“[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Mark 8:34) What does that really mean anyway? I can tell you what it means to me. Each year I ask myself, how far would I be willing to go, how much would I be willing to give, what kind of sacrifice would I be willing to offer in my devotion to Christ?
If I’m honest, it’s not an easy answer.
I can tell you what it doesn’t mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus. It doesn’t mean being a wet noodle, an abused victim, or a pansy of some sort. Taking up your cross—as Christians I mean, but it also applies to others—means something much more intentional, and much more personal.
It reminds me of one of the jungle-cruise boat rides at a certain theme park, where a nervous lady passenger asked the guide if he ever had trouble with snakes dropping into the open boat from overhanging limbs.
“Naw,” the guide drawled, “no trouble. You got a snake in the boat, then you got people in the water. You got people in the water, you got alligators in the water. You got alligators in the water, you got people back in the boat. Ain’t no trouble at all.”
As the pastor here at Watsonville First United Methodist Church, I’ve been privileged and challenged to be in a boat that has amazing ties to this community, the Pajaro Valley and beyond. When I first walked in the door on July 1, 1999 (yes kids, that’s the last century,) I thought I knew everything I needed to know about ministry. Now, I’m smart enough to know I’ve barely scratched the surface. But it sure has been fun.
Here’s one thing I do know. As United Methodist preacher Leonard Sweet so aptly puts it, discipleship is not an exclusive club. Discipleship is a daily offering of service and witness to the power of Jesus’ name, no matter what the cost. Discipleship is never about power over others. Discipleship is only about praising the restorative, redemptive power of Christ. Frankly, I wish we’d heed this lesson better. But in my view, there’s been a whole bunch of discipleship happening in new, exciting ways around here, and I’m happy to have been a part of it.
The cross I’m currently taking up is one that many folks don’t know much about, and that is that pastors like me in the Methodist Church are itinerant. It’s the “United” part of our name. What that means is that I am like my Catholic brothers, because I am both guaranteed a job for life (unless I mess up) I’m also required to move to a new church as part of the deal, if required.
And that’s what’s currently happening to me.
Effective July 1, 2021, I am moving to pastor a church in Fresno, and a new pastor will be assigned to Watsonville First. This all can be pretty scary for both the pastor and the congregation involved. It’s like an arranged marriage, only worse. OK, maybe not worse, because on some level I was expecting it. Why? Because of the pandemic, that’s why. It forced us all to do our work in ways we couldn’t have ever imagined. I figure my bosses have been trying to figure out a way to move me for years, but we as a church just happened to be involved in a whole bunch of wonderful, challenging and extremely rewarding ministries and outreach over the years with our members, neighbors and friends here in town. Maybe that includes you. What a wonderful blessing!
Here’s what I’m asking you. Will you welcome our new pastor the way you welcomed me? Will you introduce yourself to him or her, and say, we’ve got something special here, and we’re happy you’re going to be a part of it?
I pray you respond with, it ain’t no trouble at all!
Rev. Robin Mathews-Johnson has been the pastor of Watsonville First United Methodist Church since the last century. Weekly Online Gatherings are linked to their website: watsonville1stumc.org. Contact her at (831) 724-4434, or [email protected]