Sunday, September 24, 2017

16 Pentecost

September 24, 2017

Matthew 20. 1-16

+ I recently came across a big, black three-ring binder that I called my “Commonplace Book.” About 20 years this binder contained all the copies of the documents I needed when I was going through the process of ordination.  There was even a checklist inside the cover, with dates as I progressed toward ordination.

I have to admit: as I look at it now, all these years later, it all seems so…cut and dry. It seems so effortless when I look at it now. But, let me tell you, anyone who knew me then and knew the arduous journey I took during that time knew: there was nothing cut and dry or effortless about any of it.  It was often an uphill struggle. It seemed for every step forward there were two steps backward. And there were a few times when I had to say to myself,

“This is all so unfair!”

Now, that’s not a very adult thing to say. Any of us who have made it to adulthood have learned, by now, that none of it is fair.  One of the biggest things we learn as adults is that life is not fair. And no one promised us that it would be.

Still, we do still cling to that belief.  Things should be fair. A perfect world would be a fair world.  

And when it comes to our relationship with God, fairness takes on even more of a meaning.  God should be fair, we think.  And it seems that when God is not fair, what do we do?  We rage. We get angry.

God should be on our side on this one. Right?

But, it seems, not always is God on our side on some things.  The scale of fairness is not always tipped in our favor.

To put it in the context of our Gospel reading today, I often feel like one of the workers who has been working from the beginning of the work day.  The parable Jesus tells us this morning is, of course, not just a story about vineyard workers.

The story really, for us anyway, is all about that sense of unfairness.  If you’re anything like me, when you hear today’s Gospel—and you’re honest with yourself—you probably think: “I agree with the workers who have been working all day: It just isn’t fair that these workers hired later should get the same wages.”

It’s not fair that the worker who only works a few hours makes the same wages as one who has worked all day.  Few of us, in our own jobs, would stand for it.  We too would whine and complain. We would strike out. 

But the fact is, as we all know by this time, life is not fair.  Each of here this morning has been dealt raw deals in our lives at one point or another.  We have all known what it’s like to not get the fair deal.  We all have felt a sense of unfairness over the raw deals of this life.

But, as much as we complain about it, as much as make a big deal of it, we are going to find unfairness in this life.

Of course, our personal lives are one thing.  But the Church—that’s a different thing.  What we find in today’s parable is exactly what many of us have had to deal with in the Church. The story of the parable is that everyone—no matter how long they’ve been laboring—gets an equal share.  And in Jesus’ ministry, that’s exactly what happens as well.

As one of my personal theological heroes, the great Reginald Fuller, once said of this parable: “[This] is what God is doing in Jesus’ ministry—giving the tax collectors and prostitutes an equal share with the righteous in the kingdom.”

The marginalized, the maligned, the social outcast—all of them are granted an equal share.  To me, that sounds like the ministry we are all called to do as followers of Jesus.

To be a follower of Jesus is strive to make sure that everyone gets a fair deal, even when we ourselves might not be getting the fair deal.

And there’s the rub. There’s the key. Being a follower of Jesus means striving to make sure that all of us on this side of the “veil” get an equal share of the Kingdom of God, even if we ourselves might not sometimes.  That is what we do as followers of Jesus and that is what we need to strive to continue to do.

But…it’s more than just striving for an equal share for others.  It also means not doing some things as well.

What do we feel when we treated unfairly? Jealousy? Bitterness? Anger?

It means not letting jealousy and bitterness win out.  And that’s probably what we’re going to feel when others get a good deal and we don’t.  Jealousy and envy are horribly corrosive emotions.  They eat and eat away at us until they makes us bitter and angry.  

And jealousy is simply not something followers of Jesus should be harboring in their hearts.  Because jealousy can also lead us into a place in which we are not striving for the Kingdom.

Those of us who are followers of Jesus are striving, always, again and again, to do the “right thing.”  But when we do, and when we realize that others are not and yet they are still reaping the rewards, we no doubt are going to feel a bit jealous.

We, although few of us would admit it, are often, let’s face it, the “righteous” ones.  We the ones following the rules, we are the ones striving to live our lives as “good” Christians.  We fast, we say our prayers faithfully, we tithe, we follow the rules, we do what we are supposed to do as good Christians.  Striving for the equal share for people, means not allowing ourselves to get frustrated over the fact that those people who do not do those things—especially those people whom we think don’t follow the rules at all, those people who aren’t “righteous” by our standards—also receive an equal share.

