Its Kat’s birthday today. If you know Kat you will know that Birthday’s are a BIG deal. They are really important to her. She loves birthdays, the presents, the celebration, the specialness of the day. This isn’t just about her Birthday, when it’s the children’s birthday she is usually up before they are – I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve woken a sleeping child on their Birthday because Kat couldn’t contain her excitement.
Birthdays are special. Perhaps as we get older we forget that excitement and energy we used to feel as children but they are still a day that we mark as important in our lives. And this is good a right, not in some sort of self-centred way, but because when we celebrate the birthday of a loved one, we celebrate and give thanks that they are part of our lives.
Of course for many of us Birthday’s also come at a cost. If you have or have had in the past young children or teenagers, you know that a birthday means the purchase of presents. It means spending money that for many of us, especially at the moment, is hard come by. We want to honour our loved one with a lavish gift or something of their heart’s desire. But the price that one thing comes at is very dear.
Perhaps your sitting there today thinking that kids today get too much too easily. Well perhaps you’re right, perhaps you’re not. The fact remains that even if you avoid the big gifts most years there will be those times when the present is a little bigger than normal, a little more special than in other years.
I remember the Christmas as a teenager I got a bike. I desperately wanted a bike, but I knew we couldn’t afford it. I knew it was too big a present. Then on Christmas day I came downstairs to find a gleaming new racing bike under the tree. A bike with my name on it.
When, as we heard in our reading today, Lazarus’ sister Mary anointed Jesus with the most expensive perfume imaginable. For Judas and some of those present this was a huge waste – a shocking use of something worth so much. For Mary it was a clear statement acknowledge Jesus for his worth – it was the cost of her following him.
Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God. We believe, and celebrate each Easter, that his death and rising from the grave was an act that was of cosmic importance. I would go as far as to say that it was the single most important event in the history of the world.
We believe that Jesus paid the price for our misdoings, for the things we get wrong in life. Each of these actions, selfishness-es, poor decisions that affect others gets in the way of a real relationship with God – the one he designed for us. When Jesus died on the cross he paid the price and took the consequences of all this stuff we do. When he rose from the grave that first Easter day he broke the power of death for us too. He made it possible for us to know God in this earthly life and made it possible for us to be restored to God when the end comes.
It is the fulcrum, the tipping point of all history.
The thing is, we are not very good at living our lives as if this cosmically important event has any bearing on who we are and how we act. Of course we are all flawed people who get this wrong. But we fail to realise that discipleship – truly following God – comes at a price.
There as been a lot of talk this week about the Pope Francis. As a protestant Christian I like to think that the coming and going of Pope’s has little to do with me. And yes there are concerns I have about the personality cult of the Papal office. But there is no doubt the new Bishop of Rome is an intriguing, godly figure – a man of humility and from what we have learned in the news deep Christian conviction.
He is someone who clearly knows the cost of discipleship – the cost of truly following the teachings of Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
One of the most talked about facts about Francis is that as Bishop Cardinal he never lived in the ornate church mansion in Buenos Aires, preferring a simple bed in a down-town room heated by a small stove. And that he takes public transportation around the city instead of using the car and driver normally given to high ranking clerics in the Roman Catholic Church.
It is clearly news worthy because it so unexpected in out cynical times to see someone who is actually living out the life they are preaching.
Mary when she poured the perfume on Jesus gave more than an expensive sent – she was giving him her dowry, her security and probably any chance she had of securing a husband.
Discipleship – following Jesus – should cost us. When Jesus called us to follow him he said this:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
Take up their cross. Take up your cross. Take up my cross.
The cross was an instrument of death. It is the place that Jesus ultimately paid that eternal price I was describing earlier.
Taking up our cross means we are required to die to ourselves. To the traits that define us. To the anger or pain we feel. To die to the desire to gossip or spread rumour. To die to the things in our life that are more of this world than of the Kingdom God calls us to serve.
I don’t know where you are in terms of your faith today. You may have been a believer for years – you may be new to faith or have no faith at all.
The thing is – what we believe doesn’t change the fact of Jesus’ gift to us. Whether we choose to believe it or not – Jesus died for us, we want us to be restored to God. And he calls us to follow him – to take up our cross and follow him. It could cost us everything – but it is a far far better way to be. To really know God, to follow Jesus’ teachings and to be led by the work of His Holy Spirit today. It might cost us a lot but the rewards are eternal.
Don’t leave here today without allowing Him to challenge and change you.
Let’s pray together.