There is a parable about a wild goose shot down by a local hunter. Only wounded in one wing, the goose landed safely in a barnyard. Naturally, the local turkeys and chickens were quite startled by this sudden visitor from the sky. As they became more comfortable with the stranger, however, it was only natural to ask about what they had seen but never experienced: “Tell us what it’s like to fly!”
“It’s wonderful!” said the Goose, who told story after story of his flights. “It’s so beautiful to soar out in the wild blue yonder! Why this barn looks only an inch high and all of you look like tiny specks from such a distance. First you fly high and then you can glide and enjoy the astonishing scenery.”
All the birds were quite impressed by the goose and his stories. Later they asked him to tell more about his high-flying adventures. Soon, it became a weekly event for the goose to entertain all the barnyard birds. They even provided a little box for him to stand on so everyone could see him better.
But the strangest thing happened; or maybe I should say never happened. While the domestic birds very much enjoyed hearing about the glories of flight, they never tried to fly themselves. And the wild goose, even though his wing had healed, continued to talk about flying but never actually flew again.
As a church pastor, I find this parable frightening. Why? Because it hits too close to home. How easy it is to talk about being a Christian without acting like one. How easy to stand in church and say, “Jesus is Lord,” without actually turning our lives over to His direction. How easy for us to sit in our comfortable seats and ignore a world in desperate need of our witness. How easy for us to talk ministry without actually doing anything.
Talk is easy; we must flex our muscles and really flap our wings to actually fly.
Jesus spoke to his disciples about what it takes to fly: “‘If any of you wants to be my follower,’ he told them, ‘you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life.’” (Mark 8:34-35)
“Shoulder your cross and follow me.” Other versions of the Bible quote: “Take up your cross and follow me.” I used to think the cross stood for the pain of being a Christian. In other words: If you really want to follow me, you must be willing to endure pain and suffering. This is not very exciting; nor is it completely true. Although pain strikes us all, it’s not what Jesus had in mind. If this were about pain, we would all keep “pain diaries” to see which one suffers the most and “pain winners” would go to heaven.
So, what does it truly mean to shoulder your cross and follow Christ?
Well, you’re not going to believe this, but I think Jesus is talking about flying. (What, Larry? Have you lost your mind? Where is flying mentioned in the Bible?)
Jesus is talking about being committed to our mission. Jesus accepted suffering because that was his purpose. The cross was his ultimate assignment and he was committed to seeing it through to the end. A bird’s purpose is to fly; but he must first be committed to the work and effort of flapping his wings over and over again. Our decision to take up the cross of Christ and follow God regardless of the cost is our commitment to “flap our wings” and to keep flapping until we finally fly.
And make no mistake: Flying is the best part. It may be safer to stay in the barnyard, but look at what we miss. Imagine the beauty of soaring as we ride the air currents. If we always live carefully, protecting and watching our own self-interests; if we make no effort for anyone but ourselves, we will miss the very best part of life — knowing our God-given mission and having the satisfaction of carrying it out to the best of our ability.
A song from the musical Godspell said it best: “Day by day, day by day: Oh, dear Lord, three things I pray: To see thee more clearly; Love thee more dearly; Follow thee more nearly, day by day.” If we learn from God to see more clearly, love more dearly and follow more nearly, we will take up our crosses and fly!