service.
Sunday 30 August is the first Sunday since lockdown started when we will have a live service with a congregation in our church. If you would like to come to our services, they are at 10.30am. However, due to the restrictions caused by social distancing, we are currently restricted to a congregation of 40. We are therefore asking those who want to attend to book a seat in advance. Visit our website and click ‘worship’ and ‘booking your seat’ for more information.
Because we are limited in the numbers allowed in the building, and because we know that many people will be unwilling or unable to come to church still, we expect to be offering this kind of recorded worship for the foreseeable future. You will still have worship to watch on our website and our Facebook page, or you can listen by phone or on CamGlen Radio.
Today you’ll also hear music from our Worship Band. Liz Harbinson will read Scripture for us, and Deacon Karen Hamilton will lead us in our prayers of thanksgiving and intercession.
Everything was recorded with the appropriate social distancing.
When Jesus spoke to his disciples about ‘carrying their cross’, it would have conjured up in their minds a stark image. Crucifixion was a particularly terrible form of capital punishment.
Apart from the pain and suffering- which could go on for days- it was also very public. You were forced to carry the crossbar of your cross to the place of execution, and there you would be nailed to a cross for all to see, and remain there until you, eventually died. Sometimes there would be rows of crosses along the main roads leading into a city. This was the Roman deterrent, to scare any slave who might think of running away, to browbeat any potential rebel- this is what we do with our enemies. The cross was the way the Empire struck fear into its subject peoples.
You’d undoubtedly see prisoners on the way their executions in the capital city of a Roman province, like Jerusalem. And at the start of today’s Gospel text, Jesus has told his disciples that he has made a decision. His time as a wandering preacher in Galilee is nearly over. It is time to leave his home region of small town and villages, and head south, to Jerusalem. Out from his familiar, comfortable fields and lakesides, to the corruption and politics of the big city, trouble from the religious powers- ‘the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law’- the seat of a Roman governor who has the power, when he wants it, to hang people on crosses until the die. For Jesus has no illusions about what it will mean when for him he brings his preaching into the city- controversy, condemnation and death.
Peter, his chief disciple, rebukes him for this madness. But Peter’s faith can’t, yet, see the plan that Jesus has in mind. To go to Jerusalem, even though it is extremely risky, is the road which Jesus has been called to
follow. ‘Don’t let your human nature fool you, Peter’, he says. ‘Find the way that God has called you to follow, no matter how hard it seems’.
And if you want to know what it looks like to follow me- take up your cross, like a condemned criminal. Forget your own plans- find God’s plan. Lose your own life so that you find real life.
But what an image of discipleship that is- the criminal carrying his cross. Thank God we no longer, in this country, see those convicted of crime on their way to serve their sentence. Sometimes we will see a prisoner transport van out in the street, but we don’t really think about it, about what it would be like to be inside one.
I saw inside a modern prison transport van, once. It was grim. Each prisoner sits inside a tiny telephone box sized compartment, each sealed off from the other. There’s a seat, and a tiny window up the wall, and little more. The security guy said the prisoners often get motion sickness.
So if Jesus were alive today, perhaps he would be saying- do you know what it is like to follow me? Imagine those prisoners in the van on the way to the jail, handcuffed, locked in their tiny compartments, facing the loss of their liberty, separated from their families and friends for years, perhaps. That’s what it’s like, following me.
When we talk of people having a cross to bear, we often think of them having a kind of burden to carry. An illness. A worry about a child struggling at school. A job with heavy responsibilities. An elderly or disabled family member who needs a lot of care. These are, indeed, crosses to bear.
And today, we all, I think, feel oppressed by further burdens we face in this time of pandemic. The fear of getting infected, or of a family or friend being infected. Mourning the loss of loved ones. Worries about jobs and income. Concerns that the politicians and experts aren’t getting it right. We all feel burdened, we all feel are carrying enough crosses just now. Jesus, please don’t add to our burdens!
But Jesus says,
‘If any of you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me’. Yet I find I cannot think of those words without thinking of another saying of Jesus, which comes a few chapters earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, words we heard a few weeks: ‘Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest’.Matthew 11:28
Jesus tells us that if we go to him, he will help us. He says
‘my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’Matthew 11:30
He’ll help us carry the burden.
I think that’s because that when we hear Jesus saying that when we commit to following him, when we shoulder our cross and try to go where he takes us, we can do so because he has done it before us.
There is a route through the streets of Jerusalem today popularly called the Via Dolorosa (Latin for ‘the Sorrowful Way’) which is said to be the road Jesus took on the way to the cross. I have no idea how authentic the tradition is, but it is popular for Christians making pilgrimages to Jerusalem, who walk, as it were, in the footsteps of their Lord. And I can understand the symbolism of walking that road, for it is the road we are called to walk when we follow Jesus. Follow me, he bids, us, even if it seems hard. Follow me, even if people mock you. Follow me, even into dangerous places like the city, where you might even lose your life.
And yet, the burden is light, for I have been here before, and I walk with you if you are walking in my way, says Jesus. I have walked the Via Dolorosa before, and I will walk your sorrowful way with you. And whatever burden you carry, I have carried already, and I’ll carry help you carry it now.
When Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa, carrying his cross, on the way to execution, that was a sign from God of whose side God is on. God identifies, not with the Roman governor who has to kill people to keep in power, but with the prisoners on the road- the hopeless ones, the despised ones, the suffering ones, the ones who are losing their lives because of the injustice and terror of Roman imperial rule.
The great temptation that the church in every age faces is to go for power, as if allying ourselves with the high and mighty will bring the kingdom of God to earth. But what if God is not to be found in the Oval Office, or in 10 Downing Street, in a boardroom or a presidential palace? Isn’t the God of the Via Dolorosa more likely to be found with the prisoner in the van going to Barlinnie, or with the Uighur Muslim in a detention camp, or with the asylum seeker and her child starving in Glasgow because no-one will help her, or with the elderly man terrified to leave his flat, among the crowds demonstrating for freedom in the streets?
And if those are the places Jesus goes to today, do we follow him? Do we follow him, to the difficult places, the dangerous places, follow him even if there is a cost, a burden involved? For did not he walk this difficult way before us, has he not also shown us that it is when we lose our lives we gain them?
Jesus asked his disciples to follow him: “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life.” Peter seems to have grasped the first part- the struggles, the suffering, the death which could well be the fate of any preacher heading into Jerusalem. But his faith has not, at this point, quite grasped the second part- the rising to life.
If we orient our lives in the direction Jesus wants to take us, then, even when we do leave behind to die some parts of our own ambitions for our lives, we are nevertheless on a new course, the course of a good life. At the end of the Via Dolorosa stood a cross. But after the cross comes the empty tomb.
Death may be all around us, but the promise of Christ is that if we follow him, there will be resurrection to eternal life. For the promise of God is that love will prevail, and justice will flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry, as the prophet Amos put it. Knowing that, we can shoulder our crosses and go wherever Christ leads. Amen.