Jesus’ disciples have been pretty clueless. But immediately before our passage, Peter finally recognizes Jesus as the messiah. That must have been an exciting moment for all the disciples, when they realized that the teacher they were following was in fact the holy one of God, the savior their people have been expecting for centuries.
Jesus does not let them enjoy the moment for long. Now that they have finally understood who he is, Jesus reveals to his disciples what he has to do: suffer and die and rise again. It is a shocking revelation.
Peter cannot take it in, so he rebukes Jesus. In that moment, Peter is privileging his very natural, very human desire for life over Jesus’ calling to serve, suffer, and die.
But Jesus will have none of it. Jesus insists on answering his divine calling, on fulfilling God’s will. So Jesus rebukes Peter right back: Peter, “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus adds a kicker: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Jesus will suffer and die. And Jesus’ followers have to be prepared to do the same. The paradox is that Jesus’ followers save their lives by losing their lives. That is the divine thing Jesus wants them to set their minds on.
For many of Jesus’ first disciples, the call to take up their cross was quite literal. Many of them did in fact die for their faith, often in gruesome ways.
But that is not likely to be true for any of us. Many Christians do still die for their faith today. But not in Agawam in the twenty-first century.
So how do we take up our cross? How we do we take seriously Christ’s call to expend our lives in his service? How do we set our minds on divine things rather than human things?
Our patron saint, who according to tradition died on this very day nearly fifteen hundred years ago, has some wisdom for us on this point.
A version of David’s last words is printed on the cards you received. “Be joyful,” he says. “Keep your faith and your creed.” “Do the little things.”
Our cross is not literal crucifixion. So instead of facing the really dramatic challenge of someone threatening to kill us for our faith, we face the less dramatic challenge of living our faith in the midst of ordinary life.
Our challenge is, as David says, to live with holy joy. Our task is to remain faithful to our faith. Our challenge is to be faithful in the little things, day after day, week after week, year after year.
The Christian life as we experience it is not a sprint, not a burst of enthusiasm followed by a dramatic test, then done. Our Christian life is more like a long journey, mostly filled with little joys and little challenges.
That has been true for most Christians for most of Christian history. That was true for Saint David.
David lived in dramatic times, and David had some dramatic experiences.
During David’s lifetime, pagan tribes from Germany were invading the British Isles in waves. As your card says, David played a minor role in an important battle between Welsh Christians and pagan Saxons.
David played a bigger role in one of the Christian disputes of his time. In the most famous legend associated with David, he was speaking to a great crowd. People could not hear him, so God raised up a hill underneath his feet. At the same time a dove from heaven descended on him. Our banner subtly alludes to this story.
But David’s greatness did not come from the battle or the hill miracle. David’s greatness did not come from any of the famous moments. In those moments, David’s greatness was visible. But David’s true greatness was his quiet faithfulness, year after year.
In his search for God, David lived a holy life. People saw God at work in him, and they joined him. Over time, David established a series of monasteries, as more and more people joined him. Over time, David’s holy life was itself a powerful proclamation of the gospel. Over time, David’s life was a powerful witness to the work of God in him.
David faced plenty of challenges, of course. David insisted on a strict regime, and some of his monks resented it. Things got so bad that some of them tried to poison him! But God protected David, and David continued to live the Christian life as he understood it. And when David died, at over one hundred years old, people mourned because they knew that he had truly done his best to deny himself, to take up his cross, and to follow Christ.
Saint David is a wonderful patron for us not so much because of the drama in his life as because of his consistent faithfulness, year after year, because of his determination to be faithful in the little things, with God’s help.
That is our calling too.
Probably all of us will experience dramatic challenges even if they are not particularly public. Many of us already have, and some of us are experiencing real challenges right now. In those times of real testing, we pray for God’s strength to do God’s will.
But for most of us most of the time, the challenges come in the form of the little things. In those moments, how can we keep focused on God’s will? How can we set our minds on divine things while we go about our ordinary, very human business? In David’s words, how can we practice keeping our faith as we do the little things?
In my own experience, it helps to say lots of short prayers throughout the day. I heard a wonderful example of this from our former rector, Len Cowan at a meeting a couple of weeks ago.
Apparently Len routinely says the Noonday Prayer from the Prayerbook, and he says it right at noon.
I have tried to say Noonday Prayer, and it is hard. The problem is, I am always doing something at noon.
But Len said that was exactly the point. The value of Noonday prayer for him is that it interrupts his ordinary business. Noonday prayer forces him to think about God, no matter what else he might be doing at that moment. Then, when he returns to his business after praying just for a couple of minutes, he can be a little more faithful in the little things.
I encourage you all to try that this week. Choose a time during the day, and make a point to say a quick prayer at that time every day this week. Take just a minute to remember God.
By letting your prayer shape your schedule, not the reverse, you will be setting your mind on divine things, if only for a moment. And setting your mind on divine things for that moment will help you to keep the faith in the little things of life. That is one way we can take up our cross.
May we always be faithful in the little things. In the name of our crucified Lord. Amen.