It means not obsessing over the fact that, “It’s not fair.” Even when it is unfair. Because when we do those things, we must ask ourselves a very important question (a question I ask a lot):

why do we do what we do as Christians?

Do we do what we do so we can call ourselves “righteous?”  Do we do what we do as Christians because we believe we’re going to get some reward in the next life?  Do we do what do because we think God is in heaven keeping track of all our good deeds like some celestial Santa Claus?  Do we do what do simply because we think we will get something in return?  Do we do what we do so we can feel good about ourselves at the end of the day?

Or do we do what we do because doing so makes this world a better place?

This is the real key to Jesus’ message to us.  Constantly, Jesus is pushing us and challenging us to be a conduit.  He is trying to convince us that being a Christian means being a conduit for the Kingdom of God and all the very good things that Kingdom represents.

In us, the Kingdom breaks through.  Without us, it simply will not.

We do what we do as Christians because whatever we do is a way in which the barriers that separate us here from God and God’s world is lifted for a brief moment when we do what Jesus tells us to do.  When we live out the Law of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, the “veil” is lifted and when it is lifted, the Kingdom comes flooding into our lives.  It does not matter in the least how long we labor in allowing this divine flood to happen.  The amount of time we put into it doesn’t matter in the least to God, because God’s time is not our time.

Rather, we simply must do what we are called to do when we are called to do it. Jesus came to bring an equal share to a world that is often a horribly unfair place.  And his command to us is that we also must strive to bring an equal share to this unequal world.  And that is what we’re doing as followers of Jesus.

As we follow Jesus, we do so knowing that we are striving to bring about an equal share in a world that is often unfair.

We do so, knowing that we are sometimes swimming against the tide.  We do so, feeling at times, as though we’re set up to fail.  We do so feeling, at times, overwhelmed with the unfairness of it all.

And just when we think the unfairness of this world has won out—in that moment—that holy moment—the Kingdom of God always breaks through to us.  And in that moment, we are the ones who are able to be the conduit through which the God comes.

So, let us continue to do what we are doing as followers of Jesus.  Let us strive to do even better.  In everything we do, let us attempt to lift that veil in our lives and by doing so, let us be the conduit through which the Kingdom of God will flood into this unfair world.  And let us do together what Jesus is calling us to do in this world

Let us love—fully and completely.  Let us love our God, let us love our selves and let us neighbors as ourselves.

As we all know, it’s important to come here and share the Word and the Eucharist on Sundays.  But we also know that what we share here motivates us to go out into the world and actually “do” our faith.

As followers of Jesus, we are full of hope—a hope given to us by a God who knows our future and who wants only good for us—God who really is a fair God!  Let us go forth with that hope and with a true sense of joy that we are doing what we can to make that future glorious.




Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sunday, September 17, 2017

15 Pentecost

September 17, 2017

Matthew 18.21-35

+ I am going to ask you a question this morning. Do you have any “bad” friends? Or maybe the better term is “frienemies.” I’m not saying murderers or criminals or Nazis. I mean, do you have friends who might not be very loyal or faithful or even nice to you, but whom you still consider a friend?

I think we all do.  I know I do.  And, I have to admit, sometimes they drive me crazy. I want to be loyal to them. I want to like them. But sometimes, it’s really hard.  And sometimes—sometimes!—I just don’t have to have anything to do with them. I want to distance myself from them and be done with them.  Those people who claim to be friends, but who hurt us, sometimes do so unintentionally.  Sometimes I seem to have inordinate amount of them in my life at times.

So, of course, those are the people who come to mind when I read our Gospel reading for today.  It is not my “enemies” I think of when I hear the Gospel. It’s my “bad” friends or “frienemies.”

In our Gospel reading, we find Jesus challenging us on this issue. He is telling us, once again, maybe something we don’t want to hear.  Today we find Jesus laying it very clearly on the line.

Peter has asked how many times he should forgive. “Seven times?” he wonders.

But Jesus says,

“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

In other words, we must forgive those who wrong us, again and again.

Yes, even those bad friends, those friends I really sometimes just want to give up on.

It has taken me a long time to learn the power of this radical kind of forgiveness. And it has not been easy for me!

But, the problem here is that, as hard it is for me with my bad friends and with this radical forgiveness, I have to remember something very important.

