His sensei (or teacher) was an old Japanese Judo master. The boy was doing very well. But he could not understand why, after months of lessons, the master had taught him only one move. "Sensei," the boy asked, "shouldn't I be learning more moves?" "This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you'll ever need to know," the sensei replied. Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy continued training and mastering his move.
Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. The boy, to his surprise, easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly employed his one move and won the match. Still amazed at his success, the boy was now in the finals. This time his opponent was bigger, stronger and more experienced. The boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened. "No, let them continue," the sensei insisted.
Soon after the match resumed, the boy's opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard and the boy used his move to pin him. The boy won the match and the tournament. On the way home, the boy finally summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind. "Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?" "You won for two reasons," the sensei answered. "First, you've almost mastered one of the most difficult moves in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm."
The boy trusted his sensei, and his cross to bear, the loss of his left arm, became the source of his great strength. It did not hold him back. It all happened because of his trust and faith in his sensei.
Abram trusted God. When God asked him and Sarai to move, they did, and it was the right move. Now Abram and Sarai did not have any children and God again came among them…
"I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous."
Abram is overwhelmed by God’s presence and promise, and falls down before God. Because of their faithfulness, God renames them, blesses them and and makes the promise of a son to the renamed Abraham and Sarah. It is their real faith, which helps creates the connection to God who gives them a son, Isaac, when Sarah and Abraham could not conceive before. It was through the line of Isaac that the descendents of Abraham would make many nations as God had told him.
Both God and Abraham were found as faithful... As one author has put it, "God took the risk that Abraham would respond. Abraham took the risk that God would provide." (Eugene Roop) Abraham used his trust and his faith in God, for he experienced God as just and giving, and was able to live into the unexpected, to be prepared and to follow through with what God had commanded him.
Peter on the other hand struggled with his faith and trust. Peter who had left his fishing nets behind to follow Jesus, who proclaimed that Jesus was the messiah, is unable to handle the unexpected news from Jesus that he is going to die and three days later rise from the grave. No, that's not the messiah, he will conquer.. .Peter rebukes Jesus in private.. .but Jesus will have none of that.
Peter is missing that faith and trust that Abraham had. So Jesus turns to the disciples and utters that monumental instruction to help them understand their faith: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
To follow Jesus, in his ways, is to carry our cross, to believe and to trust that God will see us through whatever we have to get through.
I think of a story that Bishop Festo Kivengere used to tell:
One day a little girl sat watching her mother working in the kitchen. She asked her mummy, 'What does God do all day long?' For a while the mother was stumped, but then she said, 'Darling, I'll tell you what God does all day long. He spends his whole day mending broken things.'"
To carry our cross is to follow Jesus believing that God is at work mending broken things all around us and in us too. And through faith we are called to help God in this endeavor in our world. That is faith we are called into, to believe and trust and hope that all is being made new and whole again.
As St. Paul said, “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham.”
The young boy trusted his sensei. Abraham believed what God told him, Paul rested in the grace of faith and Peter struggled and doubted but would come to fully believe what Jesus had said. Each gives us a glimpse of the faith that God so graciously gives to us.
“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace. It is so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times,” is how the reformer Martin Luther put it; for the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “with God, one does not just mark time, rather one walks on a path.”
Today, may we take up our cross and follow Jesus in faith on the path that is before us. Amen.