Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me: Kayla Mueller
This coming weekend is the second Sunday in Lent, and the Gospel passage for the day is from Mark 8. In the passage, Jesus calls on those listening to follow him by denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following him. As the GBOD preaching resources note, the Greek word for “deny” is a legal term most often used in property transfer. So, the call to denial does not simply mean giving up things we enjoy for Lent, but it is a call to turn over the authority and direction in our lives to Christ. Certainly, Christ calls us to a collaborative relationship in many way–bringing to mind the quote from Frederick Beuchner that, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Yet, the overall direction, and at times the specific direction, should ultimately originate from our the one we call Lord and Savior.
Jesus builds on this idea and makes it infinitely more challenging by then calling the disciples to take up their crosses. At the time, crosses were not cool logos or stylish jewelry. They were instruments of torture, and it is in many ways hard to recapture the sense of fear and revulsion the listeners would have had–certainly a jolt of adrenaline. I can imagine that cold, pit-of-your-stomach feel as you begin to realize that this whole Jesus thing isn’t just about interesting stories and miraculous feedings and healings. While we may not have a single item that is equivalent, the current events and state of the Middle East, particularly in the areas controlled by ISIS, might be a connecting point. If you felt that God was calling you to go and serve those in the area, even though the possibility of being kidnapped and ultimately killed is extremely high, would you go? Again, it is critical to understand that the Bible calls us to follow God and to be willing to sacrifice it all, it does not call us to abuse ourselves or put ourselves in harm’s way for no reason. We are to be as wise and good stewards of all that we have been given as we are compassionate. But if after a period of serious reflection and prayer, if after exploring all other available options to help those in need, and if after drawing on the wisdom and discernment of family, friends, spiritual leaders, and tools like the Wesleyan quadrilateral (Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience), you are convinced that God is calling you to follow, would you follow?
One person who did is 26-year-old Kayla Mueller, who was kidnapped by ISIS while serving those affected by the Syrian civil war and who died while in captivity three weeks ago. Throughout college and her early post-college years, Kayla got involved in living out her faith and follow where she felt God was leading her (a sample of her work can be found on her Wikipedia page). It is important to note that Kayla headed to the area before ISIS was as well known and their tactics were well understood. However, she still followed God into a war zone. Had she known what was to happen, or at least the likelihood of what happened, we don’t know if she would still have followed or not. But Christ doesn’t call us to follow because the future is clear. He calls us to follow because we are his followers and we have put our faith in him. Many of her writings shared by her family after her death paint the picture of a disciple who was willing to follow wherever Christ led, no matter the circumstances.
So, what was the call Kayla felt and followed? She shared the heart behind her service and sacrifice in a letter to her father from 2011 before she headed into the region. Perhaps her story and her words can serve as a unique but impactful illustration as we approach this Scripture and its themes this weekend:
“I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you. I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering,”
Lectionary Connection: The Mark 8 passage is utilized twice in the lectionary. Mark 8:31-38 is used in Year B on the Second Sunday in Lent. Mark 8:27-38 is utilized in Year B on Proper 16 during the Ordinary Time after Pentecost.
Image by Flickr user Adrian Kingsley-Hughes. Used under Creative Commons License. Cropped from Original.