Wisconsin’s governor has our country’s most sweeping line item veto power. While its use has led to court challenges, Wisconsin governors have crossed out single words or altered a single digit in an appropriations bill, while officially signing the bill into law.
My sinful nature would love line item veto power over Scripture. In Sunday’s gospel (Luke 9:18-24) there’s a single word my sinful nature would be especially pleased to cross out. It’s that word “daily” (23). With that word, uniquely recorded by Luke, Jesus drives home the reality that the Christian’s cross isn’t some anomaly that only shows up “from time to time.” Even though there may be some days when it doesn’t press us so heavily – some days we hardly notice it – make no mistake: it is present for every child of God every day.
And that’s where my sinful nature would like to pull the cap off his red veto pen and cross out that “daily” of my cross! If only the cross were something that impacts us only when we aren’t playing the Christian game correctly: you do the sin-crime you pay the cross-fine. That sounds fair. If only the cross were like spiritual training wheels that come off once we’ve mastered this discipleship thing. Then those who’ve arrived at spiritual maturity could look down with faux compassion on the poor neophytes struggling under their crosses. “Yeah, I remember when I used to bear a cross too.”
But “daily”? Day after day until I die? No escape? That just sounds over the top! Every day it’s necessary to deny my old self as it longs for what is easier or more popular or more personally advantageous than the path on which Jesus points me? That’s a bit much, isn’t it?
Where is your sinful nature urging you to pull off the cap from that red veto pen and cross out a particular element of the cross from your life or ministry?
Since confession is good for the soul, I’ll go first. I just completed the most tiring and frustrating of my 21 years at seminary. Manpower shortages necessitated a year of making bricks without straw as all administrative time disappeared (but not the responsibilities) and full-time classroom teaching returned. As a recovering workaholic, my go-to-second-Messiah-knee-jerk-answer, long honed to imperfection, was to work harder and longer and get it all done. But it didn’t take long for something to become very apparent: my mind was writing checks my 59-year-old energy level couldn’t cash.
That school year ended, but a deep weariness remains. Suddenly a word that wasn’t in my working vocabulary (“retirement”) dances in my brain as an appealing daydream. Part of me wants to think what I’ve often warned others about: “Retire…just don’t tell anyone!” Will the students really know if I just live off the twenty-years-of-teaching-fat of working the homiletics land? Why take all that time and effort to write so much sermon feedback; it just irritates the students anyway! They will either figure it out on their own or they won’t. Why fuss! Hey, workable patterns now exist for Grow in Grace. Let the patterns run. Why start something new my successor will just change anyway?
And so beckons my sinful nature to squander the next decade of life waiting for full-retirement age while I do my best to sidestep anything too new or challenging God might have in mind for his redeemed clay jar.
So would be wasted much of what God has so patiently been working for 59 years to prepare me for these unique years of life and ministry. But such a cross-sidestepping game I would be playing has an even deeper challenge hidden within it! If day by day I learn to indulge more and more my sinful nature’s lust for what it calls life, I risk throwing everything away that truly matters! So Jesus soberly warns me with these words: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it” (24).
Is there anyplace right now, my dear brother, where the cap is off your red pen? Where are you tempted to join me in vetoing an element of the cross your Lord Jesus has for you? Your cross will look far different from mine if you are newer in ministry, or in mid-ministry, or if you are single, or married with small children, or if God hasn’t sent the blessing of children. Where are you wondering whether this “daily” element of the cross is just too much?
And so it truly is! Too much, that is, for you, for me, for any of us…alone. Except we are far from alone. We not only walk in the company of many other “daily” cross bearers whom God has given to encourage us, but we walk in the-close-as-your-breath company of the great Cross Bearer himself! We search in vain for any time in Jesus’ life that his veto pen was out (that’s your record before the Father, you know!). Yes, we know that sweating blood under the weight of the judgment of the world’s sins he did ask his Father whether there might be another way. Yet even then he did not willfully begin to cross out what was before him in anger or frustration or weariness. The red you observe as you watch came not from his veto pen but from his pierced veins as he died for all the times we quarreled with him about our cross. If anyone knew the weight of the “daily” in the cross it was he who bore it all the way to that day of darkness when he hung suspended between heaven and earth for us.
Which, of course, is precisely where Sunday’s gospel began as Jesus revealed just what it meant that he was “The Christ of God” (20). When that “daily” reality of your cross presses hard – as it often will! – circle back to the depth of his divine love for you that made a gory and yet glorious “must” his own “suffer[ing] many things and be[ing] rejected…and…killed” ! This great Victor at his cross has won victory for us all in our cross. He was “raised to life” (22) to stand by us with forgiveness for quarreling about our cross and with courage to bear it. Yes, courage even to bear it “daily.”
And as if that were not enough, did you catch the promise that followed his warning? “Whoever loses his life for me will save it” (24). You and I are never losers when his love enables us to say a grace-empowered “No!” to the this-life-preserving-tendencies of our sinful nature. In fact, his promise assures us, as we lose what this world calls life, that we do so as those who already possess real life ever since our baptism. In denying ourselves, in taking up our crosses – yes, day by day – and then following where the great for-us Cross Bearer points, we are in fact holding on to more life than can be measured. All of that is true even though we cannot now see that and, often, do not feel it to be true. So, let’s put our caps back on our red veto pens. Even in the midst of struggle, there’s no loss but only great mercy to be found in that word “daily.”