I have been, at times, a bad friend to someone. I have been a “frienemy.” Probably to too many people.  I am the person who sometimes has caused issues. I am the person that has caused those people distance themselves from me in turn.

And I have to own that.  I have to face the fact that what I do matters to others and to God.  Being a jerk people has consequences.  And, I realize, on top of all that, I still retain the wrongs that I felt had been done to me and I cannot  sometimes get around what had been done to me.

I harbor sometimes real anger at people—and not righteous anger, you know, like toward Nazis.  Petty, selfish anger.

And all this causes me to be in a state of almost constant war and conflict with those people, whether they are aware of it or not (most of them are not).

I am not proud to admit any of this—to myself or to anyone else. But, I am a fallible human being, like everyone else here this morning.

All this led me to another sobering thought.  A few weeks ago I preached about being a life-long pacifist.  Being a pacifist is something I am very proud of in my life.   My pacifism, at least at this point in my life, is anchored squarely in our Baptismal Covenant in which we promise, with God’s help, to “strive for justice and peace among all people.” I have tried very hard to live that out in my life—all my life.

I have been very quick to speak out and protest wars and invasions. I have no problem standing up and saying “no” to wars that happen “over there.”

But to be a true pacifist, to be a true seeker after peace, we all must cultivate peace in our midst. When we say that we will “strive for justice and peace among all people,” that means us individually as well. We must be peaceful in what we do and say. And peace begins with respect for others. Peace begins with responding to Jesus’ commandment to love others as we love ourselves.

Or, as our Baptismal Covenant asks of us, we strive to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Peace also involves with loving ourselves, with making peace with ourselves.  With forgiving ourselves 77 times or more.  And that is the first step.

I hate to admit it, but I am often at war with myself. And that war often overflows into my relationships and the world around me. If we are truly going to be seekers after peace, we must start by making peace with ourselves.

We must forgive ourselves seventy times seven, and we must forgive others.  In seeking and serving Christ in all people, in loving our neighbors as ourselves, we must forgive. In striving for justice and peace among all people, in respecting the dignity of every human being, we cannot retain the sins done against us, but must work to forgive them.

As Christians we must actually grant forgiveness to those who have wronged us in whatever way. That is what all of us, as baptized Christians, are called to do.  In a practical way, we can just simply their name and say, “I forgive you in the name of Christ.”

Sometimes, if we are fortunate, we may be able to forgive some of these people to their face.  More often than not, we never get that chance. On very rare occasions, those people will come to us in repentance asking for forgiveness.

But more often than not, they will never ask for our forgiveness.  And they probably will not change their behavior.

Which brings me to one side note: Forgiveness does not equal taking abuse from others. We can forgive what people have done, but we are not called to just go back to old ways of abuse. If someone has abused us physically or emotionally or psychologically, we must protect ourselves and not allow that behavior to continue.

But we can still forgive even those people.  Forgiving does not mean forgetting.

But forgiving does mean that when we forgive them—they are forgiven. It is just that powerful! When we forgive, those wrongs done against us are forgiven.  What we loose of earth—what we let go of, what we forgive on earth—is truly loosed in heaven.  And when we realize that, we then must move on.

We must allow true peace—that peace that we, as baptized Christians, strive for—we must allow that peace to settle into our hearts and uproot any lingering anger or frustration that still exists there. We must allow that peace to finish the job of forgiveness.  This is what it means to forgive.  This is what it means to forgive again and again—even seventy-seven times, or a hundred and seventy-seven times, or seven hundred and seventy-seven times.

As I have said, we must forgive ourselves too! That is the forgiveness of ourselves.  We sometimes have to forgive ourselves of the wrongs we have committed against ourselves and others.

When I talked earlier about allowing the anger and the pettiness in my life to control my life, in those moments, I was wronging my own self. I failed myself in those moments. And often, when we fail ourselves, we wallow in that failure. We beat ourselves up. We torture ourselves unduly. Let me tell you, I have done it on many occasions.

But in those moments, there is no peace in my heart either.  I am allowing the war against myself to rage unabated within me.

Only when we are able to finally forgive ourselves, will we be able to allow true peace to come into our lives. And while I have forgiven others many times, the only one I have ever had to forgive seventy times and much, much more is myself.  And again, it is as easy as I saying to myself, “Jamie, I forgive you, in the Name of Christ” and to allow that absolution to do its job of absolving—of taking away the wrongs I have done.

