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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Who Do You Say That I AM?

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Mark 8:27-38


In his book The Will to Stay With It, Emerson Klees describes the courage and determination Elizabeth Blackwell possessed in order to become the first woman medical doctor in the U.S.  Because her father died at age 48, Elizabeth had to teach for several years to finance her education.  When she applied to 29 medical schools in 1847, only Geneva College in New York State broke the male barrier and accepted her application.  She was on her way to "Jerusalem" but it would be a "way of the cross."


Blackwell had to live in a cold attic room in Geneva, other boarders ostracized her, women on the streets snubbed her, and one doctor tried to prevent her from attending a dissection class on the reproductive organs.  In the summer she found work in a Philadelphia hospital, but doctors ignored her, and she had to make many of her own diagnoses.  During her second year of medical school Blackwell earned the highest grades in her class, and upon receiving her medical degree in January 1849, she said: "Sir, I thank you. By the help of the Most High, it shall be the effort of my life to shed honor on your diploma."


Unable to find work in Philadelphia even with a diploma, Blackwell went to Paris in May 1849.  One doctor viewed her merely as a midwife, some doctors denied her permission to attend their lectures, and one doctor dared to suggest that she disguise herself as a man.  Blackwell moved to London and then later to New York.  Her applications to work in each place as an assistant physician were rejected.  So Elizabeth established her own dispensary, published a book in 1852 on female hygiene, and with her sister Emily founded a hospital in 1857 for women and children.


Blackwell traveled to England in 1858 to become the first woman in the British Medical Register, trained nurses there during the Civil War, and established a medical college for women in 1868 which was later incorporated into the Cornell Medical Center in 1899.  She returned to England in 1869 to promote medical training for women, and in 1876 accepted a teaching position in gynecology at the London School for Women.  Considering all the obstacles she overcame, Elizabeth Blackwell deserves a very high place as a pioneer in medical history.


Elizabeth knew what she had to do in life.  Becoming a doctor was a passion, and a gift that she knew she had.  At any time during her journey she could have easily given up.  She hit seemingly insurmountable walls.  The cross that she bore was a breaking of tradition to think that a woman could be a doctor.  But she didn't give up and when she finally accomplished one goal of obtaining her degree she proclaimed that she would launch her career with the help of God.  I am sure there were moments when she felt frustrated, and ready to give up, but she didn't.  She moved forward and finally found the nitches in which she could fulfill her passion and dream. 


I wonder what we are passionate about these days.  I wonder where we are being called to take up our crosses in that passion and fulfill our callings, sometimes in minor and sometimes in major ways.  I fear it is far too easy for us to give up on great ideas and accomplishments because the obstacles seem too great.  How many ideas have we squelched because we feared we would be ridiculed or there wouldn’t be enough resources, or we didn’t feel we had enough time or energy to see an idea to fruition or we feared it was a stupid idea?  Yet how many ideas have come to fruition because we had the courage and ability to organize and accomplish what we set out to do?  Just look at what happened when someone asked the women to take on the little dresses for Africa project, or the pillows for breast cancer, or the food stand for the national kayak and canoe races, or the Saturday morning breakfasts.


Jesus calls us to take up our crosses daily, to live a life of faith in all that we do.  For Jesus taking up the cross meant making a deliberate choice of giving his life...of ministering to men and women’s need of truth...of love, cost what it might."  To take up one's cross and follow Christ without counting the cost means making a deliberate choice of something we could avoid, undertaking a burden voluntarily, or serving others unreservedly--and doing all this because we are impelled by love.


And how do we find this love that motivates us strongly to bring ideas to serve God and humanity to fruition?   First and foremost we, like Peter, must confess Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives.  We must acknowledge that Jesus is the very Son of God and we must receive his gift of love and forgiveness deeply enough to make that confession each day of our lives and witness to that confession in all that we do.  When Jesus is deeply imbedded in our being, and as we grow in our understanding of how Jesus affects our lives, then we can "take up our Crosses" and do those things that we doubt we can do, or that we find excuses for not doing. 


Often what we do is confess and receive Jesus and turn around and try to stamp that faith with our own perceived needs and desires.  We want it our way.  Peter could not tolerate the idea that the Messiah would have to suffer and die.  He wanted his own stamp on that confession.  He wanted Jesus around for a long time, leading the people to the truth, to be a great leader that everybody could love and follow.  And so he rebuked his Lord and Savior, not understanding the meaning of Jesus' suffering and impending death.  Then Jesus did an odd thing, he seemed to rebuke the man who had come to such a great confession.  But what Jesus was really rebuking was the temptation once again of Satan, tempting him with the opportunity to be someone great and have crowds literally worshipping him.  Jesus could at that point have agreed with Peter.  But Jesus stayed the course.  He knew the will of God and he stayed true to his commitment to follow no matter what the cost.

So we come back to the question, what crosses are we willing to bear when called upon and how do we respond?  We may want to run away from difficult situations.  We may want to give up or put our response on hold, hoping someone else will do what needs to be done.  We might believe we don’t have the energy or stamina or courage to go the extra mile.  We might even believe we don’t have enough faith.  But an interesting thing happens when we become resolute in doing something out of our love for God, when we know we are called to respond to a difficult situation in a way we don’t want to or believe we can’t.  God equips us with the tools that are necessary to get the job done.  Doors are opened and we find the strength and courage to go through the doors when we direct our attention to God.


In 1914, Ernest Shackleton embarked on his third attempt to be the first to cross the Antarctic on foot.  He started out on a three masted sailing vessel designed to withstand ice.  The adventure started well , but soon the vessel got trapped in an ice pack for 10 months before breaking up and sinking.  Shakleton organized activities to maintain discipline, quelled a threat of mutiny, and devised survival tactics.  They were forced to live another 5 months on dangerous ice floats before they used 3 lifeboats they had salvaged to take refuge on Elephant Island.  From there Shakleton and 5 men took off in one of the lifeboats on the open sea for a perilous 800 mile journey to reach South Georgia, a whaling station.  Their frostbitten exhausted group arrived safely, but they still had to make a 36 hour trek over a glacier before reaching their destination.  It took Shakleton 4 attempts to rescue the rest of his crew.  Not a single man died!


If men such as Shakleton and his crew were able to cope for two years with such excruciating circumstances, we might wonder why more disciples of Christ don’t carry their crosses with a like courage.  The truth is we bear many crosses, illnesses, chemo treatments, loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, economic difficulties, family problems, the aging process and we could name a whole host of others.  We could continue in our lament of these difficulties, and lead miserable lives soaked in depression, exhaustion, sense of hopelessness.  Or we could take up those crosses and face them with courage and faith, giving our sense of loss over to God and moving forward to answering God’s call upon our lives.  Sometimes God sends us someone who can help us move forward.  Sometimes God surrounds us with a faithful community that can take up the slack we feel in our faith. 


And even if we don’t have a huge cross to carry we still are called to respond to our faith in courageous ways.  That might mean being daring enough to propose a ministry idea for our church, finding a way to witness in our community, speaking out when we think injustice is being done or we are on the wrong course.  It might mean being willing to partake in a Bible study even if we don’t feel we know much about the Bible.  It might mean being willing to participate in the life of the church in more depth even though we don’t feel we have much to offer. 


Who do we say Jesus is?  And how convicted of that are we?  Are we passionate enough about our belief to do something about it? 


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