So, let us forgive. Let us forgive others.  Let us forgive ourselves.  And in doing so, let us let the peace of Christ, with whom we are intimately involved, settle into our hearts and our lives. And let that peace transform us—once and always—into the person Christ desires us to be.





Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Dedication Sunday

September 10, 2017

Genesis 28.10-17; 1 Peter 2.1-5,9-11

+ I love our Dedication Sundays. I really do!! It is this one Sunday each year when we really get to celebrate St. Stephen’s and all it is and does. We get to celebrate what it has been, what it is and what it will be. And today, we get to even celebrate a special something about St. Stephen’s: its music ministry. Which is definitely something that needs celebration.

We celebrate this ministry because we are dedicating and blessing our fourth stained glass window, dedicated to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. We’ll get into her in a second.

But, first, as we look back over our 61 years of ministry, we realize that music has been a very big part of that ministry from the very beginning. I don’t know who the first organist was at St. Stephen’s. I actually don’t know many of them, actually. But they were all important to this congregation. Whether they were only organists or where choir directors as well, a lot of music has filled this nave and resounded from these walls.

A lot of voices, many of them who are now no longer with us in this world, sang those amazing Episcopal hymns over these 61 years. Please think about them this morning for a moment.

Music is this ever-flowing river.  It has been flowing long before we ever came on the scene. And it will be flowing long after we are gone.

But, this morning, as we sing these hymns, as we celebrate our long ministry of music, I want you to just think about how your voices and your talents as musicians (or, as in my case, lack of talents) joins with the voices of those have sang here over the decades.  Your singing of these hymns is a very beautiful and wonderful way to step into that ever-flowing river of music. It is your way of joining with those voices who sang here once, but who sing now in a place of unending music and beauty.

Now, I’m no musician, as you all know. But, I am a poet. And as a poet, I can say that my earliest poetic influence were hymns.  

One of my favorite poets, whom I quote regularly, is Elizabeth Bishop. Although she was agnostic, she very proudly said, “I am full of hymns,”  I am as well.  I only, in the last ten years or so realized how the hymns I grew up hearing and singing were my first—and certainly most consistent—influence in my life. 

The hymns of my childhood and youth come back to me now with an emotional and spiritual force equivalent of the sky falling upon me.  Nothing touches me and caused uncontrollably floods of tears quite like hymns. And nothing helps salve my sorrow as hymns do.

This is why music is essential to our worship of God. Our church music is not just sweet background music It is not meant to happy, clappy and sweet. It is essential to our worship.  And it is this that we celebrate today.

We also celebrate St. Cecilia today. St. Cecilia was a Roman noblewoman who converted to Christianity. As a Christian, she decided to not marry, to devote herself entirely to Christ. However, the story goes, she was forced to marry a Roman nobleman by the name of Valerian. She was, it seems, not happy to do because during the entire marriage ceremony she sat apart from everyone singing praises to God.

On the wedding night, Cecilia was not happy to do her “marital duty,” shall we say. So, she, quite bluntly, told Valerian, that an Angel of the Lord was watching her and would punish him if he tried anything with her.

Poor Valerian, I imagine, regretted at that moment ever marrying this poor crazy young woman. But he played along. He asked to see the angel. Cecilia told him that he could, but only if he went to third milestone on Via Appia and was baptized there by none other than Pope Urban I.

So, what did Valerian do? He went to the third miles, was baptized by the Pope and…

…he saw the angel.

The stood beside St. Cecilia, crowning her with crown of roses and lilies.

In 230, she, along with Valerian, his brother Tiburtius and a Roman soldier by the name of Maximus, were martyred for the Christian faith. Her body lies in the catacombs of St. Callistus, but were later transferred the church of St. Cecilia in Tastevere.

St. Cecilia has been a very important saint in the long history of the church, and represents in a very real way the importance of music in liturgical worship and prayer.  And that is the important thing to remember today.

Music is essential for us liturgical Christians. For us, for whom the Book of Common Prayer and the holy Eucharist are vital, music too is important and vital.

Just imagine, for one second, what a Sunday morning would be like without music, without the richness and beauty of music.

We, at St. Stephen’s, sometimes forget how fortunate we are. We, in our worship, we get to use all our senses. We get music, we get bells, on Wednesday nights we get incense. We get to use all the gifts God has given us to return to God a beautiful offering.

These hymns we sing are not quaint little songs. These not happy little ditties we sing to make us smile and make us feel smug. The hymns we sign are offerings to God. It is prayer, set to music. It is worship with all our senses, with all our gifts.

And that is why it is important that we be grateful for James, for our cantors Michelle and William and Alice and Leo, for all our parishioners like the Sandos, the Tacklings, the Demmons and Amy (who is playing flute for us today) who are so willing to share their wonderful gifts of music with us in worship. I, for one, am so very grateful for all our musicians, all our music.

And I am very thankful for James. Although he is not one to toot his own horn (no pun intended), music for James is more than just something he does. I know for a fact that, for James, music is a true offering to God.

For him, it is a vital and essential part of the worship we do here on Sunday mornings. And that deeper commitment shows in all that does for us and for God here.

On our website, we are described as a

“growing, inclusive community of artists, poets, musicians, professionals, writers, students and searchers for God.”

I love that description of us. Because that is definitely who we are.  

This past week I wrote a small blurb for the Capital Campaign, which is about to launch today.  I wrote,

  St. Stephen’s is, to say the very least, a unique place. There are not many congregations quite like it. It is for this reason so many people are drawn to this out-of-the-way church in the far reaches of Northeast Fargo. But this spiritual powerhouse of a church means so much to a wide variety of people…this wonderful, eclectic place which has become home to so many people [as it ] continues to be what it is—a vital embodiment of the all-encompassing love and acceptance of Christ in this world.  
I very proudly boast of all that God has done here.  I have no qualms about boasting about what all of us are doing here at St. Stephen’s.

In our wonderful reading this morning from St. Peter, we find him saying,

“Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.”

When we look around us this morning, as we celebrate 61 years of this unique, spiritual powerhouse of a congregation, we realize that truly we are on the receiving end of a good amount of mercy. We realize that mercy from God has descended upon us in this moment.  And it is a glorious thing.

So, what do we do in the face of glorious things? We sing!  We make a joyful noise to God!  And, as unbelievable as it might seem at times, we cannot take it for granted.  We must use this opportunity we have been given.  We realize that it is not enough to receive mercy. We must, in turn, give mercy.

We, this morning, are being called to echo what St. Peter said to us in our reading this morning. We, God’s own people, are being called to

“proclaim
the mighty acts of [God] who called [us] out of
darkness into [that] marvelous light.”

We proclaim these mighty acts by our own acts.  We proclaim God’s acts through mercy, through ministry, through service to others, through the worship we give here and the outreach we do from here.

I love being the cheerleader for St. Stephen’s.  Because it’s so easy to do.  God is doing wonderful things here through each of us.  Each of us is the conduit through which God’s mercy and love is being manifested.

In our collect for this morning, we prayed to God that “all who seek you here [may] find you, and be filled with your joy and peace…”

That prayer is being answered in our very midst today.  That joy is being proclaimed in song today.  And although it may seem unbelievable at times, this is truly who God works in our midst.  God works in our midst by allowing us to be that place in which God is found, a place in which joy and peace and mercy dwell.

So, let us continue to receive God’s mercy and, in turn, give God’s mercy to others.  Let us be a place in which mercy dwells.  Because when we do we will find ourselves, along with those who come to us, echoing the words of Jacob from our reading in the Hebrew Bible this morning,

“How awesome is this place! This is none
other than the house of God, and this is the gate of
heaven.”



Sunday, September 3, 2017

13 Pentecost

September 3, 2017

Matthew 16.21-28

+ Our very own Annette Morrow and I had a very interesting discussion this past week. Annette is getting ready to give a presentation on the early Christian martyr St. Perpetua. Annette is kind of an expert on St. Perpetua. In fact, you might have been lucky enough to have heard her sermon during our Wednesday night Lenten Masses on St. Perpetua and her martyred companions. It’s fascinating! She’s become quite the expert on St. Perpetua. And you should hear her talk about St. Catherine of Siena!

But our discussions of early Church martyrs are always fun for me. After all, the martyrs of the early Church were definitely the rock stars of their age. They were loved. They were emulated. They were, in some cases, often disturbingly, imitated.

To be murdered for Jesus at that time was a great honor at that time. And some Christians almost too willingly sought out a violent death for Jesus, believing that such a death would guarantee them a place in heaven.

In fact (and this was the point of the discussion Annette and me this past week), some essentially committed suicide for Jesus. Like St. Pelagia who jumped from a roof while being pursued by Roman soldiers or St. Dominia who jumped into a river with her daughters rather than sacrifice to the Roman gods.

Such behavior now is, of course, universally condemned by the Church.  As it should be!

And such behavior is most definitely seen as strange and bizarre by our own standards.  As it should be!

But this discussion of martyrs does cause us to ask some questions of our selves.  

The big question is: if worse came to worst, would we be willing to die for Jesus?  Would we be able to take to heart the words of today’s Gospel, when Jesus says,

“those who lose their life for my sake will gain it.”

Now, for those of us who were raised in the Roman Catholic faith, some of us heard about the differences between “blood martyrdom” and something called “dry martyrdom.” A “wet” or “blood” martyr is someone like St. Pelagia.  A dry martyr is one has suffered indignity and cruelty for Jesus but has not died violently in the process.

Suffering for Christ then doesn’t just mean dying for Christ either.  There are many people who are living with persecution and other forms of abuse for their faith.  And it is a perfectly valid form of martyrdom (martyr of course means “witness”)

The point of all this martyr talk is that we need to be reminded that as wonderful as it is being Christian, as spiritually fulfilling as it is to follow Jesus and to have a deeply amazing personal relationship with God, nowhere in scripture or anywhere else are we promised that everything is going to be without struggle.  We all must bear crosses in our lives, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel.

“If any want to become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me.”

We all still have our own burdens to bear as followers of Jesus And those burdens are, of course, our crosses. While we might understand losing our lives for Jesus’ sake might be easier for us to grasp, picking up our cross might seem like a vague idea for us.

Bearing our crosses for Jesus means essentially that, as wonderful as it is being a Christian, life for us isn’t always a rose garden.  Being a Christian means, bearing our cross and following Jesus, means facing bravely the ugly things that life sometimes throws at us.  Facing bravely!

I don’t think I have to tell anyone here what those ugly things in life are.  Each of us has had to deal with our own personal forms of the world’s ugliness.

As we look around at those who are with us this morning, most of us here this morning have carried our share of crosses in this life.  Most of us have shouldered the difficult and ugly things of this life—whether it be illness, death, loss, despair, disappointment, frustration—you name it.

The fact is: these things are going to happen to us whether we are Christians or not. It’s simply our lot as human beings that life is going to be difficult at times.  It is a simple fact of life that we are going to have feasts in this life, as well as famines.  There will be gloriously wonderful days and horribly, nightmarish days.  We, as human beings, cannot escape this fact.

 But, we, as Christians, are being told this morning by Jesus that we cannot deal with those things like everyone else does.  When the bad things of this life happen, our first reaction is often to run away from them.  

Our instinct is fight or flight—and more likely it’s usually flight.  Our first reaction is numb our emotions, to curl up into a defensive ball and protect ourselves and our emotions.

But Jesus is telling us that, as Christians, what we must do in those moments is to embrace those things—to embrace the crosses of this life—to shoulder them and to continue on in our following of Jesus.  By facing our crosses, by bearing them, by taking them and following Jesus, we was able to realize that what wins out in the end is Jesus, not the cross we are bearing.  

What triumphs in the end is not any of the other ugly things this life throws at us. Rather, what triumphs is the integrity and the strength we gain from being a Christian.  What triumphs is Jesus’ promise that a life unending awaits us.  What triumphs is Jesus’ triumph over death and the ugly things of this life.

What we judge to be the way we think it should be is sometimes judged differently by God.  We don’t see this world from the same perspective God does.  And as a result, we are often disappointed.

Yes, our burdens are just another form of martyrdom—another albeit bloodless form of witnessing to Christ.  And, like a martyr, in the midst of our toil, in the midst of shouldering our burden and plodding along toward Jesus, we are able to say, “Blessed be the name of God!”

That is what it means to be a martyr.  That is what it means to deny one’s self, to take up one’s cross and to follow Jesus. That is what it means to find one’s life, even when everyone else in the world thinks you’ve lost your life.

So, let us take up whatever cross we’re bearing and carry it with strength and purpose.  Let us take our cross up and follow Jesus.  And, in doing so, we will gain for ourselves the glory of God that Jesus promises to those who do so.